Fears of a gang war in Opotiki are escalating after a stabbing death yesterday evening.
A truce between two gangs in the eastern Bay of Plenty town appears to have ended after a 21-year-old man was fatally stabbed in suburban Goring St, about 7pm.
One resident told the Whakatane Beacon newspaper she watched three carloads of gang members descend on a house at midday today.
"They were armed with all sort of weapons and ran up to a house," she said.
"But I don't think anybody was home."
A Goring St man who saw the Sunday evening brawl said gang tensions were escalating.
"The gang rivalry has started up, and it could get worse," he said.
"I have already heard of retaliations."
The man, who did not want to be named, said yesterday's incident had most likely started as "a drinking game getting worse".
"Somebody gets angry, and the next minute somebody is dead," he said.
"I saw young guys fighting, somebody jumping over a fence, trying to get away."
A "line in the sand" had now been drawn "between red and blue", he said, referring to the Mongrel Mob and Black Power gangs.
Police and ambulance officers had taken longer to arrive than he expected.
"I guess they were waiting for backup," he said.
Several other nearby residents in Goring St and King St said they had heard nothing of the calamity, and one couple said they had been away for the evening, coming home to a large police presence in their neighbourhood.
"We came home and there were police all over our lawn," they said.
"We have tried to get a meeting about the alcohol, drugs and violence in this town, but everybody is keeping their heads down.
"If we got together we could work on the safety of our kids, instead of letting this happen."
The couple, neither of whom wanted to be named, said they had helped several children who were roaming the streets at night.
"I've taken them home in my car," the woman said.
She said seeing police armed with rifles in the street was scary.
"Those officers were here at 7pm in the evening, and they were still there at 9.15 in the morning," she said.
"The police are understaffed. I am not blaming them, they cover a large area and it seems smaller towns are left to fend for themselves as police resources are concentrated to the cities."
Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said the police were called to Goring St shortly after 7pm on Sunday, where they found a large number of people fighting.
"A few minutes later St John Ambulance received a report of a man collapsed in nearby King St," she said.
"The 21-year-old man was taken to Whakatane Hospital in a critical condition but died a short time later and an investigation is now underway."