Days after their properties were inundated with rapidly rising floodwater, residents of Pakowhai, between Hastings and Napier, are returning to devastating scenes.
For many, it is still too early to tell if their homes can be saved. The focus is on shovelling and digging out the thick layer of mud bogging them in.
Rayner Croad could only return to his Pakowhai Road property today.
He found a muddy mess – furniture had floated about and silt stains prized photos and possessions.
New kitchen units were under water.
Remarkably, ornaments atop a rimu table remain clean and white – they did not budge when the table floated across the living room.
On Tuesday, Croad and his wife Marion evacuated safely, but he was unimpressed at the lack of warning from authorities about the impending disaster when a nearby river breached its banks.
A raging torrent of water lapped two metres high in their home of 15 years.
It has left mud and silt, which the Croads, and some friends, were working to clear out quickly.
“Then we’ll rip off gib board … save what we can into the car shed for security, like the china cabinet, family heirlooms.”
The Croads have about 25 hectares of land, much of it leased to orchards. There are also rental properties, including accommodation for orchard workers.
“The apples, looking at them, they are recoverable. The sweet corn probably won’t be because they won’t be able to clean it up,” he said.
“Our orchards are leased. We have lost income from rentals and we’ll lose income from orchards. They won’t be able to pay us.
“What does the government do? What do you do?”
In sheds sit prized cars and motorbikes, which could be ruined.
The clock is ticking for Croad too – he is off overseas for four months in seven weeks, so has plenty to sort, fast.
On nearby Chesterhope Road, Chesterhope Kennels owner Di O’Neill is also in clean-up mode.
When the water flowed through, she and her son-in-law Trent Bray managed to get 60 dogs and several cats to safety at the school next door, battling chest high rushing water.
“I left my cats in my bedroom. After the stopbank had broken I went into the bedroom and [the water] was up to my knees.
“I couldn’t even walk against the current, it was so torrential.”
The waters quickly rose to chest height.
Carrying cages high above the water, the pair took about 30 minutes to reach the school, which is only next door.
“There’s a hole in the door. We got a sledgehammer and smashed it to get in. I couldn’t get hold of the teacher. I couldn’t get hold of anybody,” O’Neill said.
Dogs were placed on desks and furniture – whatever the pair could get hold of.
Eventually on Tuesday evening the school was evacuated, and O’Neill was taken out by power boat.
The dogs were left by themselves, with water, and the room stayed dry, ensuring they were safe.
The canines are now staying with a friend of O’Neill’s.
She and husband Kerry have mud throughout their house, and the kennels.
On Friday, a group of Hastings Boys’ High School students were helping with the clean-up.
Just three days earlier, their property and the surrounding areas turned into a sea of water and debris, which proved deadly for sheep from nearby paddocks.
“I tell you what, the one thing that will take me to the grave was listening to the sheep dying. There was just flocs of sheep and I could see the water. It was horrific,” O’Neill said.
RNZ was at Pakowhai School when its principal, Tim Race, arrived for the first time since the floods.
“There’s at least six or seven of our families who have completely lost their homes, so I don’t know if they’re safe or not.
“We have 32 students. It’s a little school. It’s important to some of these students. They come here for the little school.”
Race said the school was flooded about a century ago.
It was rebuilt then and could be repaired now, he said.
He was contemplating finding a temporary site for the school to operate.
Race said he was happy his school had helped save the kennel’s dogs.
“I was glad that people had made the decision to break in,” he said.
“Buildings can be replaced. Schools can be cleaned up, but people’s lives, and animals, is not something that can be replaced.”
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz