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

Owens refs under-15 match video

Players from both sides were thrilled to have the popular Welshman officiating their match.

Refereeing legend Nigel Owens warmed up for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup test by officiating a school game in Auckland.

Forced to share a home

A family of four ended up sharing bills with strangers at this Browns Bay property.

Family of four found themselves splitting bills with strangers when their landlord rented part of their house to other tenants.

Woman and son missing

Tina Whaitiri is 45 and was last seen wearing black pants and a black long-sleeved top.

Police have "serious concerns" for welfare of a West Auckland woman and her young son.

DHBs budget blowout

Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman insists there will be no service cuts to DHBs around the country despite forecast ...

Several district health boards around the country are under pressure to reduce budget blowouts.


Disability support a 'black hole'

Nicola Parsons waited a year to get early intervention services for Sam. The Ministry of Education's target is to have ...

Preschoolers and their families waiting months for first appointment with early intervention services.

Ohariu deal canned video

Green Party candidate Tane Woodley has been revealed as the shock last-minute contender for the Ohariu seat.

Greens pull out of their only electorate deal, standing an 11th-hour candidate.

Woman's fight for $50K ring

The woman was unsuccessful in a bid to have her $50,000 engagement ring returned from her former partner.

A Hawke's Bay woman has lost her bid to keep her $50,000 engagement ring after the relationship ended.

New notch in town belt

A map of the land acquired by the Wellington City Council to become part of the town belt.

Wellington City Council has bought 4220sqm of Aro Valley land to add to town belt.


Blacking out and 'stuck' video

Danny Watson says he often has to give several days notice when ordering a taxi, despite companies being required to ...

Danny Watson was blacking out. Paramedics needed to get him to hospital but taking an ambulance would put his life at risk.

Ex-cop 'disgraceful'

Former police officer Jeremy Buis sent anonymous text messages featuring gay slurs and photos of penises.

Constable resigns after waging two-year harassment campaign against Dunedin man.

Suburbs may get boost

Linwood Village is one area area covered by the Christchurch City Council's master plans.

Christchurch's most earthquake-damaged suburbs could benefit from a $31 million injection over the next 10 years.

Centre cost now up to $475m

The planned Christchurch convention centre, as it would be seen from the Avon River.

Updated Govt figures show Christchurch's new convention centre will cost $475 million.


Mother warns of stranger danger

Blake Crossan, 10 was selling raffle tickets at the Hillcrest shops on Sunday when a taxi driver approached him and told ...

Mother warns parents after taxi driver's reportedly odd behaviour.

Fatal crash near Waihi

Athenree Gorge runs between Waihi Beach and Waihi township, north of Tauranga.

One dead and State Highway 2 closed after collision between car and petrol tanker in Bay of Plenty.

Highway man link to fatal fire

The scene of the fatal house fire.

Man seen standing on the side of the highway near scene sparks police appeal.

Holiday death shocks family

Michelle Robertson, left, photographed with her siblings Shannon, Paul and Kerryn at Paul's wedding.

Waikato's Michelle Robertson died of kidney failure while on a holiday in Rarotonga.


Not looking too far forward for Taranaki No 8

19082017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/STUFF.  Mitre 10 cup rugby, Taranaki V Waikato at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth.  Toa ...

"My actions need to speak for themselves."

The next generation


Taranaki rugby training. Logan Crowley

Young halfback the next of the Crowley generation to play rugby for Taranaki.

A gender diversity rainbow

Rainbow Youth representative Morgan Butler says there is no right or wrong time to 'come out'.

What do you do if you don't think you're a he or a she?

Sports medals found in raids

Detective Constable Tony Temple with medals recovered in a raid at a Waitara home.

Person found with the medals wasn't old enough to be a veteran runner and "didn't look like an athlete", police say.


Into the Dragon's Den

Paanga Smith, 14, from QEC, presents for her group as students pitch their ideas in a competition.

Manawatu Maori secondary school students get a chance to test their business ideas.

More homes for city

Jacinda Ardern announces more state houses for Palmerston North if her party gets into Government. On her right is ...

Political parties go into battle over housing in Palmerston North.

Capturing little characters

Wildlife health professor Brett Gartrell cares for a giant petrel that swallowed a spoon and a balloon. The items were ...

Book on wildlife hospital's feathered patients takes flight.  

Ashhurst School plans zoning

Ashhurst School headmaster Heath Chittenden says the school could become overcrowded.

 A soaring roll and town population has led Ashhurst School to plan enrolment zone rules.


Takahe reintroduction on hold

Wild takahe will be released in the Gouland Downs next year.

Bad weather and early breeeding have delayed the release of takahe to the Kahurangi.

Rough sleeping banned

People like Peter Wilkie, left,  will no longer be able to sleep rough overnight in the Nelson CBD.

Nelson City Council bylaw puts in place ban on rough sleeping in city centre.

Holding pattern for poison drop

A drop of brodifacoum-laced poison bait in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary is designed to wipe out predators before native ...

Preparations for the poison drop in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary are in a holding pattern as a last-ditch court challenge is heard.

Salisbury School gets extension

Education Minister Nikki Kaye has given Salisbury School more breathing room.

Richmond school heartened by new talks with Ministry of Education about its future.


Cone and the Marlburian video

Mr Whippy franchise owner Len Shaw has sold a lot of ice cream in Marlborough.

Marlborough's Mr Whippy creams the competition, scoops national award.

Crash on SH6

Accident on SH6 near Rai Valley

A woman in her 20s has been hurt in a serious crash in Marlborough

Sawmill fire could have spread

The Kaikoura Volunteer Fire Brigade put out a sawmill fire on Wednesday.

Sparks from a welding winch have set fire to sawdust at a Kaikoura sawmill.

Duck hunter's maimai meltdown

Hunters use maimais during duck shooting season. (File photo)

Enraged man caught illegally hunting tells female ranger she should be at home looking after the children.

South Canterbury

Evans St traffic monitoring video

23082017  News JOHN BISSET/STUFF.    Timaru Engravers and Giftware owner Ewen Lawson is sick and tired of heavy trucks ...

A mobile camera unit on Timaru's busy main road road would record the number of speeding cars.

$1.5m roading fix

South Canterbury Councils are looking to foot an estimated $1.5 million bill to fix roading damage due to July's deluge, ...

South Canterbury's councils face a $1.5 million clean-up bill for July's floods.

Truck rolls on Evans St

A police spokewoman said it was understood the driver of this truck swerved to avoid another motorist before rolling on ...

SH1 is closed after a truck rolled as it swerved to avoid a aother vehicle in Timaru.

Disease at third farm

Cows on an a farm near Oamaru look likely to have been infected with the Mycoplasma bovis disease from a Van Leeuwen ...

Cow disease Mycoplasma bovis spreads to a third farm, this one in Oamaru.


Disgraced cop quits

Former police officer Jeremy Buis sent anonymous text messages featuring gay slurs and photos of penises.

Constable who waged two-year harassment campaign against Dunedin man resigns, with police labelling his actions "disgraceful".

No pool for school

Wakatipu High School principal Steve Hall says students will have to use the Queenstown Event Centre for swimming ...

Wakatipu High School principal is disappointed the new premises won't have a swimming pool.

Airport has record profit

Passenger growth and night flights behind record profit for Queenstown Airport.

Passenger growth and night flights behind record profit for Queenstown Airport.

Builder lived high life, then fled

Former Queenstown builder Jaden Melgren on a duckshooting trip.

Jaden Melgren, who owes at least $670,000, enjoyed a flamboyant Queenstown life as his business slowly collapsed.


Polyfest hits new heights video

Members of the Otatara Kindy on stage at Polyfest 2017

''They like the sense of whanau, they feel like they are a part of something."

Hospitality at the heart of the south

Ronald McDonald Family Room supervisor Helen Walker and volunteer Susan Stenton at the Ronald McDonald House ...

Southland's inaugural Purple Work Shirt Day is raising funds for Ronald McDonald House.

'Stubbornness' gets Grieve home

Dwight Grieve from Fiordland leads Jack McNaughton and Buddy Small in the early stages of the Southland championships in ...

Stubbornness and a want to succeed have helped Dwight Grieve claim the Southland Road Championship title in Te Anau on Saturday.

Quick thinking prevents injury

Fire crews attend a house fire on Dipton street, Invercargill, on Sunday afternoon.

An Invercargill family had a close shave following a house fire in Kingswell.

Ad Feedback