Report leaves Edgecumbe locals without answers

7:03 am on 4 October 2017

Edgecumbe residents say a new independent report into the town's disastrous flood has not answered their questions - including who is to blame.

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

The review by Sir Michael Cullen, released yesterday, found failures, including the lack of an evacuation plan for the town, and recommended urgent planning to manage future flooding.

But the report concluded the reasons why a crucial stopbank collapsed were complex and no single action would have prevented what happened.

In the days after the rain swollen Rangitaiki River burst through the College Road floodwall and poured through 250 houses, angry and frustrated locals had one question - why did this happen?

Residents shouted at officials and walked out of at least one public meeting.

Almost six months on, only a small number are back in their homes and the 15 houses left uninhabitable still stand empty and unfixed.

Local resident Luana James said the report did not give people answers to their questions.

"There's still that underlying anger that this should not have happened. It didn't need to happen."

While she was sceptical of the report, she would welcome anything positive that came out of it, she said.

Sir Michael said his report was not about who was to blame for the floodbank collapse.

"We have analysed various possible what-ifs and while some of them might have made a difference, on balance ... we're saying the most likely outcome is not that any particular change ... would have avoided the event that occurred," he said.

The report made 29 recommendations. New flood protection works had to give the Rangitaiki River more room to expand, Sir Michael said.

The report found many people were not aware of the flood risk and neither the regional and district councils, nor civil defence, had an evacuation plan for the town.

Edgecumbe resident Tash said her mother-in-law was standing by the floodbank just 20 minutes before it burst.

"She didn't hear a siren which I think is wrong ... You can't predict that that's going to happen but ... It should have been constantly going. The fire station's right across the river there and it should have been going."

It was fortunate the flood did not happen at night otherwise there could have been deaths, she said.

So far more than 250 residents have joined a class action against Bay of Plenty regional council.

The original complainant, Graeme Bourke, said while he had not yet read the report he disagreed with some of the technical findings about why the stopbank collapsed.

"We've been wary of [the report] and if there's something there we could use we'll use it, but we haven't been staking anything on it at all."

The regional council had promised "emphatically" after the town flooded in 2004 that it would not happen again, Mr Bourke said.

"At a public meeting ... they absolutely promised that we wouldn't have a problem again - and this one is five or ten times worse than the last one.

"So there's not a great deal of trust of the regional council in the area."

The report would not stop his group suing the council, with plans to file court documents next month, he said.

Regional council chair Doug Leeder said he understood emotions had run high in the community.

"I just hope ... that when the community have had the opportunity to look at the report, that we debate the facts and the evidence as presented by a truly independent panel, rather than the emotion, but that may well take some time."

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