Rotorua residents were trapped in trees, tractors in deluge

Rotorua residents are slowly picking up the pieces after a deluge of water swept through the area yesterday.

At least 20 houses were flooded, and many residents had close shaves.

The torrent of water from an overflowing stream took Paradise Valley farmer Matt Ward by surprise. 

"It just came up in the space of 10 or 15 minutes," he told Newshub. "It rose half a metre or more and suddenly things got pretty nasty pretty quick."

He went to close a gate and save what he could of his beehives.

"I crossed back to help them with the bee boxes and got swept away. I ended up hanging on that tree," Mr Ward explained.

His neighbour Neil Heather came to the rescue on this tractor, but danger hit a second time as the floodwaters continued to rise.

"It came over the bonnet and it stopped," says Mr Heather. "So we were both stranded."

He and a mate had to climb onto the tractor's roof.

Mr Ward managed to swim and save himself by hooking his foot into a fence, and then got a rope to the men on the tractor.

Some 51.8mm of rain fell in Rotorua between 10 and 11am on Sunday, which is the most in an hour in the city ever.

On Monday, local Civil Defence went door-to-door to check property damage. It's advising evacuated residents to stay away from their homes until it's safe to return.

"We have to be mindful that a lot of water has been contaminated," says acting Civil Defence primary controller Bruce Horne.

"And because of the height that the water has come up in some of the houses, things like electrical systems won't be safe."

Around 20 homes are expected to be declared uninhabitable.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says the council wasn't to blame and they couldn't have predicted the Ngongotaha Stream would breach.

"You can't foresee that deluge of water and the affects in a caldera like this," she says. "It was simply too much water too quickly. "

Residents say the clean-up will be immense. A state of emergency remains in place, and Metservice says there's more rain on the way.