14 Apr 2017

'We're happy, even if there was a lot of snoring'

11:19 am on 14 April 2017

Hundreds of people who sought refuge at a Whakatāne evacuation centre overnight are slowly returning home.

The Red Cross evacuation centre in Whakatane.

More than 130 people sought shelter at the Whakatāne War Memorial Hall overnight. Photo: RNZ / Adriana Weber

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More than 130 people sought shelter at the Whakatāne War Memorial Hall, as Cyclone Cook passed over Bay of Plenty.

Many of those who sought refuge were evacuated from their homes in parts of Ōhope or were cut off by road closures near Opotiki.

They included holidaymakers and tourists, families with young children - one with a newborn baby - and a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Peter Blake and his wife spent their anniversary at the shelter, after they were told they should leave their coastal home in Ohiwa.

"It was our 47th wedding anniversary and all of a sudden a policeman turns up and says it would be a good idea to leave, so we came here.

"Wasn't expecting that but were happy we can go home now."

Kelly Tutaki and his whānau were travelling to Gisborne but could not get through because of road closures.

He was grateful for the evacuation centre.

"Everyone's been very hospitable, we got a bed and some kai so we're happy, even if there was a lot of people snoring."

Power is still out in the town and Red Cross has set up generators at the centre to heat food and water.

About 70 beds are being set up in the Whakatāne Memorial Hall for Cyclone Cook evacuees.

Beds are set up for evacuees. Photo: Twitter / @lauren_olive

MP for East Coast, Anne Tolley, ended up staying the night at the home of Whakatāne mayor Tony Bonne, after being evacuated from her home in Ōhope yesterday.

"It was quite spectacular to see the rain sort of horizontal, we watched it where mayor Bonne lives is quite high so we had a good view of it out over the ocean.

"We could see the eye of it and it was moving pretty fast."

Ms Tolley says the area got off relatively lightly, and the focus can now go back to the recovery effort in Edgecumbe.

Emergency workers have been clearing the roads around Whakatāne and Ōhope but some, where big trees have fallen, remain hazardous.

In Ōhope's West End, people have been sweeping driveways and roads and clearing fallen branches - but the area escaped major damage.

There had been fears storm surges would flood low-lying properties and heavy rain would trigger major slips.

However, due to a problem with the water supply people are being asked to conserve water and not flush their toilets.