Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Tauranga students left trapped by fierce storm

Tauranga Otumoetai College students were staying at Whangamata Campground but have been moved to the Whangamata Memorial Hall, where they will sleep tonight. Photo/Lesley Staniland PCW_4142.
Tauranga Otumoetai College students were staying at Whangamata Campground but have been moved to the Whangamata Memorial Hall, where they will sleep tonight. Photo/Lesley Staniland PCW_4142.

A group of Tauranga school students will spend the night in a makeshift emergency centre as floodwaters and slips from the worst storm in decades cut access to and from Whangamata.

The 27 Otumoetai College students were spending their last days in the small coastal town as part of a surf camp.

The Year 11 students and four teachers were flooded out of the campground they had been staying in, and sought shelter in the town hall which was converted into an emergency centre about 10am this morning.

The school is one of many affected by torrential rain which has created numerous slips and flooding throughout the northern part of the North Island. Fifty Year 3 and 4 children from Papamoa's Tahatai Coast School evacuated their camp stay in Mount Maunganui last night and it is understood an Auckland school camping group in the Kaimai Range also cancelled their stay.

Otumoetai College deputy principal Ricky Feutz said the students and teachers were fine, despite spending the night in the hall instead of coming home.

"They got flooded out and some of their gear got wet - some sleeping bags. But Civil Defence pitched in and made sure they all have dry sleeping bags tonight, and made sure they have dry clothes. Civil Defence is also helping make sure they are fed. Members of the community have also pitched in with food."

Mr Feutz said the school had been liaising with the parents and relaying the message that the students were warm, dry and fed.

"Parents have been good," Mr Feutz said.

"It was a little bit undecided whether the students could be coming back [tonight] but it turns out that's not the case."

Mr Feutz said he expected the students and teachers to return to Tauranga tomorrow, once floodwaters had receded and they had the "all-clear" from Civil Defence.

Whangamata firefighter Ralph Pitcher, who has been a local firefighter for 50 years, said the weather event was the worst he had seen in decades.

Tahatai Coast School principal Matt Skilton said he was glad of the decision, as some tents the children had been staying in did not survive the night.

"There was a bit of surface flooding for the kids sleeping in tents and some of those tents weren't really designed for that kind of weather," Mr Skilton said.

The school asked children to pack up their gear and wait on their beds while it contacted parents who picked up the children from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

It is understood children from Auckland's St Kentigern Boys' School had been camping in the Kaimai Range but also cancelled their stay. The principal did not respond to messages left with the school yesterday.

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