Flood work will continue through the night at Bay of Plenty
After a "tidal wave" burst through river stopbanks and caused major flooding throughout Bay of Plenty, most rivers have returned to below warning levels.
But according to Bay of Plenty regional council, flood work will continue through the night. River inspections by council staff will continue throughout the night with them monitoring the situation with stopbank inspections and forecasting work.
The rainfall from ex-cyclone Debbie has led to unprecedented river levels throughout the Bay of Plenty, with some flows reaching more than 30 per cent above the one-in-100 year flood event for which most stopbanks in the schemes were designed.
Council flood duty manager Grame O'Rourke said that even though most rivers have returned to below warning levels, the Kaituna remains high.
But he added that it's not of concern and the flows are slowly receding.
"The Rangitāiki River remains the main focus for the team. We have put rock armouring and tow loading in several at-risk areas and we will be able to see the effectiveness of this action at first light. We know there are a few areas of seepage that we are keeping an eye on and hope that as waters recede overnight these will ease."
"Floodwaters continue to come through the breach on College Road at Edgecumbe but as waters lower, we'll be able to better assess the breach and we may be able to fill the gap as a temporary measure on the weekend," he said.
Earlier on Thursday the entire Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe had to be evacuated after the Rangitaiki River burst through a large section of its stopbanks.
The river rose to unprecedented levels due to a "one-in-500-year event" in the wake of severe rainfall - breaching and then gushing through a 50-metre section of the town's protective wall, flooding scores of properties.
After the town's population of 2000 was told to evacuate, residents were out of their homes for the next 72 hours, according to Whakatane District Council.
The worst-hit areas were now fully vacated but a state of emergency remains in place, and Defence Force Unimogs have been deployed to help in the recovery process.
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"Get and stay out," was the Government's advice to to the people of Edgecumbe, Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett said.
Bennett said she had spoken to Civil Defence there and to the Mayor.
"They are saying they have got it under control but there is still a risk of loss of life. They've evacuated about half of the people at this time and they are working on the other half through a range of emergency services.
"They feel they have the resources they need at this time, but we will be carefully working with them to monitor that situation," she said.
"We understand these are people's homes and they will be worried about that, but under no circumstances should people be looking at going back at the moment there is real risk they say in the next 14 to 18 hours and so the message must be really clear to people right now: Get out and stay out".
Bennett said it could be at least three or fours days before people are able to go back to their homes.
She said officials there were aware of the need to communicate well and they would be using local radio and other methods.
"They will be making sure they let residents know as much as they can as early as possible, they can."
She said Defence Force Unimogs were helping with evacuations.
Civil Defence felt they were "fairly well resourced" and had all hands on deck and didn't need any more at this time, Bennett said.
"But that is being monitored literally all of the time."
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Most of those evacuated were going to Kawerau and Whakatane, where Civil Defence Centres had been set up.
The first "shout out" was to go to friends and family where possible, but if not then local marae and schools and others were stepping in to provide accommodation.
There was concern for other smaller communities that were cut off.
Local iwi were will connected to them.
Bennett said there was a high risk still and people should be aware of them.
"Please do not go back to Edgecumbe at this time."
It was lucky there was so far no loss of life and that was "the complete and utter attention" was on that at the moment.
A welfare centre has been set up at the Whakatane War Memorial Hall, and a second shelter is located at Firmin Lodge in nearby Kawerau.
Authorities are considering breaching the stopbanks of the Rangitaiki River in order to ease the flooding which has already left much of the town inundated.
"What we have been told by regional council is to take the pressure they are going to deliberately early-breach the river banks", said Whakatane District deputy mayor Judy Turner.
"They have been evacuating people and have had speed boats going up and checking on houses.
"We were hoping we were past the worst of it", she added.
EVACUATIONS WELL UNDER WAY
The Fire Service has been using boats to help residents evacuate, along with assistance from Mt Maunganui Surf Rescue.
A spokeswoman for Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said he had been in touch with the Whakatane mayor to offer Government support.
The situation was being constantly monitored and the next move was in the hands of local government.
Vehicles from diggers to cattle trucks and jetboats were being used to evacuate people and pets from the floodwaters.
Dominico Zapata was on Tawa St, where the evacuation was well underway.
"Tawa St is a basically a river at the moment. There's major flooding", he said.
"There's a ute towing an inflatable [boat] down the street and there's multiple jetboats that are helping pick up dogs", he added.
There is a heavy police and emergency services presence in the area and the evacuation seemed to be well controlled and orderly.
One person had suffered an anxiety attack due to the situation.
Anyone needing help to evacuate should ring 111.
Edgecumbe lies within Social Development Minister Anne Tolley's electorate.
She said it was serious, and she was working to ensure all the support her ministry could provide was made available.
"I've been in contact with the mayor and I'm heading back there tomorrow.
"Look, for the people of Edgecumbe it's pretty disastrous - they've all been evacuated and the message is there's still a risk of life and to stay out."
She'd received limited briefings, but understood everyone who needed to get was able to do so.
"And my understanding is that early indications were that when they saw the risk, they started the evacuations.
"I talked to the mayor this morning and he was pretty confident that they'd managed it reasonably well.
"We've got welfare stations set up already, I've made sure MSD are supporting that and I'll go and see if there's any more we can do to support them."
THE WALL IS BREACHED
Unprecedented rainfall in the wake of Cyclone Debbie caused the Rangitaiki River to rise to unprecedented levels, placing enormous pressure on the town's stopbanks.
Russell Milne, who lives in Edgecumbe's College Rd, said a "tidal wave of water" about half a metre high had poured through when a concrete section of the stopbank gave way.
Earlier in the morning, water started coming through cracks where the concrete slabs were joined together. Milne said it started to worsen between 8.30am and 9am.
Police and firefighters were at the scene considering how to stabilise the section when it tipped over. "It took the whole section out", Milne said.
"The concrete section was pushed into the middle of College Rd. It [water] blasted down the road.
The affected concrete section of the stopbank was about 50m long and 1m high. It was put in after the stopbank was damaged in the 1987 earthquake.
"The stopbanks that protect the Edgecumbe town are in the process of being breached," Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne earlier told RNZ, describing the rise as a "500-year event".
Police and fire officers had been going house-to-house, telling people to leave immediately.
"We're in a fairly serious situation at the moment, we are asking everyone in the Edgecumbe town if you haven't evacuated to self-evacuate." said Ross Boreham of the Whakatane District Council.
There was a breach on the College Road stopbank and water was flowing into the town from there.
Boreham says the town is significantly inundated and water could be at waist-level in some areas.
"Flow is also an issue that people need to be aware about," Boreham said.
He said the stopbanks breached at around 7.30am.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
Boreham said a state of emergency had been declared and that residents must evacuate.
"If you can get to the fire station there are going to be buses there to help you get out.
"We've declared an emergency here and are just asking you if you are on low-lying land please move and get to higher land," he said.
Shift manager Paul Radden said fire services were using their own boats as well as Surf Rescue boats from Mount Maunganui.
Fire services and Police are carrying out the evacuation after the Rangitaiki River breached its stopbanks at around 7.30 this morning.
Water had reached 1.5m of height in a "considerable" portion of the town, and was still rising. High tide is at 3pm.
"There are a few places that even our trucks can't get to due to the depth of the water. So we are using [boats] to get to those in immediate danger first," Radden said.
"We've rescued several people."
Residents could head to nearby Whakatane where two welfare centres were being set up at the Salvation Army and War Memorial. The roads out of the town were in good working order.
Another welfare centre has been set up at Firmin Lodge in Kawerau.
Bay of Plenty Co-operate Affairs head Lisa Payne said, "as a result of flooding in the Edgecumbe area, Fonterra has temporarily shut down its Edgecumbe site".