Anger and questions over Edgecumbe Flood as talk turns to legal action video


Work on rebuilding Edgecumbe's flood wall began last week.

With nothing but the clothes on their backs and heads full of questions, Edgecumbe are evacuees sit waiting for answers - and they are angry. 

Some question why the stopbank wall collapsed, why water was not released from the Matahina Dam earlier and why did all the systems designed to protect their homes fail? Others wonder when their insurance will pay out. They are the lucky ones. Many didn't have insurance.  

But all are asking who is responsible and who is liable.

Whakatane Regional Council community board member Graeme Bourk wants answers about why Edgecumbe flooded.

Whakatane Regional Council community board member Graeme Bourk wants answers about why Edgecumbe flooded.

Whakatane Council community board member Graeme Bourk planned to organise a community gathering to bring a class action lawsuit against whoever is found to be responsible. 

"There are a lot of angry people here wanting answers," he said. "I'm glad they are on my side. I wouldn't want to go up against them."

Anger and questions over Edgecumbe Flood
Matahina Dam responsible for flooding: residents
Frustrations over lack of alerts in Edgecumbe flood
SPCA rescues 50 animals from flood-stricken Edgecumbe in one day
* Watch: a kayak across flooded Edgecumbe farmland

Some of the damage from the flooding in Edgecumbe.

Some of the damage from the flooding in Edgecumbe.

Bourk said if a class action were to go ahead, it would be done to help those without insurance to recover some of their belongings and rebuild their lives. 

"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said. "There are people here who have lost everything. We're going to hold everyone to account."

By everyone, he means Trustpower, which owns the Matahina Dam, Pioneer Energy, which owns the Aniwhenua Dam, and the Whakatane Regional Council, which manages the stopbanks. 

Locals won't be allowed home for some time, officials say.

Locals won't be allowed home for some time, officials say.

Bourk was at ground zero when the College St stopbank collapsed on Thursday. He believed a chain of errors built up.

Ad Feedback

"I was about 50 feet away when it [the stopbank collapse] happened," he said. 

"Water was coming through the wall and underneath it. Its foundations had gone.

Debris strewn across properties from the floods.

Debris strewn across properties from the floods.

"A [regional council contractor] digger and a truck were there putting metal up against the foundations to bolster it. As soon as the digger moved the load up to the wall, the whole thing collapsed and two metres of water came flying in.

"They were just doing their job. But they [regional council] should have engineers there. It was an extreme situation to be in."

He felt the council failed to assess the seriousness of the situation and sought to put a Band-Aid solution on too-large a problem. Furthermore, cracks had been appearing in the stopbank wall for years and he believed it needed to be reinforced earlier.

The destruction in the town is widespread.

The destruction in the town is widespread.

Bourk said the last-minute effort to bolster the wall was just one part of a long chain of errors by council and the power company. If any one of those errors had not been made, the stopbank might not have collapsed, he said. 

"Trustpower is saying there was nothing more than could be done, but that's nonsense," he said. 

"The Aniwhenua Dam [another dam on the Rangitaiki River] was empty at the time of the flood. Why wasn't water put in there?"

Edgecumbe residents want to know why more water wasn't spilled from the Matahina Dam to ease the pressure on the stopbanks.
Chris McKeen

Edgecumbe residents want to know why more water wasn't spilled from the Matahina Dam to ease the pressure on the stopbanks.

The Aniwhenua Dam is operated by Pioneer Energy Ltd. CEO Fraser Jonker said the dam was undergoing maintenance at the time of the flood but operated under its flood management procedure once the weather worsened. 

Jonker said the dam has very little storage facility. 

"Even if we changed our flood procedure, which you should never do, at the time, I do not think it would have made a difference," he said.

"At this stage, as CEO, I am confident my people did the right thing."

Bourk adds that dam water should have been let flow out of Matahina Dam earlier, knowing the storm was coming, to help alleviate the pressure on the river and, failing that, intentionally breaching the stopbanks elsewhere, which might have saved the town. Also, regional council should have opened Reid's Canal, a floodwater system installed after the flood of 2004, earlier, to relieve pressure on the stopbank wall. 

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said what happened in Edgecumbe was a "design failure" and the root causes of the flood will be investigated.

Bonne was able to answer some of the questions put by Bourk.

He said he was aware the Aniwhenua Dam was empty and he, too, questioned that when he was given a flyover of the flood zones. The answer was that it wouldn't have stopped the flood.

"It can't store much water," he said. "It's a very small dam."

When asked if the digger action could have contributed to the collapse of the stopbank wall, he only replied: "My understanding is they were reinforcing the wall."

Regarding Bourk's questions about the Matahina Dam, he said it was letting water out of the spill gates leading up to the flood, which lessened the impact of the flood. For more technical questions, he deferred to Bay of Plenty Regional Council flood manager Roger Waugh.

"The stopbank wall fell over quick and we still do not know why," Waugh said. 

"The wall had been there for decades and went through the 2004 event. It was a foundation failure. We had seepage in parts underneath the wall. We do not know why this occurred."

Waugh said Trustpower and regional council, the controllers of the dam, had released the Matahina Dam to its lowest level leading up to the flood and said in doing so, reduced the impact of the flood by 100 cubic metres. 

In a statement from Trustpower chief executive Vince Hawksworth, "As stated by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the Matahina Dam was emptied in advance of the flood to provide as much storage capacity available. 

"The storage available in the Matahina Dam, during a major flood event, is only a fraction of the total volume of water contained within the flood.  Therefore, it is not possible to stop any significant flood event; rather, it is matter of using what storage is available to reduce downstream flows during the peak of the flood event – and this is what was achieved. 

"The available storage was then utilised through the event to reduce peak outflows, reduce risk downstream particularly during hours of darkness, and to assist the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in their effort to manage the impacts of the event.
"This was an unprecedented weather event. Ex-cyclone Debbie rainfall levels were very high – on the Rangitāiki, sites logged between 200-300mm in 48 hours.
"If the storage in Matahina Dam had not been used, 20 per cent more water would have flowed down the river at the peak of the flood.
Waugh said the river was currently flowing at 400 cubic metres per second. At the peak of the event, it was 750 to 830 cubic metres per second.

"If we hadn't used the dam, we would have had over 900 cubic metres coming through," he said.

When the breach occurred, he estimates 100,000 litres a second were pouring into the town. 

"We were here thinking of our plan to stop it," the council's regional works engineer Tony Dunlop said.

He sent the contractor out to organise it, went half a minute down the road, when he got the call it was breached. 

The police had already begun asking people to self-evacuate. "They had minutes," Bonne said.

"It's the old story - if it had happened during the night, there would have been deaths."

Many of the evacuees, however, swap stories of the 2004 flooding and what was different about this flood and now. Fred Mansell said it was blind luck that saved the town in 2004, as a natural stopbank breached, which eased pressure off the town wall as water spilled into farmland. He, too, has questions.

"The river was about the same height, but then the wall held," he said. "They should have breached the river somewhere else to save the town."

Mansell said he was not aware of any upgrades to the wall since the 2004 event.

"The wall was seeping through but it held. The didn't do anything to fix it. They should have made it thicker or stronger somehow."

Waugh countered that by saying an intentional breach in the stopbank would not be good practice. 

"If we were to do that, the flood would become uncontrollable," he said. 

With public meetings being held with evacuees over the next few days, the residents hope they will be able to get some more concrete answers to their questions and hopefully identify anyone liable to bring the class action suit against. 

For now, their immediate thoughts are getting back into their homes to discover how much damage the flood has caused. 

"No one died," Bourk said. "But people are really affected and have lost pets. I think when people go back in and see what has happened, this town will start to boil over. It will be very emotional and people will want to know who is liable."

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers

Horse rescued from crashed float

The "horrible" crash occurred on the southern motorway near Pukukohe.

Jaws of life were used to free a trapped horse after "horrible" accident south of Auckland.

Along came a little lump

Dylan Bowman, 21, wants to try motivational speaking, to share his story and his outlook on life.

It all started with a few clumsy stumbles in the kitchen. Now, chef Dylan Bowman has a "nasty tumour".

Truckie thrown from vehicle

Westpac Rescue Helicopter is airlifting the truckie to hospital.

Man seriously injured after crash near Wellsford in Northland shuts section of SH1.

$500k crashed super car driver charged

The rare and exclusive McLaren super car line is named after New Zealand motorsport legend Bruce McLaren.

His rare and exclusive super car flipped on an Auckland motorway.


Gunner Billy's high-seas adventure

Cigarette-card portrait of World War I hero William 'Gunner Billy' Sanders.

The VC winner lived and died in a boy's own dream.

NZ seeks military craft

The Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes will replace a fleet of retiring P-3K planes.

Four airplanes from US would replace a retiring fleet of P-3K maritime patrols.

Woman hit by car dies

Churchill Dr, Crofton Downs, was closed for a while after the collision on Saturday morning.

Fatality in Gisborne while nasty crash in Wellington closes road temporarily.

Perils of duck hunting

Forty-one per cent of injuries associated with game-bird hunting occur during the opening weekend of duck hunting season.

Almost half of game bird hunting injuries happen during the opening weekend of the season.


Theatrical climate change march

The People's Climate Parade march towards the Avon River.

Key messages were expressed on stage in a "family-friendly" protest.

Small town Chinese garden scandal

The West Coast town of Kumara has a population of about 300.

Westland council allows tiny town's "nest egg" to be used for a garden many don't want.

Used office furniture glut hits Chch

Faced with four floors of surplus furniture to dispose of, Canterbury District Health Board services manager Pauline ...

Christchurch is the place for a bargain as tenants in new office buildings get rid of cast offs.

Deadly love triangle

Those on the outside described the McLeans as a "role model family".

Invercargill rocked to core after a love triangle turned fatal. Where did it all go wrong?


Architectural wonders revealed

The new law and management building at Waikato University was designed by Opus Architecture.

A lot of well known Waikato and Bay of Plenty buildings - and spaces - have earned accolades.

It's our turn to fix this

A medical school backed by Waikato Hospital, pictured, and Waikato University  seeks to train GPs to fill a critical ...

OPINION: The old boys have failed to fix New Zealand's doctor shortage, now it's our turn.

Join the fight for our med school

Waikato University vice-chancellor Professor Neil Quigley and Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray.

A proposed medical school in the Waikato has the Government interested.

Ref raids accounts

050711 NEWS. Robert Charles/Taranaki Daily News. Cheque/ cheque book. Money. Bank.

Colleagues blew the whistle on referee who swiped $13K and a video camera.


Faith in the future

Taranaki Cathedral of St Mary's, Bishop Philip Richardson, centre, blesses Dean of St Mary's Very Reverend Peter Beck as ...

New Zealand's oldest church is being strengthened and it's about more than bricks and mortar.

Mystery is solved 

An unusual search and rescue mission was launched on Mt Taranaki, after a backpack was left behind at Holly Hut.

Backpack sparked search and rescue mission after being left behind in mountain hut.

Campbell Lane opens

South Taranaki District mayor Ross Dunlop officiated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

New development in Hawera gets the thumbs-up from residents.

To Hollywood by motorbike

Todd Holland's work appears on motorbikes in Hollywood movie Ghost in the Shell.

A small-town car painting shop has made it big, with its work featuring in Ghost in the Shell.


Tourism tips in the 1920s

Princess Mary and Viscount Lascelles' wedding day.

Memory Lane: How to attract more tourists? The Standard had the answer 95 years ago.

13 reasons to watch

"13 Reasons Why" Star Gets A Tweet From Her Idol Lady Gaga!

Come on kids, time to watch controversial show dealing with suicide.

New act counters cyberbullying

The Harmful Digitial Communications Act was passed in July 2015.

Act helps as more than 20 people prosecuted for posting harmful content online.

NZDF civilians take strike action

Civilian employees of NZDF are on strike about pay.

Union accuses Defence Force of intimidation.


Not a house, it's a croquet shelter

Athol Turner has a few home comforts at the Hinemoa Croquet Club shelter, including coffee and a biography of Alec Guiness.

As the Nelson City Council looks to implement a new law banning sleeping in the city we meet a man who has made a croquet club his home.

Housing crisis help?

David Barnes, right, with his son Samuel Barnes who needs medical care, pictured with the dwelling David built for him ...

A Nelson man built a home on his property for his mentally-ill son. Could this solve our housing issues?

Guilty of murder

Philip Quayle died after being attacked on a street in Cairns, Australia, about 100 metres from home.

A man who choked a Nelson man to death during a random street attack in Cairns has been found guilty of murder.

Taking a leaf out of the future video

Nelson Mail Journalist Tim O'Connell with the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle(EV) that the Nelson Mail has had on loan from ...

Tim O'Connell shares the thrills, trials and tribulations of driving an electric vehicle.


Ophthalmology waiting list halved

The ophthalmology service at Nelson Marlborough Health has been remodelled which has cut the waiting list for those ...

The health board has remodelled its ophthalmology service and cut the waiting list for those needing follow-up.

Pokies accused 'collateral damage'

The Department of Internal Affairs said Mike O'Brien was "unsuitable" to be involved in the pokie gambling business.

Inquiry into who was behind pokie machine operations was flawed, says lawyer.

Old dog with new tricks

Vincent the retired guide dog plays Sandy in the new production of Annie.

A retired guide dog is treading the boards as the furry star of Marlborough's newest musical.

It's the climb

Blenheim cyclist Andrew Bidwell, 16, is aiming for a podium finish at the upcoming Age Group Road National Championships ...

When another cyclist said he was going to make Andrew's race hell, he laughed it off and smashed the pack by five minutes.

South Canterbury

Parents remember 'talented' son

Rowan Yeager died following a crash near Lake Ohau on Anzac Day. This photo, supplied by friend Andrew Weatherall, shows ...

Man killed in crash near Lake Ohau was just a week off moving into house he built by hand.

Cleverley 'exonerated'

Former South Canterbury District Health Board chair Murray Cleverley has spoken out for the first time about his ...

Former SCDHB chair Murray Cleverley says decision to resign as chair was tough.

'We have got a lot of work to do'

SCDHB chief executive Nigel Trainor says the DHB is going try and improve low rates of HPV vaccination by providing more ...

SC has a 'poor' HPV vaccination rate, prompting the DHB to turn to social media.

Strong winds lash SC

Police were called to the scene of a camper van crash on Friday afternoon, thought to be caused by the wind.

Tourists escape with minor injuries after two campers blown off road south of Tekapo.


'They thought it was a dolphin' video

The French tourist arrives at Dunedin Hospital by helicopter after she was attacked by a shark while bodyboarding in ...

A French tourist who survived a shark attack wrenched its jaws from her legs, a local surfer says.

Deadly love triangle

Those on the outside described the McLeans as a "role model family".

A city's been rocked after a broken marriage ended in death. Where'd it all go wrong?

Ocean swimming 'sharks' territory'

Lydia Ward holds her wetsuit with tooth holes and the boogie board she used to fend off a 1.5m shark that bit her on the ...

A former shark attack victim has urged a tourist bitten by a shark to stay true to her passions - including ocean swimming.

Rugby's presidential change

Outgoing Rugby Southland president Donald Hay.

One Eastern Southland rugby stalwart goes, another one replaces him.

Ad Feedback