Rotorua floods: Ngongotaha resident watches in horror as caravan floats away

Jenny Pollard had just returned from a walk when she looked out the window and saw a “river” of water coming down the valley.

That river within minutes picked up their caravan and washed it down the street.

“It was really a flash flood. It was totally surreal.”

They hoped their home would be high enough to avoid the water, but the level quickly rose to the wheel arches of their caravan.

Advertisement

“The van started to shift and then all of a sudden it was floating down the road. We literally stood inside our house and watched our caravan float away.”

Jenny Pollard beside her caravan which had been moved by flooding in Ngongotaha. Photo/Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

Their only relief was that the it did not tip.

“We thought it might but it then hit the fence and stayed upright.”

Against the fence, 60m from the Pollard‘s home, was where they found their van this morning.

Inside John Healey‘s garage. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

Ngongotaha residents evacuated in yesterday‘s flood are back in their homes today and are starting the massive clean-up after a State of Emergency was declared yesterday afternoon.

Stunned neighbours have begun to sweep debris from their properties but water level lines on the outside of homes show just how high the floods rose.

Flooding in Rotorua closed Ngongotaha Primary School and Tawera Bilingual School today, affecting 432 students.

Te Kohanga Reo o Te Arika and Waihi Kindergarten were also closed, affecting up to 60 learners.

Inside John Healey‘s lounge. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

When John Healey lifted his garage door up from the mud, he only had two words for the mess he saw inside.

“Bloody hell.”

He has lived on Oakdale Pl with his wife for nine years and evacuated on Sunday night in knee-deep water.

Inside John Healey‘s lounge. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit Inside John Healey‘s garage. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit The water line at John Healey‘s house. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

“The water just came up so quickly. You would not have believed it could move that fast. I have never experienced anything like it.”

After staying the night at his son Dave‘s place, they returned in the morning to find the water level marks more than a metre high around the house, up to Healey‘s elbows.

Healey never thought it would be that bad.

“This is bloody terrible. Just devastating,” he said.

Apples were strewn across the garage‘s sopping floor, among soggy books and waterlogged storage boxes and baskets.

When Healey entered the hallway the scene was no more comforting.

“See those draws there, they‘re from my bedroom. How did they get in the lounge?”

Dave gave his father a moment and went to check on the caravan.

“The water was up to the seats,” he told him.

Like most of the neighbourhood, Healey had been on the phone with his insurance company immediately that morning.

“It‘s your worst nightmare. You see this on TV and think ‘those poor buggers‘ but you don‘t expect it to happen to you.”

Just around the corner on Mohi Cres, the Parry family were trying to make their house liveable again without hindering insurance assessments to come.

“The cleaners are coming through this morning to assess the house, then the jib people. Then our insurers will get the quotes,” Debbie Parry said.

Alison and Debbie Parry. Photo/Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

The Parry family have lived in their home for six years.

They said Sunday‘s damage was caused by the river bursting its banks, rather than the swampy land.

“I thought we might have been lucky but we were not,” Debbie said.

Her 19-year-old son, Troy, and his girlfriend, Alison, were the only ones home when the floods arrived in the late afternoon.

“I had no idea until I answered the door and there was just a lake out there. Half of my car was underwater when I looked out,” Troy said.

“Troy just spent more than $600 on his car last week replacing the tires and windscreen to get a warrant,” his mother added.

Troy Parry inside his damaged car. Photo/Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

The car was almost totally submerged when night fell.

Troy and Alison were stranded and had to haul themselves, two cats and the dog up the hill to Hall Rd where Troy‘s older brother picked them up.

Further down Western Rd, Heidi Te Are was bracing herself for tears when she returned home, but instead, she found herself in “disbelief”.

“The damage was about what I expected but I have no idea where to start. I was on the phone to our insurers and waited for 45 minutes this morning and then it hung up. I do not even know what we are meant to do. I have never done this before.”

Heidi Te Are inside her home. Photo/Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

She said she could only keep telling herself “It was only stuff,”.

“People are much more important,” she said.

Te Are has only been living on Western Rd for 16 months.

She said the only thing she would have saved on Sunday if she could have, was a box of all of her photos that were in the garage.

“By the time I knew about the flood the water had got to them. I was storing them in there while doing up the house… My grandparents and parents were in those pictures. Everyone that is dead basically.”

She said the emergency response was not very organised.

I was waist deep in water before I realised there was nowhere they could go. Thankfully the fire crews got us out. I am surprised there was nobody hurt.”

Western Rd resident Rebecca Brake said she was one of the lucky ones as her house was unscathed, but it was a different story for her sister.

The water line at John Healey‘s house. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

“We were at my sister‘s house a couple of doors down at a birthday party. We left and 10 minutes later they sent a photo and there was a river running through the house. We had a look around and Pioneer Rd was like a river.”

Brake said her sister and others from the birthday party were rescued by a Duck Tours boat.

About 15 people stayed with Brake overnight, including strangers.

“We were trying to invite everyone in who looked like they didn‘t have a home. We had Civil Defence and fire coming to our door asking if we wanted to evacuate. They kept coming and doing head counts to make sure everyone was accounted for.”

Today Lake Rd is bone dry and inside residents are happy for the geothermal heating currently drying out their homes and businesses.

Carl Hanson said he was feeling pretty relaxed today.

“I‘ve seen what happened in Ngongotaha and we were very lucky I think.

“This is nothing in comparison to what they‘re going through.”

He said the business next door New Zealand Home Loans was a bit worse for wear.

“I could hear everything floating around in their garage yesterday, just banging against the walls.”

It was a late night for Hanson who was out clearing drains all afternoon and didn‘t finish till 10pm.

“We‘re lucky to be in a geothermal area, so the house is drying.

“At it‘s peak the water was about 60cm high, that was the hardest to clear out, I was using a bucket and just tipping it down the toilet.”

Hanson said the bathroom bore the brunt of the damage.

“The cabinet is absolutely dead, my partners make up was underneath it and that‘s been damaged, otherwise it wasn‘t too bad.

“Just a lot of washing to do today.”

Hanson said there had been lots of four wheel drives out trying to drive quickly through the water without thinking about the impact on the neighbouring houses.

In New Zealand Home Loans a spokeswoman said they had water all through their garage, damaging a computer, brochures and other items.

“The worst thing was people just kept driving past.

“They chose too, there was no need to come down here and as they did waves were just rushing in.”

Flooding on Pioneer Rd on Sunday. Photo / Ben Fraser facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

Rotovegas Motel manager Shelley Hobson-Powell said the motel was offering free accommodation to those who needed it.

Hobson-Powell said the motel had space for up to 22 people for two nights in a big house, as well as a few family units until Thursday.

“At the moment it‘s low occupancy, it‘s off-peak, and if we‘ve got empty rooms, we may as well help people.”

The Four Square Ngongotaha has posted on Facebook it has put out a pallet of bottled water and some 10L boxes of water which it is giving away free to those affected by the flood.

Trinity Church on Hall Rd in Ngongotaha is serving hot soup, coffee and tea and offering blankets to residents.

Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi said in a statement today might be tough as residents saw the damage to their properties in daylight.

Debris washed up in Ngongotaha. Photo / Stephen Parker facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

“My thoughts are with all of those impacted. Yesterday was difficult for many and today could be more challenging as we better understand the impacts on people‘s property.

“I‘d ask that everyone continues to take care – check on your neighbours and any whanau that you have not heard from. Don‘t travel unless local conditions are safe – and never drive through floodwaters.”

Faafoi hopes to meet some of the local emergency services and contractors involved in the clean-up and restoration of services.

MetService lead meteorologist Mark Todd said this morning the heavy rain was over for the Bay of Plenty.

“The worst of the heavy rain is definitely over. There are still some showers around, but these will be nothing like what happened during the weekend.”

Western Rd on Sunday. Photo / Ben Fraser facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

During the 12 hours to 4am, parts of Bay of Plenty recorded 25mm-30mm of rain.

The heaviest rain fell yesterday morning; 81mm was recorded at Rotorua Airport between 7am and 11am.

Niwa said Rotorua had its wettest hour since records began 54 years ago; 51.8mm of rain fell from 10am-11am yesterday.