Missing woman's body found in river

MICHAEL FIELD, KERI MOLLOY, KELLY DENNETT AND IAN STEWARD
Last updated 18:26 13/07/2014
12-AKL-FLOODS07
DAVID WHITE/Fairfax NZ Zoom
The Hururu Falls in full roar as floods waters pass through Northland. A woman was swept away as floods water rose early this morning.

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The woman who died after being swept away by flood waters in Northland on Saturday was a mother from Upper Hutt.

Talia Smith’s body was found today close to where she was last seen on the banks of the swollen Waitangi River yesterday.

She was seen clinging to a tree around 6am on Saturday before falling into the water.

Police believe she had been trying to get back from her partially submerged car to a nearby house where a party had been held.

On her Facebook page Smith described herself as from Masterton, being a fulltime mother, an old girl of Kuranui College and an Upper Hutt resident. 

Earlier, Inspector Greg Dunne said searchers found the woman's body 200-300 metres downstream from where she was last seen.

"It's a terrible end to a young woman's life," he said.

Local kaumatua had blessed the area where the body was discovered and ​a formal identification process was under way, he said.

The name would not be officially released until all family had been notified.​

The woman's agony played out on Facebook as eye-witnesses watched her screaming for help.

Emergency calls were made and as people waited for help, they posted desperate entries on Facebook.

Party host Karee Owen posted that a girl was missing. "She's been in the water for a long time now," she wrote.

A friend who called 111 responded that the helicopter was five minutes away.

"They told us that too," Owen replied. "They kept saying they were going to do something. Nothing happened. Instead we had people go down the river trying to save her."

But the search was hopeless. "They came with a piece of rope. We spend two hours trying to convince them to send helicopter. They would not listen. Still haven't found her. Finally sent chopper."

The all-night party attracted about 40 people, but yesterday Owen asked people not to bring children as the heavy rain meant there was no where to put them.

The area was extensively flooded and there were strong currents across paddocks leading into the Waitangi River.

When police and fire service crews arrived they found another three people either stuck in trees or on top of car and shed roofs.

Witness Jordan Rivers described their desperate attempt to save the woman. "She got caught in a fence. She was holding on to the fence and then she let go and went under. We all tried to make human chains, we tried an extension lead, we tried to make a rope, we tried everything we could."

Neighbour Kirsten Langman told TV3 the woman was suddenly swept away. "She was screaming, screaming, screaming, and then nothing . ."

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Damian Skeens, who was stuck in a tree, was one of those rescued by a local resident using a jetski to get to him after he'd been in the water for at least half an hour.

"I feared for my life. I want to go home. I just got nearly killed," he told the Sunday Star-Times.

A second man climbed on to the top of a car and later managed to walk out and was he was picked up by a farmer. A third man and a dog were picked up by helicopter from the roof of a shed where the man had been sleeping.

Senior Sergeant Riki Whiu said the search, on both sides of the Waitangi River, had been very difficult. 

'STORM OF DECADE'

Four days of rain and gale force winds descended on Auckland and Northland on Tuesday and only dissipated yesterday.

Some said it was the worst storm in a decade, others compared it to Cyclone Bola.

MetService meteorologist John Law was hesitant to qualify the storm's severity but said "we're looking at a series of winds that didn't ease off - just the persistence made it hard to get things back up and running."

Flooding and slips closed several sections of Northland's state highways, prompting the evacuation of several homes in Moerewa and prolonging power cuts to thousands.

Northland fire task force leader Shaun Pilgrim said conditions were reminiscent of Cyclone Bola when torrential rain battered the North Island for three consecutive days in 1988. "We haven't had the length of intensity since then," he said.

Hundreds of Top Energy customers in the Far North were still without power last night, down from a peak of 16,000 during the week.

Top Energy CEO Russell Shaw said the network had suffered "devastating" effects likely to cost millions. "We've had to pull staff out of areas where the weather has been so extreme it hasn't been safe to work," Shaw said.

Vector spokeswoman Sandy Hodge described the conditions as the worst crews had battled in a decade and it was the fourth severe weather incident in the past month.

- Sunday Star Times

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