Agony as bid to save mum fails

RIVER CHAOS: Upper Hutt woman Talia Smith drowned after being swept away by floodwaters in Northland on Saturday morning, near the Haruru Falls in the Bay of Islands.
RIVER CHAOS: Upper Hutt woman Talia Smith drowned after being swept away by floodwaters in Northland on Saturday morning, near the Haruru Falls in the Bay of Islands.

The family of Talia Smith, who was swept to her death in Northland floods on Saturday, are mourning the loss of a "devoted" mother and sister.

Smith's brother, Anton Smith-Waaka, told Radio New Zealand today that he and his brother Matthew were close to their older sister, particularly after the death of their mother.

"She assumed the role of our mother, because our mother's just passed away one and a half years ago, and she just assumed the role of mother to us - to myself and my brother - when we really needed her," he said.

"She was a really great, caring person and she [was] fully devoted to her son. Most of her attention and love and devotion just went to her son, that was all she pretty much worked around."

It was meant to be a weekend away at a birthday party, but instead the Upper Hutt mother of two won't be going home to her children.

Smith's body was found yesterday close to where she was last seen on the banks of the Waitangi River after she was swept away trying to get back to the house from her partly submerged car early Saturday morning.

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

Nathan Shakespeare, the father of her son, said he wanted people to know she had been "an amazing mother".

"Our son has lost a truly amazing mum - you will be missed forever," he said.

The agony of her whanau played out across social media as news came in on Saturday that she was missing and then, yesterday, that her body had been found.

Cousin Harmony Smith posted on Facebook that she had stayed up all night praying for Talia to be safe.

"Wanted it to be a bad dream & wake up & you'd be at home all safe We miss you soooo much already," she wrote.

"I still cant believe it cuz, i cant stop crying!! You will alwayz & forever be in our hearts!"

Carly Haddon also wrote of her disbelief.

"RIP Talia Smith. I cannot believe it is true," Haddon wrote.

"The news came as a freak shock. I'm lost for words. So young. So soon, karakia for ur travel home. Thank you for being you, beautiful, happy free. Fly with the angels bruv XX."

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

Police believe she had been trying to get back from her car to a nearby house, where the occupants had been celebrating a birthday for most of the night.

At times during the flooding the water in paddocks close to the house was above head-height, with strong currents leading into the Waitangi River, police said.

Party host Shan Owen told 3News Smith was at the party with her partner and it was one of her first trips away without her two children.

Witnesses saw Smith fall into the river and heard her screaming for help as they called emergency services and rushed to try to save her.

Witness Jordan Rivers described their desperate attempts to save Smith.

"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."

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

About 40 people had been at the party.

The area around the house, Lily Pond Farm, is about a kilometre upriver from Haruru Falls.

The storms that hit Northland during most of the past week have wreaked havoc across the region.

MetService said areas of the Far North broke their entire month rain records in less than 13 days.

Minister for Civil Defence Nikki Kaye announced she would visit the flood-affected areas.