Residents refuse to return as Edgecumbe recovers

9:31 pm on 10 May 2017

Edgecumbe's primary school says its roll may drop as flood-affected families are forced out of town.

Edgecumbe Primary School principal Kahu Walker says the school's rolls could drop.

Edgecumbe Primary School principal Kahu Walker says the school's rolls could drop. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Almost the entire town of 1600 people was evacuated after the Rangitāiki River burst its banks in early April.

About 70 percent of homes in the town were flooded, and more than a quarter were yellow-stickered.

Edgecumbe Primary School principal Kahu Walker said 90 percent of his students lived in the affected areas.

Two families had abandoned the town and moved to Australia, he said, and he was still trying to track down one child who had not shown up.

Mr Walker said he was happy with the roll of 200 students after school holidays last week, but that there could be a dip as those forced to stay in Whakatāne and Kawerau enrolled elsewhere.

"We still have a great number of our families who are dispossessed so they are living outside our community. They have still returned to school but there will come a time and a place when that arrangement isn't sustainable for them and we might face some challenges going forward.

He said the Ministry of Education was funding a bus service for dispossessed families.

"For how long that arrangement will last I'm not sure, but that's been a key factor in actually making sure our students return to Edgecumbe Primary," he said.

"If they review that at some stage then that might force some change to our roll and demographics where students could enroll in Whakatāne, Kawerau, or Matata, our outlying areas. So that's what I think is on the cards."

Edgecumbe College has also had five students leave.

Many residents were now working to dry out and decontaminate homes, and some were looking to deal with their insurers, but others were deciding to forgo the town altogether.

When the banks of the river burst in early April, Meha Tulloch, who has lived in the town for 36 years, was sitting at her home having her breakfast. She said the first she heard of it was when rescuers came banging on her door.

"I was petrified with having seven people come to my door - and I'm trying to get some clothes on - screaming at me to get out, get out.

Retiree Meha Tulloch says she will not be moving back to Edgecumbe because of the fear of further flooding.

Retiree Meha Tulloch says she will not be moving back to Edgecumbe because of the fear of further flooding. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

"You know, you think 'I'm not young anymore'. I was crying, I was frightened."

Although her home at the retirement village on College Road was left undamaged, Ms Tulloch said the fear of having to relive the trauma of the floods meant she was staying with family in Whakatāne while she searches for a new home elsewhere.

"I went back on the Sunday - when we were allowed to go back in for ten minutes with a security guy - to get some bits and pieces with my daughter," she said.

"And then the next time I went back was to get a load of stuff to get out. So I'm out now and I'm not going back."

She said she knew others who would consider moving if it rained hard over the next few months.

"Winter hasn't arrived yet, you do get a lot of rain and they've got a lot of work to do before that place is going to be safe anyway.

"Some won't come back because they're too old to start again, their houses are wrecked."

Despite not wanting to live there anymore, she said she would still be visiting as it was a nice town and a "choice community".

"I have a daughter out there and I have relations out there, a hell of a lot of friends out there, so I'll still be going out to see them.

"I'll be using more petrol out there."

The local school rolls have also taken a hit.

Graham Burke has been living in Meha Tulloch's old home while his is being cleared.

Graeme Bourk has been living in Meha Tulloch's old home while his is being cleared. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

While some move away, however, spots were opening up for those wishing to stay.

Graeme Bourk was living in Meha Tulloch's old place after his home was flooded.

"The only thing that had to move was us because everything else was gone so it was an easy move."

He's lived in Edgecumbe for more than 40 years and despite this being the second time his house has been severely damaged, having lived through the 1987 earthquake, he said he was not going anywhere.

"I'm please to be in Edgecumbe - Johnny on the spot, you know - so we can see what's going on, see what's happening and it's good to be there.

"I like Edgecumbe. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, I still wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Contractors have already cleared about 17 properties with around 15 more currently scheduled.

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