Residents relive ravaging floods

CHRIS HYDE AND ZARYD WILSON
Last updated 12:00 17/02/2014

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Tangimoana, Scotts Ferry and Pohangina - mention to an insurance company that you live in one of the three worst-hit isolated settlements in the Manawatu floods and a red flag still comes up.

Ten years on from the pools of water that buried some houses to their eves and cut the towns off from the rest of Manawatu, the effects are still being felt.

"In Christchurch they have trouble getting insurance now, but mention Tangimoana and it's a similar thing," resident Karen Stack said.

At 11.50am on February 16, 2004, all 186 households of Tangimoana began an evacuation as the Rangitikei River breached badly at Scotts Ferry.

Among them were Kina St residents Mrs Stack and her partner Paul Weston who returned as soon as they were allowed to, a whole four days later.

The sight of their house was horrific - water 20 centimetres deep, floorboards buckling, gumboots pugging in silt on the kitchen floor. It was a similar story for many in the town, although a few living on the right gradient were mercifully spared.

It is the smell of four-day-old sewage in the water that lingers in the memory for Mrs Stack.

"It stank. I'm a really clean person and I was embarrassed to let anyone in."

It was not just the Scotts Ferry breach that hammered Tangimoana, she said.

"It was a back fill. The banks breached a bit further down too and then the tide and the winds just pulled the river back towards us."

The water took weeks, and in Kina St's case, months, to pump out.

"It felt like the whole area was sinking. We would pump water out and then more would drain into it.

"We had a really nice lawn but with the amount of clay and silt that went onto it and the amount of time it was under water, it just doesn't grow properly any more."

It took six months for renovations to get rid of the flood damage to the house they have lived in since 1982.

A new, higher stopbank, has been built recently to protect the town from a flood of a similar size.

Some families have moved on as a result of the floods, some houses have been pulled down and rebuilt.

"It was a tough time but everyone banded together as a town. We helped each other out.

"Ninety per cent of people were insured, so in many ways it gave a lot of people an excuse to create something great in their houses once the floodwaters had gone down."

Just up the road at Scotts Ferry it was arguably even worse. The man who led the evacuation, police officer and fire chief Bruce Symons, believes lives would have been lost if people had stayed.

Mr Symons recalls how surreal it was driving a jet ski around the settlement.He was called to help in Marton at 3am on the day of the flooding.

Towards the middle of the morning he realised there had been no word on Scotts Ferry. With a group of firefighters and neighbours, Mr Symons decided they needed to get there.

"We made a decision and we just did it."

By the time they reached Parewanui School the road was partially submerged.

"I shudder now every time I think I took the fire truck down there.

"I couldn't see if there was any road there or not."

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Scotts Ferry residents knew there was flooding but had no idea how much water was on its way, Mr Symons said.

He remembers saying to them: "I'm telling you to get out."

By 1.30pm the flooding was too severe to return to Bulls by the main road. Mr Symons and his team had to cut a road over farmland, linking up with the gravel Forest Rd. But high winds brought trees down which had to be cut away as the population of Scotts Ferry wormed its way to safety in convoy.

In the end, the water at Scotts Ferry reached the eves of houses.

It was a week without much sleep for Mr Symons and his crew.

"Everyone was involved. There was a really good community spirit.

"When I think of it, we were just so lucky."

In Pohangina, they're used to floods, but the wall of water that came down the valley that day is something the village is still recovering from.

Bridges were washed out, roads turned into paths for the torrent, Camp Rangi Woods was inundated, fences were uprooted and thousands of landslips bled soft rock from the valley's surrounding hills.

Pohangina farmer John Culling remembers how isolated the floods made the settlement, because he was trying to get back in.

"When the flood hit I was in Taupo for a conference. Even a few days later the only way we could get in to the valley was through Palmerston North and then Ashhurst."

Devoid of usable roads, help came from over the hills on quad bikes.

About 400 metres north of the village, on Pohangina Valley West Rd, a culvert was washed clean away by a torrent flowing into the river.

A makeshift plank was set across the gap so trapped residents could walk across and Mr Culling opened a paddock for cars to park once they reached the plank.

"It was a make-do situation. It helped people because they drove to the plank, parked one of their cars and were then picked up by another car on the other side. That was how we got through."

Mr Culling's fields alongside the Pohangina River are still to a certain extent choked by the silt that was left behind.

He lost 100 lambs, 15 cattle and enough fenceposts to turn the property from an eight-to-10 paddock farm into a two-paddock farm.

Gradually, the area recovered.

"One of the first things somebody said to me about recovery was not to rush into things, to sit down and think about it. That was great advice."

The Agricultural Recovery Programme helped get things back on track quickly but farm reconstruction work in some areas of the valley had to be delayed a month in August while fish spawned. "It's earth-shattering when it happens but while we were heavily hit there were others even worse off."

The symbolism of what happened at Camp Rangi Woods fills Mr Culling with pride. "The renovations were basically wiped out and all the money that went into it from the Palmerston North Rotary was wasted. People just turned up and put it together again. To me it's one of the huge success stories of the floods."

- Manawatu Standard

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