Isolated families learn to live with huge slip
Three families whose road access has been cut off by a massive slip in the Graham Valley will remain stuck for at least another month.
The slip wiped out Graham Valley South Branch Rd, southwest of Motueka, on the night of June 24, stranding four families who live above it. One of the families has gone to live overseas but for the three who remain, reaching the wider world is a sporadic and dangerous exercise.
To get to cars parked below the slip, they have to walk across the slip face, a roiling mix of mud and rocks, some the size of a Mini car, piled about 15 metres high.
Because the slip is unstable, in wet weather most of the residents choose to stay put, for fear that their access will be destroyed before they return.
Nine-year-old Jessie Riley has been going to Ngatimoti School when she can, but crossing the slip face involves wearing a hard hat and signalling to the digger driver via a spotter keeping a lookout on the opposite side of the Graham River.
Elfriede Schroeder, 62, works nights as a caregiver in Motueka. Following the slip, she continued to go to work at first, but the unpredictability of the walking path that contractors cut across the slip meant that on many days, she could not leave her house. She is now taking leave, and when that runs out, she and husband Karsten may go without an income until road access is restored.
The official estimate for when that will be is another month, but the project manager for the slip clearance, Mark Townsend from the Department of Conservation, said the rain was making it difficult to predict. The initial estimate to clear the slip was five weeks, but that passed three weeks ago.
There have been at least three large slips and many smaller ones since the first one. The latest and largest was on Wednesday night. The slip was initially estimated at 20,000 cubic metres but the residents guess that it has at least doubled in size since then.
The road is the most popular access route to Kahurangi National Park, and at this time of year the Flora car park at the top of the road is often full with people seeking easy access to the snow-capped peaks of Mt Arthur and its neighbours.
"We're very keen to get the road open, and Friends of Flora are anxious to get in there and check traps, and our own staff want to get to work," said DOC's Motueka area manager, Martin Rodd.
After visiting the families yesterday and seeing what they are living with, he said he was more motivated than ever to get the road reopened.
Dusty Diggers owner-operator Barry Mogford said the slip was "crumbling like blocks of chocolate. Pull the bottom one out and they all come down".
When he returned to the site on Thursday, he said it was "disheartening" to see "all my work wiped out".
The slip clearance project would cost at least $100,000, said Mr Townsend.
Because the road is managed jointly by DOC and the Tasman District Council, they are splitting the cost, which is being funded by central Government.
- © Fairfax NZ News