23 Jun 2016

After the flood: Whanganui one year on

9:15 am on 23 June 2016

A year on from the devastating Whanganui floods 10 home owners are still locked out of their properties with little prospect of ever returning.

An image of Whanganui taken by a resident.

An image of Whanganui taken by a resident. Photo: Diana Fowler

The 2015 weather bomb forced 250 people from their homes, cost the wider region $270 million and has turned people's lives on their heads.

Val Southcombe's lime-green cottage is nestled into the bush on Mountain View Road in the Whanganui suburb of Bastia Hill.

The home is mortgage free and Mrs Southcombe had hoped to enjoy a trouble-free retirement there.

That dream came crashing down on 20 June last year.

"There was a massive slip that came down the hill from behind me and although it didn't hit the house there's a huge section of bank that came down in front of my garage and then there's another big slip in the front and that's causing my house to be slowly subsiding."

Since being forced out of her home Mrs Southcombe has had to return to work and has no idea how she will be able to afford to repair her cottage.

Under law the EQC pays the cheaper of either repairing the damaged land or the value of the land.

Val Southcombe has had to come out of retirement after her mortgage-free home was red-stickered.

Val Southcombe has had to come out of retirement after her mortgage-free home was red-stickered. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

It has paid Mrs Southcombe $21,000 for the land. She said she was told it would cost $123,000 to repair.

"I don't have $100,000 and I just thought I was very clever in paying off a mortgage and having a mortgage free home and be happy to live on my Winz contributions, but anyway my life's certainly changed and I wonder if I'll ever get back into my little home again."

Acting Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said the EQC model was out of date and penalised homeowners in the provinces.

"They've been really disadvantaged by a geographical accident and it's just so unfortunate. The EQC mechanism might work for a city where property values are very, very high but we've got a low but rising property value base and these people are being affected by that. It gives them a really invidious choice to make."

Mrs Southcombe is still in negotiation with EQC over damage to the actual house.

The agency pays up to $100,000 for damage to property, which then triggers a homeowners' personal insurance cover.

Acting Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall says the EQC system is out of date and penalises provincial homeowners.

Acting Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall says the EQC system is out of date and penalises provincial homeowners. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Shakespeare Road resident Mark Goodier said this mechanism had not worked for him.

EQC engineers found there was $38,000 worth of damage to his $420,000 home, but Mr Goodier said he had a private report prepared which found the house was a write-off.

He was now challenging the EQC through the courts.

Read our flood coverage from June 2015

Whanganui resident Mark Goodier is taking EQC to court after flooding in 2015 made his home uninhabitable. He talked to Checkpoint with John Campbell.

"The trouble is any time something is said to them, they hide behind the legislation and if they're not forced to do anything they won't. People's situations are of no consequence to them whatsoever," he said.

Mr Goodier's advisers told him there was no point in challenging the $76,000 compensation he was offered for land damage, despite EQC estimating it would cost $210,000 to repair.

EQC general manager customer and claims Trish Keith said it had worked closely with Whanganui customers to explain the level of cover they receive from EQC.

"We understand that some customers may have expected to receive the full cost of the repairs to their property from EQC, but have not. EQC is bound by the cover set out in the Earthquake Commission Act, which includes maximum caps for all building, land and contents claims. Those caps do not always meet the full cost of the work required to repair the damage."

Business as usual

Meanwhile, Mr McDouall said for most in the city it was business as usual even in the area worst hit by flooding, Anzac Parade, where 75 percent of the homes had now been reoccupied.

He said the next big decision ratepayers had to make was whether or not to raise the city's stopbanks.

The Whanganui Flood Management Review Group's provisional report into the flood was released earlier this month.

It found Putiki and Anzac Parade could now expect flooding during a one in 30 year event and on Taupo Quay in the CBD in a one in 20 year event.

Last year's record breaking flood was considered a one-in-130 year event.

For Anzac Parade resident Kelly Hiroa raising the stopbanks is a no brainer.

Anzac Parade resident Kelly Hiroa says raising the height of Whanganui's stopbanks is a no brainer.

Anzac Parade resident Kelly Hiroa says raising the height of Whanganui's stopbanks is a no-brainer. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"I do believe they need to build them a bit higher than what they are at the moment. As you see from last year's floods, they just went over them. And when they used temporary stopbanks, honestly when you woke up that morning they were floating down the Whanganui River so they were quite useless."

At Waitotara, 35km north on State Highway 3, Aaron Fitton was taking flood protection into his own hands.

"I just think you've just got to adapt to it, either that or get out. So personally I'm going to jack the house up a metre and a half higher than it is now.

"We only got five inches of water in the house above the floor but that was the last flood. The flood before that it was half a metre so you've really got to go off the high tide mark really, don't you."

Mr Fitton said it would cost him about $20,000 and he hoped to get started within six months.

Aaron Fitton is planning to raise his Waitotara home 1.5m off the ground.

Aaron Fitton is planning to raise his Waitotara home 1.5m off the ground. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs