A lot of progress in 12 months - but not for everyone

Last updated 12:00 15/12/2012

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OPINION: Yesterday and today this newspaper has done its best to adequately mark the first anniversary of last year's flood, an event so serious that it caused a Civil Defence state of emergency, forced hundreds of people from their homes and washed away roads, water supplies and sewage systems.

For the first time a region-wide emergency recovery plan was activated. Hundreds of council staff, contractors, emergency service workers and Civil Defence volunteers worked without much respite for days on end.

Homeowners in pockets across the region, from Cable Bay to Ligar Bay and beyond, had the heartbreak of seeing slips or floods damage and, in a few cases, destroy their houses.

In several instances lives could have been lost. Yesterday's account of what happened to 78-year-old Golden Bay farmer Ian Watts, swept from his living room by a powerful wall of water and mud while still sitting in his armchair, was a reminder of how the devastation could so easily have taken a darker turn. After seeing the horror and pain of the Christchurch earthquakes from a distance, nature's power was brought home to Nelson.

A year has gone by and some pluses can be recorded from the flood response. The staff of the Nelson City and Tasman District councils and the contractors they called on for help worked well together; silly parochialism was set aside and the arbitrary boundary at Champion Rd was temporarily forgotten. Police, emergency services and Civil Defence combined well too. As we have come to expect - but must not take for granted - people helped one another, offering places to stay, meals and the strength of their backs to divert floodwaters and dig out slips. For the most part, residents showed patience and restraint during the first difficult days, accepting that a relatively small number of people had an awful lot to do. The strong looked out for the weak.

Those were the good things, and to that should be added the way that the councils, insurance companies and the Earthquake Commission have systematically dealt with most of the problems left after the storm departed. Both councils got roads open and services back in action quickly, even if there is still a lot of repair work to be done, such as at Cable Bay and on the Wainui Hill road in Golden Bay. All the essential parts of the cleanup - the removal of debris blocking culverts and drains, the restoration of water and sewage systems and the like - was accomplished promptly and EQC has dealt with all but 39 of the 987 claims that were lodged.

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However, articles yesterday and today show that for some people, the nightmare that began on December 14 and 15 a year ago is far from over. The councils, EQC and insurers can be said to have done well in a general sense, but when the spotlight goes on some individual cases, it is a less satisfactory story. A handful of residents across the region are still out of their homes and some of them are saying that they have been in a constant and exhausting fight for the entire 12 months.

It is to be expected when nature's force is unleashed that the resulting mess will be hard to clean up, with areas of uncertainty around who is responsible for what, and who must pay. In this case, clearing up those difficulties has not been assisted by a level of bureaucratic stonewalling that has increased the pressure on some of the worst-affected.

For them, this Christmas will signify not that their troubles are over, but that another year of struggle is beginning.

- The Nelson Mail

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