Flood-ravaged Edgecumbe residents vent their fury at officials during fiery townhall meeting video

CHRIS McKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne fronts an emergency meeting with angry Edgecumbe residents.

Hundreds of displaced Edgecumbe residents stormed out of a public meeting as fraying tempers tipped over into anger on Saturday night. 

Bleachers were packed with families, children, and elderly, many hugging and comforting each other as the meeting endured and officials appeared to fail to answer the more pressing questions. 

The crowd frequently heckled the speakers, often appearing enraged. 

The mayor of Whakatane, Tony Bonne, hosted a emergency meeting of displaced Edgecumbe residents in Whakatane Memorial Hall.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

The mayor of Whakatane, Tony Bonne, hosted a emergency meeting of displaced Edgecumbe residents in Whakatane Memorial Hall.

The meeting was held in an old basketball stadium at the Whakatane War Memorial hall, getting off to a slow start after a sound system wasn't provided for the meeting- prompting boos and calls from the public about the lack of organisation. 

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An hour later fewer than 100 people remained, with some long-time residents patiently waiting for their turn to take the microphone to vent, to suggest alternative courses of action, and to despair over what they say is a lack of communication from council and civil defence, and disbelief that such a flood could happen twice in just over ten years. 

Edgecumbe residents were at their wits end during an
emergency meeting hosted at the Whakatane Memorial Hall.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Edgecumbe residents were at their wits end during an emergency meeting hosted at the Whakatane Memorial Hall.

"It's a bloody disgrace," said one resident, who declined to be named.

"Nothing's been done. We're bloody sick of paying rates and getting nothing done. The people of Edgecumbe have had a gutsful." 

He lost his home in the 2004 flood, and was incredulous that lessons hadn't been learned. 

Tempers boiled over among Edgecumbe residents at a public meeting on Saturday night.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Tempers boiled over among Edgecumbe residents at a public meeting on Saturday night.

Officials from Bay of Plenty regional council, the district health board, and the Ministry for Primary Industries fronted, including mayor Tony Bonne who promised a thorough inquiry into what had caused the flood. 

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Chief among locals' concerns are irritation at the lack of alert that flooding was likely, that some people had been allowed to visit their homes to collect belongings while others hadn't, and how the flood had happened in the first place. 

One resident, who declined to be named, said the meeting had done little to ease his concerns. 

Edgecumbe residents console one another during the
emergency meeting.
Chris McKeen

Edgecumbe residents console one another during the emergency meeting.

Given a chance to directly confront officials who fronted for the meeting, locals accused them of failing the Edgecumbe community. 

"We are treated like second class citizens and we pay high rates. We are not happy. This whole situation should have been prevented," one woman said. 

One girl sobbed into the microphone saying she just wanted to go home again, while another father stood up and said the mayor and their colleagues needed to sort their "s---" out. 

Residents of Edgecumbe are distraught during a community meeting in Whakatane.
CHRIS McKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Residents of Edgecumbe are distraught during a community meeting in Whakatane.

It's estimated 70 per cent of homes in Edgecumbe have been affected by severe flooding, with the worst hit houses in low lying areas expected to be condemned. 

On Saturday night, officials promised that for the small number of homes that were unaffected, residents could be escorted through the cordon to collect bare essentials. 

However they cannot return for at least 10 days, due to a lack of electricity, water and working sewerage systems. 

Mayor Tony Bonne fronts disgruntled Edgecumbe residents at emergency town hall meeting.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Mayor Tony Bonne fronts disgruntled Edgecumbe residents at emergency town hall meeting.

For those without accommodation hubs have been set up at a Kawerau marae, at the town hall and the Salvation Army, with Red Cross workers working round the clock taking in donations, and directing residents to where they can access help. 

At the hall on Saturday it didn't appear anybody was planning on spending the night. 

Many locals said they had friends and extended families sleeping on their couches. 

Two diggers worked on repairing the breach in the stop bank that allowed the Rangataiki River to flood Edgecumbe.
CHRIS MCKEEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Two diggers worked on repairing the breach in the stop bank that allowed the Rangataiki River to flood Edgecumbe.

The official line is that collecting financial donations are a main priority, though unofficial stations across Whakatane are taking in food, clothes and bedding for when the displaced eventually get back on their feet. 

Whakatane district council chief executive Marty Grenfell said progress would be slow, but sympathised with residents. 

"Everyone is different. Some people will never able to go back and live in their homes. The town is not safe and it won't be safe for some time." 

The district health board has promised free pharmaceuticals and GP visits for displaced residents, and counsellors would be on hand at the Whakatane war memorial hall. 

Mayor Tony Bonne meets with New Zealand Defence Force personnel earlier this week.
TOM LEE/FAIRFAX NZ

Mayor Tony Bonne meets with New Zealand Defence Force personnel earlier this week.

Officials were going around door to door to check on animals left behind. 

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said crew had been working around the clock since Thursday to repair the breach in the flood bank.  

"I know you don't believe it, but we're here for you," he said. 

"We've had 13 trucks working constantly at bridging that gap further, and strengthening it so we can weather the next lot of rain that's coming next week. 

"Can I tell you that we've been doing our best." 

Any eventual inquiry would investigate why warning systems hadn't activated to alert residents to the need to vacate their homes, locals were told. 

A number of people complained that no alarm had sounded on Thursday morning, when the floods hit, and had only evacuated following word of mouth. 

Not convinced the situation was that serious in the absence of official communication, they hadn't taken many of their belongings, they said. 

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 - Stuff

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