Police are patrolling Edgecumbe to stop residents returning tonight and allay fears of looting
• Dozens of residents are evacuating from Whakatane area of Thornton
• Flooding closing key routes around the greater Wellington area
• Evacuations in Edgecumbe are largely complete
• Rangitaiki River likely to stay at flood levels for another 18 hours, as at 3pm
• Rainfall has eased across most of the North Island
• MetService says high levels of rain fell in the past 36 hours, with parts of Auckland getting up to 150mm, Bay of Plenty up to 250mm, and Coromandel up to 200mm

Bay of Plenty experienced the worst of the flooding today, with thousands evacuated, hundreds of homes under water and the town of Edgecumbe flooded.

Red Cross teams are continuing to help those affected in Edgecumbe and surrounding areas and warning residents to keep safe overnight.

Dozens of residents in the Whakatane area of Thornton were evacuated tonight in the wake of flooding from ex tropical cyclone Debbie.

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Police went door-to-door to make sure around 30 people had left houses on East Bank Road as the Rangitaiki River rose and threatened to flood.

Most rivers levels are now receding but the Rangitaiki is still a cause for concern, the Bay of Plenty regional council said. Engineers have used rocks to strengthen stop bank walls and will see at first light whether their efforts have worked.

In neighbouring Edgecumbe, the town submerged by the deluge today, police are on patrol tonight.

A barrier was being erected to stop residents going back home amid social media rumours of looting taking place. But police say they have not had any cases of looting reported.

About 2000 residents had to flee this morning when the Rangitaiki River burst through a stopbank sending water surging through homes.

Newstalk ZB reporter Dan Dalgety was at a local council emergency meeting where the decision was made to erect the barrier in the worst-hit town of Edgecumbe - and says there were reports on social media of people trying to loot evacuated houses in the town.

Police say the reports are ludicrous, but they will be performing regular patrols in the town throughout the night as well as putting up checkpoints on various streets, he reports.

The Bay of Plenty town is awash, with hundreds of homes under water and thousands of residents evacuated after the Rangitaiki River burst its banks.

Defence Force personnel in Unimogs, rescuers in jet boats, and emergency services led the mass evacuation in what the mayor described as a ''one-in-500-years'' event.

The Rangitaiki River is likely to stay at flood levels for another 18 hours, or until tomorrow morning.

A state of emergency has also been declared in nearby Whakatane, as the remnants from Cyclone Debbie pack a sting far worse than many expected.

A rural area on the western side of the Whakatane River has been evacuated.

Taneatua's water supply reservoir is low, and residents are being asked to conserve water wherever possible.

Further south, residents were earlier evacuated in a Wellington suburb after a stream burst its banks. It was happier news in Whanganui this morning as evacuated residents were able to start returning home after high tide.

However, Edgecumbe today resembles a scene from Waterworld with the local river pouring into neighbourhoods, in some places almost 2m deep and rising.

Glen Fraser and his son, Seth, had been buying some posts at the town's RD1 store.

"It was like a wall of brown water. I threw Seth in the truck and we were out of there," Fraser said.

"We were just in the car park at Edgecumbe about to come home anyway and a lady was driving past on the road, which was still bone dry at that point, and she called out to the worker she knew at RD1 'get out, get out!'."

Mayor Tony Bonne said it was extremely serious.

Police have been going door-to-door while buses are also at the local fire station to get people out.

Rotorua woman Deeana Tubb, who has lived in Edgecumbe for two years, said the water was already waist-deep, and rising, after she returned to the town from work this morning.

"I went right through the cordons at Matata, nothing was stopping me getting to my babies.

"When I got home the water was already waist-deep in the streets. I managed to get some valuable documents out of the house and everyone else and we headed to Awakeri.

"Now it looks like we're about to lose everything."

Tubb said she had never seen anything like this before.

"I'm worried sick. There's really no words, as the panic subsides the shock is setting in.

"The most important thing is that everyone has got out safe ... Now we just need to put one foot in front of another and get through this."

Water flows into Edgecumbe through a breach in the Rangitaiki River stopbank shortly before 9am this morning following heavy flooding. Photo / Whakatane Beacon
Water flows into Edgecumbe through a breach in the Rangitaiki River stopbank shortly before 9am this morning following heavy flooding. Photo / Whakatane Beacon

Whakatane District Council says the entire township of about 2000 was cleared on Thursday morning after the river's stopbanks burst near College Rd.

Civil Defence declared a state of emergency across the entire district and the council is appealing to anyone still in the area to leave immediately.

A rural area around Titoki Road, west of Whakatane, was also evacuated.

Welfare centres have been set up at the Firmin Lodge in Kawerau and at the Whakatane War Memorial Hall, and buses are running from the town's fire station.

Police and the fire crews have been going from house to house and anyone unable to leave on their own is urged to call emergency services.

Boats are also being used to rescue some residents in areas that couldn't be reached by trucks and "large number" of homes had already been flooded, a Fire Service spokesman says.

The council says the Whakatane and Rangitaiki Rivers are now at historically high flood levels and some residents may need to be out of their homes for 72 hours.

The evacuation comes as the MetService lifted all heavy rain warnings for the North Island.

Flooding in Edgecumbe forcing evacuation of residents. Photo / Andrew Warner
Flooding in Edgecumbe forcing evacuation of residents. Photo / Andrew Warner

The remnants of Tropical Cyclone Debbie have been lashing the north and causing flooding since Tuesday night.

On Thursday, 47 schools and 21 early childhood centres were still closed, affecting about 6500 students and pre-schoolers.

"The majority of these schools and early childhood centres [ECEs] have been closed because of flooding on nearby roads. There has been no reports of major damage although several schools and ECEs have reported minor damage," the Ministry of Education said.

Along with Kaikoura, the peninsula could also be hit by winds of up to 130km/h and less heavy rainfall is expected to persist across Canterbury for at least 48 hours.

Canterbury residents have been warned to remain cautious around rising rivers.

About 200 residents evacuated in Whanganui have been allowed to return home and a state of emergency was to be lifted at 11am.

Fears the Whanganui River would overflow in a repeat of floods in 2015 prompted early evacuations in the area on Wednesday, but water levels have subsided overnight.

Police say they've have received no more information following reports a person had gone missing in the Waikato River and say no one was reported missing overnight.

In Wellington, two dozen families living along Wellington's south coast were evacuated just before midnight as the Owhiro Stream in Happy Valley Rd burst it banks.

Meanwhile, flights in and out of the capital were to resume at 6am after the bad weather disrupted the systems.

Scores of roads around the lower North Island have been affected by flooding and slips.

Further north, the country is swinging into clean-up mode and Waikato Civil Defence last night downgraded its activation to monitoring mode. However, police are still searching for a man believed missing in the swollen Waikato River.

MetService says the worst of the weather should now be over for the North Island, but not the South Island where wind and gale warnings remain in force.