Relief as Riwaka escapes major damage

Last updated 13:00 17/06/2013

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Riwaka residents were breathing a sigh of relief this morning after their community escaped major flooding.

Riwaka orchards were inundated with floodwaters and the Tasman District Council said Riwaka Valley suffered the worst of the flooding yesterday, although the hills behind Takaka received the most rain.

Council hydrologist Matt Mclarin said most of the rain fell in a strip along the coastal hills from Takaka to Motueka.

Horticulturist Jarod Fry said his family's Swamp Rd packhouse came within centimetres of being flooded during yesterday's downpour.

This morning the extent of the flooding, which closed the road yesterday, was measured in lines of washed-up apples, posts and flattened grass.

"The ditches held, but another 8 inches [20cm] and it would have come through the packhouse. The orchard's fine, we have harvested all the fruit, so there are no issues there," he said.

Trish Fry, of the Riwaka garage, said the flooding was not as bad as in 1990, when the Riwaka River breached the stopbanks. "But it would have been, if it had rained for much longer."

Much of the Riwaka plains remained under water this morning.

Steve Moriarty, operations manger at Inglis Horticulture, said many blocks were under half a metre of mud and water and a couple of bridges had been washed out.

As long as Riwaka received no more rain before the floods receded, the damage would not be too bad, but more rain would risk spreading canker, he said.

"We need to spray and we can't get in there. Half a metre of water means you can't even walk through there to cut it out and you can't cut wet trees anyway. It looks like we'll be putting a helicopter in there to spray, but we can't spray where we have hail cloth."

Kiwifruit growers Thomas Brothers spent an anxious morning sweeping water out of their Dehra Doon packhouse.

Bill Thomas said it was a "bit of a worry", because they were loading fruit due to be shipped out of Port Nelson, but they managed to get it out.

"We had a bit of a mess to clean up."

However, although there was plenty of water running through their orchards, only a trickle got into the packhouse and didn't affect any machinery, he said.

Those around Riwaka and Marahau were a lot worse off, Mr Thomas said.

Growers and farmers appear to have escaped relatively unscathed from the latest downpour.

Neither Federated Farmers Nelson president Gavin O'Donnell nor Golden Bay president Sue Brown had received any calls for help by early this morning.

Mr O'Donnell said most farmers appeared to be spared the worst after the most intense rainfall fell further down the Motueka Valley.

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"The most affected will be the horticulturists and lifestylers in those lower areas."

But the soil was so saturated that further rain could cause more slips, he said.

Rob Guild, who manages the Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve, said there were about five slips on the road from Motueka to Kaiteriteri, but the road was passable.

The biggest slip was at Puketawai Reserve. Kaiteriteri escaped the worst of the rain, but Riwaka and Marahau experienced heavy flooding, he said.

"Lake Riwaka has formed."

Civil Defence asked him last night whether the reserve's motor camp could be used as emergency accommodation for evacuees, but only one couple made use of the facility.

The couple were locals who lived near Split Apple Rock, he said. They were not evacuated, but decided to stay at the motor camp instead of taking a chance on the roads.

Department of Conservation area manager Martin Rodd said a Bark Bay warden had reported the rain at the weekend as intense.

"The river was right up and he had never seen [Falls River] anything like it."

The warden had been clearing culverts but could not keep up.

They expected a lot of slips and trees down and water was flowing over a temporary bridge at Bark Bay, installed after the last big rain. Luckily, the new bridge was almost finished.

Meanwhile, bridges and the walking track of Abel Tasman National Park suffered again. DOC staff walked the track from both ends this morning to assess the damage.

Mr Rodd said they had found multiple slips and fallen trees across the track, although "nothing too major".

"But I wouldn't go into the park today," he said.

Staff were walking the track with saws and chainsaws.

He said there were very few people on the track and DOC was advising them to get a water taxi out today instead of walking.

The huts were OK, but work needed to be done around their water supply.

Bridges also seemed to have survived so far. "That's always a relief."

Waterfall Creek bridge had been washed away in January and a temporary bridge was put in place until the new one was complete. That had held at the weekend.

- The Nelson Mail

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