Angry residents walk out of Edgecumbe meeting

A meeting for flood-stricken Edgecumbe residents erupted into chaos on Saturday night in Whakatane.

It got off on a bad note, with a late start and no working microphones, and it only got worse as accusations flew thick and fast between the public and officials from Whakatane District Council and Civil Defence.

Half of the 500 residents at the meeting walked out of the packed hall in disgust. One of those was Raewyn Tulloch, who says the stopbank that failed had done so before.

"We're not getting listened to - they're just talking over us, they're not giving us what they want, which is why? Why did they allow to happen? Why was the wall not fixed? Why were we not notified as soon as they were?"

The failure of the concrete stopbank was one of the main talking points for residents, with many blaming the council for not ensuring it was upgraded after a similar incident in 2004.

"The council noted then the skinny little concrete wall had cracks in it," says Ms Tulloch.

"Obviously they've done nothing about it, and now we're at this situation where it has caused huge problems. So many lives are just going to be devastated."

The meeting descended into chaos, with residents shouting angrily at officials. Some complained an 0800 system set up to register lost pets didn't work.

"We shouldn't have to pay rates - we can't get into our houses," said one resident.

 "Why was there no warning? Why couldn't we have a siren?" asked another, to a standing ovation. "There was no siren, some people didn't get doorknocked!"

There were a number of questions about the coming storm system, and what's being done to prevent more floods. The council said it is monitoring the situation.

The meeting was held in an old basketball court at the Whakatane War Memorial Hall.

By the end, fewer than 100 residents were left, patiently waiting their turn on the microphone.

Nearly three-quarters of homes in the town are believed to have been affected by the flood, and it could be up to 10 days before anyone's allowed home.

"Some people will never able to go back and live in their homes," said Whakatane District Council chief executive Marty Grenfell.

"The town is not safe and it won't be safe for some time."