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Issue No. 412 April 2017

Everybody out! Edgecumbe under water

Police commandeered vehicles to get residents to safety.

Police staff arriving in Edgecumbe to help evacuate residents quickly found themselves involved in a rescue operation as floodwaters rose with alarming speed.

The entire town – around 2000 people – was evacuated on Thursday 6 April after the rain-swollen Rangitaiki River burst its stopbank at College Road.

“By the time we arrived from Whakatane, 15 minutes away, the concrete wall had just breached,” says Senior Sergeant Richie Miller, Eastern Bay of Plenty’s Area Manager Response and Police forward commander in the town.

“It was like Huka Falls on a smaller scale.

The concrete wall had been moved into the middle of the street and the water was just barrelling through.”

Many animals were rescued from the rising water.

Police commandeered heavy vehicles capable of carrying evacuees and swept the most at-risk areas, supported by Defence Unimogs.

As the water rose it became unsafe for vehicles and local people offered jet boats, later supplemented by Surf Lifesaving IRBs from Whakatane and Mount Maunganui.

With the worst-hit areas cleared, Police, Fire Service, Defence and Civil Defence staff went door-to-door to first warn residents, then order them out as the water encroached further. The town was cordoned and patrolled but by the following day some residents had managed to return. They were evacuated again as the flooding threat continued.

The evacuation was the most dramatic episode of many as the tail end of Cyclone Debbie lashed New Zealand, causing chaos in both North and South Islands.

Edgecumbe’s police station was among properties flooded. Local operations were run from the town’s Fire Station, which became a drop-off point for rescued pets.

Properties damaged by the floods.

“We’ve had the lot in the backyard,” says Richie. “Rabbits, dogs, cats, a goat – even a duck.”

Inspector Kevin Taylor, District manager Operations Support, says early on police were rostered in from Tauranga, Western Bay of Plenty and Rotorua to support local and Whakatane staff.

Later staff were rostered in from as far afield as Central District.

Outside town, police were delivering food, water and medication by helicopter to isolated communities and offering support to marae where evacuees gathered.

Around 30 vehicles were trapped by slips on State Highway 38.

As Ten One went to press, the country was counting the cost of the heavy rains brought by Cyclone Cook.

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