‘Devastated’: Tokomaru Bay residents call on PM for action after flood


Tokomaru Bay locals are demanding action and assurances from the government, after their community was cut in two by severe flooding.

Sheryll Whaitiri's house was only days away from being repaired by builders from an earlier flood when this flood hit.

Sheryll Whaitiri’s house was only days away from being repaired by builders from an earlier flood when this flood hit. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the township north of Gisborne yesterday to see first hand the extent of the damage from last week’s deluge .

The town has been cut in half by the destruction of a bridge on the main highway.

Nearby on Arthur Street, by the Waiotu Stream, digger operators are hard at work beside homes that have been destroyed.

Sheryll Whaitiri’s home was first badly damaged in floods last June.

Since then, she said she had been waiting for builders to come and “put it back together”.

“But that’s been nine months, so we’ve been living in friend’s B&Bs for five months, and then we purchased a caravan.”

She escaped the caravan just as the floods started, as the caravan when tumbling down into the stream.

The builders were due to start work on Friday, but just three days before that the skies opened.

Whaitiri said the damage was worse this time around.

But she was trying to keep upbeat.

“Just gotta keep smiling, you can’t keep crying.”

She said she had shed a few tears, but “had a few beers” too.

A bridge on the main highway has been ripped in half, tearing the town of Tokomaru Bay in two, with no way to get across instead of swimming, using a horse or getting special vehicles.

Party of the bridge on the main highway has washed away, cutting of Tokomaru Bay in two. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

A few doors down, Sandra Coleman’s home was also full of silt.

“We bought the property in 1983 – we’ve never been flooded right through. It went through the shed in [Cyclone] Bola, but not the house. So this June flood just went straight through the house.”

Now it had happened for a second time.

“I’m feeling devastated. This was our whānau home for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. Now what’s going to happen now I don’t know.”

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Nga Taonga Tuturu ki Tokomaru is one of kura – or schools – in Tokomaru Akau.

Its tumuaki – or principal – is Herena Paranihi said the flood had destroyed a totara tree that had been there for 120 years.

“As a result of that, the whole bank has come down which is now 0.5 of a metre from our fence to our basketball court.”

She was waiting on risk assessments to see if it was safe to go back. With the bridge out she’s also had to find other ways to get across the awa.

“We walked the river in a safe part of the river which is just below my knees. Many of our mokopuna and whānau have rode horses across the river, in order to get stores for their whānau on the other side.”

Hatea-A-Rangi School has been damaged by floodwaters or the second time in nine months.

Hatea-A-Rangi School has been damaged by floodwaters or the second time in nine months. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Lillian Ward – representative for the hapū Te Whanau a Ruataupare and Te Whanau a Te Aotawarirangi – had a strong message for the prime minister as she inspected the damage.

“Every time there is a weather event, there’s at least one community on the East Coast that is cut off from the community and services. That’s not good enough. State Highway 35 needs lot of investment by the government.”

Jacinda Ardern said there had been a “significant” amount of investment from the Provincial Growth Fund in the area.

But she admitted there were “significant infrastructure issues that over decades have needed ongoing maintenance and care”,

“There’s a lot of work being now done to try and make sure we’ve got a bit of resilience in that infrastructure,” she said.

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