Dramatic rescue from floodwaters

By Jennifer van Beynen, Herald Online staff, APNZ

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More rain is expected to fall in the Northland district until midday tomorrow. Photo / Laura Jerome
More rain is expected to fall in the Northland district until midday tomorrow. Photo / Laura Jerome

A woman clinging to a tree was rescued by neighbours from floodwaters this morning at Otaika, with more rain expected to batter the sodden Northland region until midday tomorrow.

"She is very relieved, it was a pretty terrifying ordeal because the current was really, really strong,'' said Shari Pickering, 54, who with the help of her family - and a kayak - saved 61-year-old Kathleen Abbott. "She's very very lucky.''

Ms Pickering was at home when her 17-year-old daughter, Alex, spotted Ms Abbott trying to drive through the floodwaters over a bridge near Stunnell Rd, seven kilometres south of Whangarei.

"Then she got stuck, and she got out of the vehicle and got swept down the river by the floodwaters and stuck up a tree,'' said Ms Pickering. Along with her father, partner and daughter, Ms Pickering gathered ropes and lifejackets from around her house.

"It was a combined effort really, we're just lucky that we had ropes and lifejackets and kayaks for the summer holiday we never had.

We got a rope, and we're lucky we had lifejackets here, and so I put a life jacket on and tied a rope and tried to get to her.

"But the rope was too short and the current was quite strong. So my dad walked down the edge of the fence-line and tied the rope to our kayak and then I went out in the kayak and got her.''

Ms Pickering estimates the rescue took around 20 to 30 minutes, while rescue services watched from the bridge.

"The ambulance and the police and everyone were standing on the bridge but there wasn't anything they could do really, because they couldn't get to her from their side. But they had an IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boat) - it was like watching Piha Rescue - and they came across [the river], and brought a paramedic and went up to the house to make sure she was okay. By that time we had her at the house.''

Emergency Services pulled the rescued woman's car out of the water.

"It's sitting there just waiting to be towed away - they had to rush off and rescue someone else,'' said Ms Pickering.

She said when Stunnell Road floods, residents can't get out.

"It was just because we were home really. Some people had gone to work, so they weren't on the subdivision.''

Neighbour Louis Berkers arrived at the scene just after Ms Abbott had been rescued.

"I didn't know anything about it until I'd shot up to get some lunch. Someone rang and said, 'Sounds like there's a whole lot of stuff going on at the end of your road', so I shot down there and got there after it had all happened.''

Mr Berkers said as far as he was aware Ms Abbott wasn't injured.

"She was okay, hadn't been hurt by the sounds of things, but she was obviously quite shocked and cold. But all the kerfuffle had finished by the time I got there.''

Mr Berkers agreed that the local community is tight-knit. "If there's any problems we all get together and get into it, absolutely.''

Ms Abbott is currently recovering with neighbours.

The rescue followed three other close calls in the region this morning.

At about 11am, a family of three was rescued from Scows Landing on the banks of the Ngunguru River after flood waters threatened their home.

The couple and their 3-year-old child were ferried across the river in an inflatable rescue boat by a local fire crew.

At about 7.30am this morning a man had to abandon his car at Mokau, 45km north of Whangarei, after it got stuck in rising waters _ and an hour later a woman had to abandon her car 5km northeast of Whananaki after she got caught in floodwaters.

A passing motorist came to her aid.

Six cars were stranded on the north side of State Highway 1 at Whakapara about 1.30pm.

The vehicles had been vacated and police were making arrangements to tow them to prevent further damage.

Water levels in the flood-prone Far North town of Kaeo were about a metre high in the main street early this afternoon, and shop owners were having to bail out their stores to prevent further water damage.

Locals - who are used to frequent flooding - were philosophical.

"They're not up in arms but they're a bit annoyed about people driving through and sending waves through,'' a Northern Advocate reporter said.

The township, 47km northeast of Moerewa, is on the banks of the Kaeo River, which flows into the Whangaroa Harbour.

The community was hit by a devastating flood in 2007.

Meanwhile, neighbours helped to save a 61-year-old woman who was swept away by

Warning: More flooding expected

More rain is expected to batter the sodden Northland region until midday tomorrow, with authorities urging people to stay off the roads overnight.

MetService issued another severe weather warning this afternoon, and predicts a further 70mm to 90mm of rain for Northland.

A number of roads, including parts of the region's State Highway network, remain blocked by fallen trees and floodwaters. Authorities are advising people to be vigilant and stay off the roads throughout the night.

Graeme MacDonald from the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group says the further rain could still be an issue for many parts of the region.

Civil Defence officials will monitor the situation overnight, and the Far North and Whangarei District Councils have plans to activate welfare centres overnight in their areas if necessary.

Officials from dairy company Fonterra are also warning that night collections from Northland suppliers could be disrupted or not take place due to flood-related roading issues.

According to police, one of the state highway blockages at Whakapara, north of Whangarei, is currently able to be bypassed via a detour along Apotu Rd and Jordan Valley Rd near Hikurangi. The detour is not able to be used by trucks and heavy vehicles.

WeatherWatch expects the heaviest rain in the Auckland region to fall in northern, western and southern areas close to the ranges. There is a high risk of surface flooding, but low risks of flash flooding and significant inner-city flooding. There is a moderate to high risk of minor river flooding in vulnerable areas.

However the coming rain is expected to be less intense, and southeast gales are forecast to ease this evening. For Tuesday more rain is expected, easing throughout the day before another heavy fall late on Wednesday.

According to WeatherWatch, winds have eased slightly in Auckland but gusts of between 50 and 80km/h are expected overnight in exposed places, with serious damage unlikely.
A few gusts in wind tunnels may reach 100km/h.

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