Northland flooding leaves farms under water

By Matthew Theunissen of RNZ

As the flood waters recede in Northland the full extent of the damage from the weekend's deluge is becoming clear.

After months of near-crippling drought more than 200mm of rain fell over 10 hours from Friday night.

The main road into Kaitaia remains closed by massive slips.

The Waiharakeke Stream near Kaikohe has slowed to a raging torrent after bursting its banks and flowing into the small town of Moerewa.

Most people have been able to return to their homes, often to find them caked in mud and strewn with debris, and some are uninhabitable.

Moerewa residents are becoming sadly accustomed to the floods, which seem to come every couple of years now.

Mike Butler is well rehearsed in dealing with the devastating - and dangerous - floods.

He spent the weekend sorting out the overflowing septic tanks, checking on vulnerable members of the community and arranging for a tangi to move from the flooded marae to the church.

"We've got this old saying 'it usually takes Mother Nature three days of solid rain, but we wear it on the third day'. There was no rain, but it was the water - the after effects of the overflow of the water from the mountain."

He is still not sure how many homes have been left uninhabitable by the floods - at least seven in Moerewa but there could be more up the valley, which he hasn't been able to access.

Moerewa resident Skip Kidwell says it's the fifth time his house has been flooded
Moerewa resident Skip Kidwell says it's the fifth time his house has been flooded Photo credit: RNZ

On Pembroke St, Skip Kidwell 's family home is still surrounded by water and not for the first time. He thinks this might be the fifth time its flooded.

Kidwell has lost faith in the council and government coming to help.

"There's business planning that stops at Whangārei. It doesn't go anywhere up this way.

"They want Whangārei to Hamilton to be one super highway, but there's nothing past Whangārei. Everything stops at Whangārei. No money comes up this way."

Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management group manager Graeme MacDonald said the flooding was similar to 2014 except the deluge came in a much shorter period.

Two families in Whangārei who had to leave their homes are being looked after in alternative accommodation.

Council teams have visited 100 homes in Moerewa and found houses and septic tanks have been flooded. McDonald said the council was likely to get the tanks cleaned out to enable people to stay in their homes.

Paddocks under water

Many Northland farmers who've been struggling as a result of the drought now find their paddocks completely under water.

There's a vast plain between Whangārei and Kawakawa that could almost be mistaken for a lake if it wasn't for the tops of fence posts and the farm houses on raised ground surrounded by water.

Sam Davis runs a cattle farm just north of Moerewa and said his farm was three quarters under water, with little land left to move the cows to higher ground.

Ngunguru dairy farmer Matt Long said much of the flat land paddocks were under water and many farms were in the middle of calving.

"This follows on from the worst drought in 50 years, so there's not a lot of feed reserves around for anybody."

He told Morning Report the 140mm rainfall on Wednesday last week caused minimal flooding compared with the damage caused by the 220m rainfall on Friday.

"There has been some slips on our property but I haven't been further afield because the roads are a bit of a mess."

Another frustrating result of the flood, he noted, was that fences usually came down and got entangled with debris which took time and money to disentangle.

"When a flood comes down it gathers all the loose grass, leaves, sticks and logs, when it gets to a barrier, they catch on the barrier ... roll up what's there and smash it and break it and deposit it around trees.

"It's something we'll have to fund ourselves."

People and property a priority - minister

Floods closed some of the region's water treatment plants and Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said residents are being asked to conserve water for the next few days.

"The quality of the water coming into the treatment plant is just awful and it takes a lot longer to treat that water.

"The reservoirs are building but we're still asking people just to only use water for cooking, for drinking and for essential hygiene."

Mai said it was hoped the plants will be operating at normal capacity before the end of the week.

Once the extent of the damage was understood, the councils would talk to central government about long-term solutions for flood prevention and repairs to infrastructure, she said.

Minister of Civil Defence Peeni Henare visited the region yesterday.

Henare told Morning Report that people and property were a priority.

Since the waters had started to recede teams had been in Moerewa and Kawakawa to do the assessment, he said.

"I expect in 48 hours to three days we'll have a true picture of exactly what property damage ... people are facing."

He was in talks with the Whangārei District Council about what a relief package for those affected would look like.

"We're there to support them and we'll do what we can to get them back on their feet," he said reiterating comments by PM Jacinda Ardern.

State highways in Northland are open this morning, other than through the Mangamuka Gorge, which is expected to be closed for several days.

"The slip isn't down just onto the road but also below the road which makes it a compromised road. Of the over 300 bridges in the Far North, three-quarters of those have already been assessed to date.

"In the next 48 hours, we'll have a true picture of what the impact on the infrastructure is."

There were a couple of isolated communities with high waters where Civil Defence was assisting, he said.