Residents' flood nightmare

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 13:00 23/04/2013
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

WASHED OUT: Arbor-Lea Ave resident Matthew Kerr takes us through his flood damaged home. The house has been evacuated due to contamination from Sunday's flood.

Arbor-Lea flood
MARTIN DE RUYTER/Fairfax NZ
HIGH TIDE MARK: Arbor-Lea Ave residents Graham Brewer and Janine Bane near wall markings showing how high the floodwaters rose at their house.

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"A lovely Sunday afternoon" quickly turned into a nightmare for a Richmond family who were forced to escape through a window while floodwaters swirled inside and outside their home.

Lee Cole carried his terrified daughters, aged 7 and 3, on his shoulders to higher ground. It was getting dark and the water level was above his waist. His partner Hayley Lincoln was also upset.

"It wasn't scary but the girls were freaking out . . . that made me freak out. You are supposed to protect your family and when something like that happens you feel helpless," he said.

Water went right through their three-bedroom home and garage. The water was contaminated with sewage, leaving them with no choice but to throw away most of their soggy possessions.

The family have no insurance. A few photos, and the clothes and toys they scrambled to save in a panic before evacuating their rented home is all they have been left with.

Yesterday they were in shock as they cleaned up their home.

"We don't know ‘where to' from here," Mr Cole said.

They are one of five families in Arbor-Lea Ave who have had water throughout their houses and now face a long and daunting cleanup. In nearby Melia Place three other houses were flooded.

The Arbor-Lea houses look depressingly similar, with wet carpet, ruined furniture, wet beds, and a layer of smelly mud throughout. A line of mud along the walls - inside and out - marks the level the water reached.

Further down the road Gemma Astwood and Tom Harworth and their 6-week-old baby Nekko, who do not have contents insurance, have been left with nothing as water a metre deep went through their house. They have nowhere to live and yesterday went to see what emergency help was available to them. Paul Williams, the father of Gemma, said this morning they were given a food grant and the Red Cross had given them motel accommodation for three nights, but he did not know where they would go after that.

The stress was taking its toll on the family and last night they had to take baby Nekko to hospital after he broke out in a rash.

The family had just moved into the house and had done it up with new curtains and furniture.

Mr Cole said his family was having "a lovely Sunday afternoon with the kids" when a neighbour knocked on the door to warn them about the flooding.

"I tried to barricade the garage, but the water was flooding the back. As soon as the backyard was full it was going to come into the house. When it started coming, it came in waves. It literally filled up the house a foot within three to four minutes," Mr Cole said.

Once they decided to evacuate he climbed through a lounge window and Ms Lincoln handed him the girls, who had been sitting on the kitchen bench to stay dry as the water rose.

He came back later to salvage "what he could", and said the house was a metre deep in water within 20 minutes.

"It was pretty futile really."

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Ms Lincoln said coming back yesterday to see their house was devastating. She had kept hoping it was a dream.

"It was just worse than what we thought it was going to be."

The close-knit neighbourhood was evident yesterday - as neighbours whose own homes had been damaged rallied to help the Coles.

Neighbours Janine Bane and Graham Brewer and Ms Bane's 13-year-old son also escaped through the window of their house as the waters rose.

"We didn't leave until it got to the top of the power plugs."

They shut off the power and climbed out of the window, taking

their dog with them. Water came off the Richmond Hills and down Salisbury Rd - pooling in their street.

At the peak of the flood it was also high tide, which meant the water had nowhere to go.

"When the water started coming in through the bath, shower and dunny I knew we were . . ." Mr Brewer said.

The scale of the cleanup was overwhelming

"It's bloody heart-breaking, actually. It's the sort of thing you see on the news and think ‘you poor bastard' and you never think it will happen to you," Ms Bane said.

They were keen to help out Mr Cole and Ms Lincoln.

"They've got no insurance. We will deal with it when the insurance turns up.

"We wanted new carpet, but this wasn't quite the way we wanted to get it," Mr Brewer joked.

Another neighbour Matthew Kerr said the water flowed through his house "like a river".

"The water was coming under the doors and out of the shower and the bath. We couldn't stop any of it."

His 4-year-old son Cody was terrified.

He shifted his car around the corner near Salisbury Rd and carried his son and his daughter, who was visiting for the holidays, to the car.

"It's just drastic. I can't believe it," Mr Kerr said. "I really feel for these people with no insurance down the back here. You see it [flooding] on the news in Australia - the Gold Coast and Brisbane, you don't think it would happen here. I said to my missus, ‘Grab my arm, we are out of here'."

- Nelson

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