Frustrated flood victims turn out to support suing council

12:19 pm on 24 August 2017

Frustrated Egdecumbe residents are throwing their support behind a lawsuit against the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, saying they want someone to blame for the devastating April flood.

Houses on College Road that were devastated by the flood lie broken and abandoned.

Houses on College Road that were devastated by the flood lie broken and abandoned. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

More than 300 homes were damaged when the Rangitaiki River burst through the council's stopbank. Months later, little more than a dozen houses have been fully repaired.

Nearly 200 people attended meetings last night to talk about a class action against the regional council that argues it was to blame for the stopbank failure.

The lawsuit has 150 people signed up.

Edgecumbe residents at the town meeting to discuss the latest developments.

Edgecumbe residents at the town meeting to discuss the latest developments. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

The lawyers leading the action, David Heaney and Matt Josephson, said they were reasonably confident they could get some sort of payout from the council.

Mr Josephson said his team hoped to start filing the lawsuit in November.

"In recent cases, the awards - if we use the analogy of the leaky building cases - the awards have been in the vicinity of $25,000 to $30,000 per person."

But he said the total payout could be much higher, when home and contents, and loss of value to the property, was factored in to the calculations.

Four months after the floods, residents are still prevented from reaching their damaged homes.

Four months after the floods, residents are still prevented from reaching their damaged homes. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

One resident at the meeting told RNZ she was angry, and just wanted someone to be held accountable.

"We're four months down the track, and nothing has been done on the house for months. That's the frustration of not knowing what's ahead of us, and when it's all going to happen."

Many locals were also disappointed that Sir Michael Cullen's inquiry into what caused the flood has been delayed by two months.

The remains of the Rangitaiki River stopbank on College Rd.

The remains of the Rangitaiki River stopbank on College Rd. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

'We need to make peace with the place'

Some former residents of College Road, where floodwaters from the Rangitaiki River burst the stopbank and poured their homes, remain in limbo.

Their houses lie broken and abandoned behind metal fences and signs warning people to keep out.

Reuben Cohen and his wife Deborah Mainwaring lived opposite the concrete stopbank on College Road.

Mr Cohen said it was painful for them to see their property the way it was now.

"We were in grief, basically, for this property where we brought up our children. We'd been there for 30 years, part of the community. We needed to make peace with the place, we needed to go in there and to acknowledge to ourselves that this is what's happened to the place."

Reuben Cohen and Deborah Mainwaring

Reuben Cohen and Deborah Mainwaring's home was lost in the floods. Photo: RNZ / Jessie Chiang

Their house is one of 12 which has been bought by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to make way for a new stopbank.

The pair have been renting in nearby Ohope and said their whole lives had been uprooted.

Debris is still piled high in the aftermath of the flood.

Debris is still piled high in the aftermath of the flood. Photo: Supplied

A few streets away, Roddy Howe - who has lived in Edgecumbe for about 40 years - plans on moving back in, but he had not even started drying out his house yet, with signs of the devastating flood everywhere on his property.

"My fish tank got drowned, it's full of mud. My bike and everything else got drowned. Even in the shed out back, everything there is drowned."

Mr Howe has been living in his front yard in a caravan with his two grandchildren since the flood, and said he thought he would be stuck there until next year.

The Whakatane District Council said just 5 percent of the 310 damaged homes have been fully repaired with families able to return.

The Rangitaiki River behind the stopbank on College Road, shortly before it broke through in April.

The Rangitaiki River behind the stopbank on College Road, shortly before it broke through in April. Photo: Supplied

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