February flooding memories still vivid
It’s now a year since floods devastated the Manawatu and the lower half of Hawke’s Bay.
The rains that fell between February 14 and 16 caused widespread flooding and slips, saw homes slipping into rivers, washed away stock and cut power and phone communications to thousands.
Central Hawke’s Bay District Council emergency management officer Bruce Kitto has vivid memories of the floods.
He was at his bach at Porangahau the day before the bulk of the water fell from the skies, flooding 20 of the seaside town’s homes, leaving it the worst-affected part of central Hawke’s Bay.
Flying over the region the next day, Mr Kitto said the scale of the disaster was huge, matched only by the speed with which the heavens opened.
“It’s the vast area of the district that was submerged by midday the next day.
“It was the suddenness of it” he said.
Up to 300mm of rain fell on the coast from noon on the Sunday through to the following morning.
Around 175mm of rain fell in Waipukurau, leaving some areas flooded. Similar flooding occurred in Waipawa and on State Highway Two.
While Central Hawke’s Bay escaped the widespread damage that occurred in the Manawatu, Mr Kitto said farms bore much of the brunt of the wild weather.
“There was incredible damage done to farms in the wider Porangahau area – hundreds and hundreds of acres washed down hillsides.
“It was just an awesome sight to see, so much water, and it had come in such a very short space of time.”
Mr Kitto said while there was huge damage to farms, stock losses were low, although some animals took unplanned excursions down previously gentle streams.
Holiday homes at Porangahau Beach, and kaumatua flats in the village itself, were inundated with water.
Despite the fury of the water, the flooding subsided relatively quickly after the rain stopped falling, he said.
Forecasters were caught out by the weather pattern which caused “the big wet” but Mr Kitto said in most cases New Zealand’s weather forecasters gave people plenty of warning.
“A lot of the farmers now have a better appreciation of places that will flood in heavy rainfall.”
Despite this, Mr Kitto said people need to be prepared for anything at any time.
That included following instructions at the front of the phone book and ensuring they had access to strong footwear, warm clothing, water and food, and any necessary medication.
While some would say Mother Nature was a harsh tutor, Mr Kitto said were lessons to be learned from February’s soaking.
“It was a really good lesson, just of the awesome power destruction Mother Nature can bestow on us in a very short time.
“I think it’s probably heightened people’s awareness that they’re more vulnerable to some things that they may not have realised they were vulnerable to before.”
Emergency services were pleased with how they handled the flooding in Central Hawke’s Bay.
A state of emergency was not declared, instead the floods were deemed an “adverse event.”
Since the flooding a standard operating procedure for “adverse events” has been introduced, and is currently going through the approval process.
Like Mr Kitto, Tararua District Council emergency management officer Noel Mingins said people should now realise the necessity to be prepared, and to have emergency kits on standby.
Mr Mingins said the enduring memory of the floods for him was the way the community came together and helped one another.
While Dannevirke escaped relatively unscathed, the countryside around Weber received heavy downpours, and roads across Tararua were affected by slips and other damage.
Residents were also affected by outages to both power and phone-lines.
Mr Mingins said emergency services had also learnt their share of lessons from the disaster, adding that communications between the various agencies had now improved.
Ongoing repairs were still being carried out through Tararua, and Mr Mingins said a year on, some people were still coming to terms with the disaster.
“There are some ongoing psychological effects for the people that have been hardest hit.”