South Island flooding: Quarter of Westport locals can't return home as receding floodwaters reveal devastating damage

Some distraught residents on the West Coast returned to their homes for the first time on Monday to see their ruined properties from the weekend's catastrophic flooding.

The waters are finally starting to recede, but more than a quarter of Westport's residents aren't able to return to their homes.

Local Josh Potter's home was inundated with flooding and the water was almost at eye level. His life has been turned upside down and he faces an uncertain future.

"It's heartbreaking to be honest. I've had to walk away from people and have a wee moment because this is my life now, what I'm wearing," he says.

He says he's never been the type to ask for help until now.

"I'm lucky that this is such an awesome town with an awesome community. My ex-partner's rung me, they're on the way out with her entire company to lend a hand when they can."

For Sara-Lee Smith, rescuing belongings was far easier than rescuing her animals.

"When I saw the water I thought everything would be dead. When I heard the little bleats of my goats, we waded through the water up to our necks... loaded them in the back of the car," she says.

The mercy dash was done in the dark.

"I had to dive in and underneath and drag out my floating chooks," Smith says. "I really wasn't leaving until I got all of the animals out."

But her pig had other ideas. 

"We put the pig on our neighbour's front lawn. She was being stubborn, we couldn't load her, and we had to leave her and hope for the best."

And "the best" was what she got. The next morning, her pig was tucked up on the neighbour's front deck.

While the animals are in temporary homes, finding accommodation for families is proving tricky.

"We know the housing market was really tight pre this event, and so that has obviously been further decimated with properties damaged and what have you," says Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine.

As authorities work through medium to long-term housing options, emergency shelters will continue.

"We have people here helping who have lost everything themselves and yet they're willing to give. We've had phone calls all day from people willing to give and donate," says Linda Pitcher of the Salvation Army.

At a time of such devastating loss, residents like Potter are thankful for what they still have.

"I'm lucky I've got friends that can put me up and give me a warm dry place," he says.