Food and toilet paper handed out to gastro outbreak victims

Food and toilet paper handed out to gastro outbreak victims

Havelock North residents have been told the taste and smell of chlorine in their tap water won't go away, with authorities confirming today it will be added to the water supply indefinitely.

It's another blow to the community that has already had 2000 of them struck down with gastro illness, caused by contaminated water.

The Hastings District Council says it's investigating how the town's water got contaminated with campylobacter, and it's also on the search for new potential water supplies.

Twenty-two people are in hospital with gastric illness, and one remains in a critical but stable condition. There are now 62 confirmed and 129 probable cases of campylobacter.

The council is conducting phone surveys of Havelock North residents to assess how many people are affected and what additional help they might need.

"Extra support from district nurses has also been provided to rest homes in the area who are reporting increased illness," the council said in a statement.

A boil notice remains in place until authorities are confident there is no other bug resistant to the chlorination in the water.

Dozens of Red Cross and Civil Defence officers were pounding the pavement in Hawke's Bay on Tuesday, checking on residents affected by the outbreak.

Many people have come down with violent vomiting and diarrhoea since the Havelock North water supply was contaminated, and some are too sick to leave their homes.

Graeme Langford, disaster management officer for the Red Cross, says teams will offer emergency supplies such as food and toilet paper.

"They'll be on foot in the area going door to door," he says. "It should take them most of the day to get that work done, and where we identify some need, then we will be able to help out."

Hastings District Council is also working with the Ministry of Social Development to offer financial aid where necessary to those affected.

The council could face legal trouble as officials investigate what caused the region's violent gastro outbreak.

There's financial aid for struggling families, and the possibility of compensation for affected businesses, although Mayor Lawrence Yule believes it's too soon to consider insurance liability.

Wayne Walford, chief executive of the Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce, says for now the focus for most companies is staying afloat.

"How are they going to communicate with customers?" he says. "How are they going to maintain a level of productivity?"

Wright and Co Cafe director Liv Reynolds says the tap water used to be among the country's best.

Her three hospitality businesses have suffered massive losses. She had already closed two because of the outbreak and says the other one is not worth keeping open.

"Figures show we are 60 to 70 percent down on revenue, and that was when I last checked this morning, so by the end-of-day takings, it's had a big knock."

But she hasn't let the food go to waste, today handing out hundreds of free lunches to those in need.

Prime Minister John Key says there will be an inquiry into what caused the outbreak, and the Ministry of Health will be involved, but the current priority is preventing it from spreading further.

Labour leader Andrew Little says he's waiting to see what assistance the Government provides to the Hawke's Bay community.

"This is simply not something that should be happening in the 21st century in New Zealand," says Mr Little.

The MP for Tukituki says he's had scores of people come to him with concerns over the region's gastro outbreak but he has no answers for them.

Craig Foss says a number of people have raised concerns with him over the outbreak.

"It is specifically the Hastings District Council that is responsible for water," says Mr Foss. "But people have come to me with frustrations about how we ended up where we are, and at the moment we don't know."

Environment Minister Nick Smith says it's too early to speculate on the cause of the outbreak and there's no evidence it's connected to the dairy industry.