Fleeing Edgecumbe residents had to leave pets behind after flood

There is some relief for the submerged Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe, with river levels receding on Friday morning.

As locals face a huge clean-up, they are now asking why repairs to the concrete stopbank that collapsed under the swollen Rangitaiki River were not done before it was too late.

Riley Cobden told The AM Show water had been seeping through for a long time before the wall burst.

"The wall had a leak in it, like it quite often does when we have a good dousing of rain. Coupled with the dam begin let, go by the time I had come back from going for a look, it had burst and we were back in the truck again, taking off trying to race the water down our street."

She says her whanau is all accounted for, but the house is "completely gone by looking at the photos".

"The water got up to our lounge windows, I was told by one of the firemen when they were doing some rounds. We sent a couple of firemen in to go look for our dogs as well. It was quite high. Our house is up on a little bit of a rise so we're higher than most of the street. For it to get to our lounge windows was a feat."

Another resident, Gloria Tahere, told Newshub she heard a roar, then saw rubbish bins and water flowing down the street.

She had four grandchildren with her when water began rushing into her house.

"We made a human chain and the neighbour called out to me to hold on to the fence, and a truck came along and helped us."

Her grandson Kawana is worried about what's happened to their pets. "We had some new-born kittens, they were stuck in the garage," he said.

Mayor Tony Bonne told The AM Show the burst stopbank came as a complete surprise on Thursday morning.

Residents were caught unaware, and many didn't even have time to put on a pair of shoes.

There are more than 600 homes underwater, with cars and vans unable to be saved.

"The power was off, I opened my eyes and there was water all around my bed," says resident David Hensen.

It's likely to be at least two days before people can go home and even start cleaning up after the remnants of Cyclone Debbie tore across the country.