300 Edgecumbe residents able to briefly return home

9:43 pm on 9 April 2017

About 300 Edgecumbe residents have been able to return to their homes briefly today for the first time since last week's flooding.

About 70 percent of properties in Edgecumbe have been flooded to some degree after the Rangitāiki River breached stopbanks on Thursday.

That forced about 1600 people to evacuate as about half the town became inundated with water.

The township remains largely cordoned off, but the Whakatāne district mayor, Tony Bonne, said people with unaffected homes were given access to them today.

They were allowed into their houses for about 15-minutes under escort, so they could collect key items.

Anne-Marie Lingard found her home undamaged and was able to stock up on clothes, feed the cat, and rescue lots of food left in the deep freezer.

"I wasn't home when we were evacuated, I was already at work, so I had nothing, my husband was away so he had nothing as well, just what he had with him, so it was just get what we can and get out."

She said while she was one of the lucky ones it was disheartening to see the flooding elsewhere.

Edgecumbe residents who live on the east side of the Rangitāiki River will be able to return to their homes from 8am tomorrow.

The cordon will be reduced accordingly.

Mr Bonne said the sewerage system still wasn't working, so portaloos and chemical toilets would be available. The houses would have water and power.

He said that covered about 45 properties on Hydro Road, Nikau Place, Miro Place and Konini Place.

Severely damaged houses in Edgecumbe, after floodwaters tore through the town.

Severely damaged houses in Edgecumbe, after floodwaters tore through the town. Photo: RNZ / Leon Menzies

Mr Bonne earlier said it was still to unsafe for people to get full access, with no working power, water or sewerage.

"We have a card system, we're working very closely with the police at the cordons and they'll be escorted onto their properties to get their needs and then come out."

Early signs good for Edgecumbe schools

Early signs are that the schools in Edgecumbe have not been badly damaged by Thursday's massive flooding as they are located on higher ground.

But Whakatāne District Council said a proper assessment of the buildings would not happen until tomorrow at the earliest.

Officials from the Ministry of Education will be in Whakatāne and Kawerau from Monday to give support and advice to parents with pre-school and school age children.

They will be working with the Whakatāne Emergency Response team giving out advice for families whose children are going back to school, and also those who need childcare.

The officials be at the Whakatāne War Memorial Hall, Rautahi Marae and Awakeri School.

A member of the public questions the council at a public meeting of about 500 people after the flooding at Edgecumbe.

A member of the public questions the council at a public meeting of about 500 people after the flooding at Edgecumbe. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander, Inspector Kevin Taylor, said frustrated residents had been turning up at the cordon trying to get in.

Mr Taylor said officers at the cordon had been talking to those people and trying to help.

A couple of people managed to get through the cordon at night, he said, and they told the officers who caught them on the way out they had been trying to get clothes and other personal items from their homes.

Tensions ran high at a public meeting yesterday, where council officials fronted up to about 500 locals who expressed anger about the flooding response.

Tempers boiled over with many people shouting out at officials and storming out.

Whakatāne District mayor Tony Bonne speaks at a public meeting of about 500 people after the flooding at Edgecumbe.

Whakatāne District mayor Tony Bonne speaks at a public meeting of about 500 people after the flooding at Edgecumbe. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Many residents were concerned about when they would be able to return home and were angry the stop banks had failed.

Mr Bonne said the frustration was understandable as people grieve.

"I'll be honest, I was floored when I arrived to find no sound system and that put us on the back foot immediately.

"We knew when we walked in that we would be struggling because of the lateness and because of no sound system, so erm, somebody c----d up,

"It's one of those things [where] everybody's under pressure and - one of those things unfortunately."

Mr Bonne said efforts to give people access to their homes had been increased.

Whakatāne District Council chief executive Marty Grenfell said residents should register with the council and they would have to meet with officials individually to explain their needs.

Truck drivers and digger crews are already hard at work, repairing some of the flood damage in Edgecumbe.

Truck drivers and digger crews are already hard at work, repairing some of the flood damage in Edgecumbe. Photo: RNZ / Leon Menzies

Mr Bonne said it would be 10 days before Edgecumbe residents would have full access to their homes.

He said ideally he would like people to be able to go back by Easter, but that may not be able to happen as there are health and safety concerns, and houses will need to be inspected.

Minister's priority restoring road access to cut off communities

The Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, said restoring road access was the number one priority for small communities that remained cut off after this week's flooding in the Bay of Plenty.

Mr Bridges and the Māori Development Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell, visited a number of the isolated settlements, including Ruatahuna, by helicopter this afternoon.

Mr Bridges said the damage to the roads was very bad in places, with some completely taken out, or only half the road left.

There have also been slips above some of the roads.

Mr Bridges said they had told the affected communities the roads would be rebuilt, and they would be working hard this week to provide a timeframe for that.

Mr Flavell said the small communities that had been cut off by the flooding were holding up well.

He said the locals' spirits were high, despite the circumstances.

Mr Flavell said some of these communities have been through this before and wanted to look after each other. He said they seemed to be more concerned about Edgecumbe.

Mr Flavell said people in isolated communities wanted to make sure the authorities stay connected with them, particularly on issues like having adequate food and medical supplies.

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