Upgraded state of emergency and worry over Edgecumbe stopbank as new deluge nears
A upgraded state of emergency for the Bay of Plenty comes as frantic efforts to pump water out of the flooded town of Edgecumbe and lower the Matahina Dam to the lowest level on record are made.
A state of emergency was declared by Whakatane District Council when Edgecumbe was inundated with floodwaters on Thursday, April 6, after the stopbank in the town breached forcing the evacuation of 1600 residents.
Now, a regional state of emergency has been announced as the aftermath of Cyclone Cook bears down, kicking a Bay of Plenty Civil Defence Regional response into action.
Current models show the remnants of Cyclone Cook, currently wreaking havoc in New Caledonia, will hit the Whakatane region from midday Wednesday with a forecast 200 to 250mm of rain falling on already saturated catchments.
At a hastily-organised press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's duty flood manager Peter Blackwood said everything that was possible to lower the possibility of a flood was being done.
It was literally a case of all hands to the pumps.
"With the information we currently have available, the bulk of the rain is going to arrive Thursday and it looks like coastal communities are going to be hit the worst. Severe gales are also predicted along the coast which will likely lead to storm surges and flooding of coastal margins.
The council was working closely with Trustpower to lower the Matahina dam to the lowest levels ever recorded, he said.
"Our pumps along the Rangitaiki are also going full speed to remove water from flooded areas and there are ongoing inspections of the stop banks."
Outside of the eastern Bay, the Okere gates had been open for more than two weeks and were discharging flood water from Lakes Rotoiti and Rotorua at capacity.
"There are no further steps we can take to lower these lake levels and residents should expect some flooding around lake margins.
"Our pumps in the lower Kaituna have also been going flat tack."
Bay of Plenty Civil Defence controller Clinton Naude had a stark warning for Eastern Bay residents who had returned home.
"Make sure your getaway kits are ready ... Heed the natural warning signs and self-evacuate if you feel the need. Don't wait for the official warning.
"We are looking at a very similar event [to last week's]. Sit down as a family and come up with a self-evacuation plan. Arrange where you will go and who you can stay with."
Farmers were being advised to move stock to higher ground from low lying areas before noon Wednesday.
"Edgecumbe residents will be alerted to any evacuations by fire station sirens sounding continuously and by emergency services vehicles driving round with sirens on. That will be the signal to move."
The dire predictions were a very different situation to last week, when the flood waters washed into the town with no official warning or even the sounding of a fire alarm.
Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne admitted his hopeful early estimates that all the Edgecumbe residents would be back in their homes by Easter were now impossible.
"I think a lot of people will understand why they now can't get back."
During Wed & Thurs possible 200mm heavy rain in BOP.— Whakatāne District (@WhakataneDC1) April 10, 2017
Rain will start today. If evacuation needed we will issue warnings as soon as possible
He had inspected the new replacement section for the town's failed stopbank and he was impressed.
"I would rather be behind the temporary wall than the other walls ... The stopbanks are saturated, so there will be weaknesses."
Bonne would not be drawn on whether the area of failed stopbank had a deep enough foundation. Nobody had expressed any concerns about it to him.
"I can't answer that. It's been there for decades."
The magnitude of last week's deluge had taken everyone by surprise, and it was very difficult to say what steps could have been taken to avoid the flooding, he said.
MetService meteorologist Brian Mercer said the current cyclone tracks showed the ex-tropical storm was going to hit the Bay of Plenty late Thursday into early Friday.
It would then move across the East Cape and skirt down the east coast of the North Island and onto the South Island.
"That will bring some quite heavy rainfall to a lot of areas including the Bay of Plenty and also quite strong gales."
Edgecumbe residents from 130 homes were able to return on Tuesday through West Bank Rd.
Wastewater, water and power were due to be back on in this area this morning but residents were asked to use these sparingly.
Building inspectors are continuing to do checks around Edgecumbe on Tuesday, inspecting properties not already cleared.
Stickers indicating whether buildings are safe (white), restricted access (yellow) or unsafe for access at this stage (red). Red status doesn't automatically mean homes will be uninhabitable, they are just unsafe at this stage.
Residents back in their homes could register for emergency text alerts by texting WH to 2028. People should get a text back confirming registration.
- Waikato Times