'Traumatised' family flee mudslide terror

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 17/06/2013
Christine Handley
MARION VAN DIJK/Fairfax NZ

STAYING IN TOUCH: Neighbours Christine Handley and Sam Dillon speak to each other across a slip between their properties on Athol St at the Glen.

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A Glenduan family of five evacuated their house in the middle of the night after the "terrifying" sound of a mudslide crashing through trees woke them up.

Christine and Sean Handley and their three children were thankful they were alive and still had a home this morning, as they assessed the damage to their Athol St property.

Tonnes of mud had buried part of their back garden and piled 2 metres high against the outside wall of their master bedroom. As far as they could tell no mud had come inside the house.

The Handleys woke at about 1am when they heard the hill behind their Athol St house begin to slip, taking out trees, fences, a water tank and a neighbour's garden shed.

They had spent a sleepless night at a friend's house in Nelson, wondering if they would have a house to go home to.

"We are all probably a bit traumatised," Mrs Handley said.

"But we all got out safely, so that's good. And the house hasn't gone anywhere, which is good."

Mrs Handley said they had previously experienced smaller slips on the property, and this time decided to evacuate as soon as they heard the noise of mud careering down the hill.

She said it was a pretty terrifying experience, and initially they feared for their lives.

"We could hear the trees and stuff cracking. We weren't going to wait around."

The Handleys called neighbours Sam and Suzie Dillon to tell them they were leaving.

The Dillons stayed at home, but also had a sleepless night. Mr Dillon said he was up most of the night digging the dirt and mud, trying to divert a river of water and debris away from his house and property.

The slip, which he estimated had started at least 100m above his property, came down between his and the Handleys' properties, creating a large gully of mud where previously a small stream had trickled.

Mr Dillon was "a bit gutted" that his "man shed" had been smashed to splinters by the mudslide, and he had lost most of his tools. "There was lots of noise, it was a bit scary," especially for his two children, he said.

Suzie Dillon said it was frustrating more than anything, and they were facing a big cleanup today. Police and fire engines had visited the property during the night, and the family were waiting to reconvene with emergency services before organising insurance.

Mrs Dillon is an agricultural erosion specialist, and said a farm track recently cut into the hill above the properties may have contributed to the mudslide, although it was water-logged soil that ultimately took the blame.

"We are mud magnets," she said, as they had experienced mudslides before on another property.

"But, in the big scheme of things, this is little," she said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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