East Coast clean up underway, insurance council says ‘not an issue’

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A heavy rain watch remains in place for the North Island’s East Coast as the sodden district recovers from last week’s flooding.

More than 40 roads are closed in the Tairāwhiti region due to slips and debris after the flooding last week.

Photo: Tairāwhiti Civil Defence

This means Tairāwhiti residents have not yet bid goodbye to leaden skies, sodden ground and disruption.

As the rain continued, risks of further damage remained, Tolaga Bay Fire Brigade officer in charge Andrew Shelton said.

“We’ve had a lot of rain falling in the last three to four days and, even though the intensity has reduced, the potential for things like land slides is still a high risk for our region.

“The ground’s saturated to the point where the ground can’t take too much more.”

Residents in the town, north of Gisborne, were well-prepared for a disaster and had enough supplies so they did not need to travel, he said.

That meant fewer calls to emergency services.

“We’ve not had the number of callouts we were probably expecting. That just shows the resilience of the communities around the place.

“They’ve got their own networks in place to be self-sufficient and they are leaving emergency services for those critical emergencies.”

Further north in Tokomaru Bay, hapū representative Lillian Ward said locals could only support each other, but not get to work, while the rain continued.

The Mangahauini Bridge in Tokomaru Bay was washed out by the flooding.

The Mangahauini Bridge in Tokomaru Bay was washed out by the flooding. Photo: Supplied / Destiny Maxwell Collins via LDR

When flooding hit in June last year residents volunteered for the cleanup. This year, however, Covid-19 was affecting people.

The Mangahauini Bridge across State Highway 35 in the town has been washed out by flood waters.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency central North Island maintenance and operations regional manager Jaclyn Hankin said the damage to the bridge was significant.

Repair crews were working overtime to reopen the bridge, which was expected to happen on 13 April. From then repair work would continue as traffic returned.

“We have started progressing the repair. I think in the first 24 hours we had over 1000 tonnes of rock placed to repair that bridge.

“Our crews up there are doing a huge amount of work to get that bridge up and running and repaired, and to be able to connect this community again.”

The rock diverted water from the bridge, so workers could operate.

A portable Bailey bridge was considered, but was not appropriate as a temporary fix.

It would have been in the way of repairs because it would have been placed across the existing bridge, Hankin said.

A section of the bridge in Tokomaru Bay has been wiped out by flood water, bisecting the town alongside State Highway 35

A section of the bridge in Tokomaru Bay was wiped out by flood water. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A small section of SH35 between Tokomaru Bay and Te Puia Springs remained closed after the road was washed out by a flooded river.

Other parts of the state highway network were down to one lane or had speed restrictions in place.

Meanwhile, insurance claims are being lodged across the region.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said it would take a few weeks to get a provisional idea of how much the claims were for.

There was plenty of insurance cover available across New Zealand, including for people in flood-prone areas, he said.

“That’s not an issue. What we do need to do though, with respect to communities that have been hit several times over the last two to three years from extreme weather events, is recognise how we need to reduce the risk to those properties.”

That could involve putting in place regulation so building was not allowed in some places, and looking at ways to protect existing communities.

The council was looking forward to the government introducing a climate change adaptation law, as part of the Resource Management Act replacement.

Rain watch still in place

A heavy rain watch remains in place for the region until Tuesday.

MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said falls were likely to be far less severe than last week, when 50-70 millimetres an hour was recorded.

This time the region could expect 50mm over 12 hours.

“So we’re talking about different intensities. We’re also talking about a different environment. It’s very saturated now so, even with the smaller accumulation of rain, its impacts could still happen quite quickly.”

Tairāwhiti Civil Defence group controller David Wilson said all but a few of the people evacuated were back in their homes.

About 15 homes had been assessed for damage and two dangerous building notices issued, although that figure was expected to rise.

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