Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

Levin family left homeless after stopbank bursts sending powerful torrent of water through property

A Levin family have been left homeless after a stopbank on their property burst its banks, sending a raging torrent of water knocking them off their feet.

The Friend family were eventually rescued by a neighbour who used a tractor to help transport them to safety due to the force of the river-like rapids during the early hours of Friday morning.

Cyndi Friend said her family, who live on Muhunoa West Rd, Ohau, has now been split up with some living with neighbours, while she and her husband are staying with friends.

Friend said she was woken to the incident by her 27-year-old visually-impaired son, Tane Collins. Collins lost his sight aged 10 after surviving a rare medulloblastoma - brain - tumour.

Collins lives in a sleep-out and had to traipse through the water with his dog to alert his mother in the adjacent house.

Photos taken the day after the flooding show large portions of the property underwater. Photo / Cyndi Friend
Photos taken the day after the flooding show large portions of the property underwater. Photo / Cyndi Friend

"My son was banging on the door screaming out, 'Mum, mum there's water everywhere'. He was woken up by his little dog and put his feet out of the bed straight into water and started to panic."

Friend said when she started to stir, all she could hear was "glug, glug, glug".

"I immediately starting lifting a couple of things up off the floor but then the water just came up out of nowhere. Even [Wednesday] there's still water up around the house."

Her husband went and woke one of the neighbours - whose animals were slowly getting submerged by the water - while another brought his tractor over to help remove some large belongings along with herself and her son.

"It was very unsafe, very much like a river ... we couldn't see a lot. We don't have any street lights here."

Muhunoa West Rd was closed due to the extent of the flooding. Photo / Cyndi Friend
Muhunoa West Rd was closed due to the extent of the flooding. Photo / Cyndi Friend

Friend said they'd owned the property for two years after doing a house swap with the previous owner. While they had been told about previous flooding incidents, they didn't realise the stopbank was so fragile.

Since the flooding they'd been told a portion of the stopbank had been repaired but any further repairs had been axed due to extra costs being lumped on local taxpayers.

Friend said they would never have bought the property had they known about the stopbank's instability.

However, the council's river management group manager, Ramon Strong said the couple never bought a LIM before buying the property, and if they had, it would have identified the area as a "floodplain".

"Had the new property owners done so the report would have confirmed the susceptibility of the property to flooding. Equally Horizons' District Advice staff were not contacted. They would have also confirmed the existing flood hazard.

"Horizons has correspondence suggesting that the previous owner was also aware that the house had been flooded on several occasions [separate to last week's event] and had planned to raise the house."

Strong said the council only completed a partial upgrade of the Ohau stopbanks in 2012 due to feedback from ratepayers.

"As one of a number of targeted-rate-funded river management schemes managed by Horizons, the scope of work associated with that upgrade reflected both the needs of the community and what they're prepared to pay.

"This is particularly problematic for this part of the network where the area that benefits is small as the upgrade cost becomes a substantial rate burden. The standard of flood protection provided and the reliability of that protection, ie the level of service provided, is in general well understood by the community."

As for the flood itself, Strong said it wasn't unusual as it was within the average flood period of one to five years that they expect the stopbank network to contain.

Repairs were carried out the day after the incident and will continue when the weather improves, he said.

Friend said the previous owner had not told them about plans to raise the house.

- NZ Herald

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