Golden Bay flooding: Amazement no-one killed

Last updated 13:41 16/12/2011
Marcus Wild

Nelson dairy farmers are counting the cost as flood waters sit on pasture and they rapidly run low on feed.

Mike and Jenny Ball, foreground, with some of the happy helpers who helped clear away mud from their Allan Street home.

Golden Bay cleans up

Nelson Floods - Friday
Bob Gordon at his home in Tahunanui, Nelson. Mud has pushed through his backdoor.

Slips force residents from homes

Hundreds evacuated in floods

Nelson weather video

Tourists stranded by flooding

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Emergency services staff say they are amazed no-one was killed in Golden Bay, given the devastation caused by flooding.

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Up to 200 homes have been damaged by the once-in-a-lifetime flood which continues to cause misery throughout the Nelson region.

Collingwood, in Golden Bay, remained cut off by a large slip on Birds Hill, and in Pohara up to 30 Pohara homes were damaged by a dam bursting on Wednesday night.

The Pohara residents have not yet been able to access their properties.

The slips which washed away the road to Collingwood would take "two to three days before any semblance of structure is in place there," Civil Defence spokesman Chris Choat said.

Supplies were being transported into Collingwood by four-wheel-drive over an alternative route.

Police were unable to reach Cable Bay residents cut off by slips yesterday but were hopeful of getting in today. Arlie St residents at the Glen were also still stranded this morning by a large slip at the bottom of their road.

Many of the people evacuated throughout the region have stayed at motels or with family and friends.

Authorities were struggling to get an accurate count, as many evacuees have not registered, but they believe there are about 160 evacuated homes in Nelson, 30 in Pohara and about five in Richmond.

About 150 slips, largely around Nelson city, have been preventing hundreds of people returning home while also putting the city's water supply at risk.

Contractors were working furiously today on trying to stabilise the Maitai pipeline just below the Maitai Dam, where a slip had occurred.

"If we lose that line, we will have big problems," emergency operations controller Alec Louverdis said.

Another 12 properties above Rocks Rd were evacuated around midnight after reports that a house had started moving.

State Highway 6 around the waterfront remained closed today by a slip, causing continuous problems, with peak traffic being gridlocked on the main route between Richmond and Nelson.

What you need to know: Click here for road closures and other outages

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This morning the scale of the damage to the Tahunanui and Grampians hillsides was becoming more evident as the first clear skies of the week arrived.

Large slips scarred several parts of the Grampians, above Allan St and further south.

Slips were visible on many parts of the Tahunanui Hills, from Rocks Rd to Annesbrook.

Part of the upper portion of Princes Dr had fallen away, and a big mudslide filled a driveway in Moana Ave not far south of the Princes Dr lookout. Closed streets in the area included Richardson St, Poynters Cres and Grenville Tce.

Civil Defence was making an aerial assessment of the flood-ravaged region today. On board a helicopter were Tasman District Council engineering manager Peter Thompson, a police representative, a photographer and a geotechnician, who were to fly over Richmond, Nelson and Golden Bay.

AMI Insurance Tasman area manager Graeme Duncan said this was different to previous events because water was continuing to seep into the land, creating slips that could continue for several days. "This one is prolonged."

AMI was receiving a "steady" stream of calls but was coping well, he said. "There are a lot of people yet to discover they've got a problem." An extra six staff were being flown in to help.

"Authorities are doing an extremely good job," Duncan said. "That's been very evident to us all."

An EQC spokesman said it had five two-man teams of assessors arriving in the region today. They had received 72 claims so far.

The agency handled claims for flooded land, but not flooded houses, which were the domain of private insurers.

The commission believed about 180 to 200 properties have been damaged.

The timing was "quite good" in that EQC had just finished assessments in Christchurch.

Insured property owners with slip damage or flood damage to land but not houses would be covered by EQC and had 90 days to lodge their claims, the spokesman said.

Local Government Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith said government support might be forthcoming to help Tasman district repair some of the worst storm damage. He made the comment during a brief tour of Richmond yesterday with Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain.


The recovery effort in Nelson was stepping up a gear now that the rain had eased.

Choat said the process of inspecting houses affected by slips and flooding would take some days.

Early today 16 teams were at work.

A sticker system had been implemented for buildings similar to the one in Christchurch after the earthquakes.

Civil Defence was asking people who had been evacuated from their houses to not enter their properties until an inspection had been carried out.

Once a house had been inspected there would be a notice saying so in the letter box, and also a sticker on the house's door.

The sticker would tell people whether or not it was safe to enter, or whether the house could be entered on a restricted basis.

People who were unable to get into their homes would be looked after at welfare centres, which were listed on the Civil Defence website.


Donna Scott screamed at her partner to run, before he was knocked to the ground by a torrent of mud careering down the side of their home in Toi Toi, Nelson.

Scott, and partner Danny Gault today stood taking stock of the devastation.

Half of their garden, which they had poured $10,000 into landscaping, had been obliterated, buried under at least a metre of mud.

They had no idea how the foundations of their Chamboard Pl home had held up to the force of the slip.

Forced to evacuate last night, police told Scott: "if we didn't leave they would carry us out".

They had no indication as to when they would be allowed to return to their home of three years.

Scott said they planned to return and stay tonight, even if it went against the wishes of the emergency services.

"Police don't even know when we will be allowed back in,' she said.

"But this is our home, we've put our hearts into it.

"All those years saving, and it could be wiped out."

Gault said he had returned to the property between rain showers yesterday, in attempts to divert the mud away from the couple's aviary.

"I got caught by the police in between the rain showers trying to put blocks back in the fence. But I managed to divert the mud."

The sheer force of the slip blew wooden boards right off the garden fence.

As he walked back down the side of the house, he heard Scott screaming at him.

"As I turned around it came down and literally bowled me over."

The couple said they were insured, and would make contact with their insurers today, to plan mammoth the clean up effort.


The overnight evacuations are the latest in a spate of wet weather the likes of which Nelson hasn't seen for 50 years.

The two-day deluge would place more pressure on New Zealand's disaster funding, as the EQC, which was left reeling after the Christchurch quakes, was responsible for paying claims for landslip damage.

Smith said yesterday government support may be forthcoming to help repair some of the worst storm damage.

Choat said the level of rain had surpassed that of any downpour since records began about 50 years ago.

While rain still fell overnight, it had eased considerably from earlier levels, and the sun was shining today.

The rainband has cleared the North Island and the warnings for Bay of Plenty and Tongariro National Park have been lifted.

MetService reported 84mm of rain fell at Nelson airport between midnight and 7.30pm yesterday, compared with 181mm in the same period on Wednesday.

Choat said the state of emergency was likely to be in place until next week.

"The issue has not been the rivers; it is surface flooding and land saturation. This is where all the slips are coming from," he said.

"It has got to a stage where the land cannot absorb any more water. All it takes is a small burst of rain, and it suddenly rips up."

Meanwhile, about 500 Tahunanui homes were without landlines after slips wiped away power lines. It is likely to be more than a week before communications are restored.

Cell phone towers in the area are operational.

Choat said about 50 houses had been evacuated with the help of police and Search and Rescue workers, while people in hundreds of other households had voluntarily evacuated to avoid rising floodwaters.


Holiday campers were trapped at the Totaranui Campground after mudslides closed the only access road.

Department of Conservation Golden Bay area manager John Mason said the camping ground had suffered some flooding, but the access road had fared worse in the rough weather over the past two days.

There were at least two significant mudslides covering the road, but Mason said he did not know the full extent of the damage yet.

There is no phone link to the camp, and he said if campers wanted to escape, their only option was by boat.

He did not know how many people were at the campground. About 850 people flock to Totaranui to camp each summer, and most were Cantabrians, he said.

Mason was confident the campsite would be open over summer, but Christmas campers' plans could be ruined if the access road remained closed.

Other camping grounds in the region said they would still "party on" through the festive season.

Pohara Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is closed after the severe weather cut its water and sewerage supplies, but manager Brent Clarke was positive the thousands of campers who arrived every summer would not be deterred.

"These guys are hardy campers. Some have been coming for about 70 years. They have camped in atrocious conditions before and they will camp again," he said. "The festive season will not be ruined."

He hoped the campground would reopen in the next two days.

Clarke expects about 25,000 Cantabrians to pitch their tents at Pohara over the summer and said he had received dozens of supportive calls from Christchurch families yesterday.

"It is a disaster, it is a mess, but we will party on," he said.

- Charley Mann, Tracy Neal, Karen Goodger and Olivia Carville

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