Fallen tree 'traps' Housing NZ tenant

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014
Frank Castle

GALES VICTIM: Frank Castle with the remains of the alder tree that had fallen and trapped him inside his Housing New Zealand property.

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A terminally ill Housing New Zealand tenant spent more than 48 hours "trapped" inside his Invercargill house when a tree crashed on to his property and blocked access to it.

The tall alder tree toppled in strong winds on Thursday and it took a good samaritan neighbour to eventually cut a small gap in the large tree trunk that was fencing Frank Castle in.

Castle, 77, has terminal cancer and has activated his medical alarm and had to get "carted out" on a stretcher twice in the past few months.

"I've got more going against me than I have going for me, my doctor told me," he said. "The tree came crashing down and effectively trapped me in and emergency workers out."

He could get out his front door but not much further. Phone calls to Housing NZ resulted in a contractor being sent out on Thursday night but the "man and his chainsaw" left without clearing the path, Castle said.

"It was completely dark and he said it was too dangerous for any chainsawing. He promised someone would head out early the next morning."

Friday passed with no sign or sound of a chainsaw. Castle said he made further calls to Housing NZ. "I was told they would cut me free in 10 to 14 days.

"I said ‘hang on a minute. Firstly, the fire service can't get to me if my house goes up in flames. Secondly, I have a serious medical condition and am on a medical alarm. I've already been carted out twice in the last few months. How will paramedics get a stretcher to me?'."

Castle said that when he told the person at Housing NZ of his situation "they changed their tune" and assured him someone would be out as soon as possible.

"Soon as possible hasn't happened yet from a Housing New Zealand point of view," Castle said yesterday morning. "I get the impression they think if they ignore me I'll go away. Maybe they are hoping the tree will straighten itself up again."

Saturday rolled around and Castle said he would have had to climb the tree still in his yard to get his mail.

He was back on the phone to Housing NZ and this time he was told repeatedly "we are sorry but there is nothing we can do today".

On Saturday afternoon, Castle's neighbour rounded up a mate with a chainsaw and they cut a gap in the thick trunk. "It took one bloke with one chainsaw 30 minutes to clear a path and give me peace of mind," he said.

Housing NZ blamed a "breakdown in communication" for failing to clear the fallen tree.

Area manager Kate Milton said the breakdown meant the Housing NZ contractor did not carry out a followup visit to the site as planned.

"We acknowledge this has caused undue inconvenience and distress for the tenant," she said. "Housing New Zealand want to sincerely apologise to the tenant."

The tree that fell across his path was from a privately owned neighbouring property, she said. "We understand the neighbour has already taken steps to remove the damaged tree."

A Housing NZ staff member visited Castle yesterday and issued "a sincere heartfelt apology", Milton said. neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

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- The Southland Times

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