Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Edgecumbe businesses: We're not going away

Edgecumbe business owners - and brother and sister - Charelle and Kyle Stevenson are keen to get back on their feet again. Photo / Jamie Morton
Edgecumbe business owners - and brother and sister - Charelle and Kyle Stevenson are keen to get back on their feet again. Photo / Jamie Morton

Edgecumbe business owners have vowed not to walk away from the flood-ravaged Bay of Plenty town - even as another major storm event threatens to inflict more damage.

Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges today held a meeting with a group of local businesspeople whose livelihoods have been left in limbo by last week's deluge.

The Government is expected to announce a relief package in coming days: but for now, owners of the 134 businesses that operate from Edgecumbe are desperate to have access their buildings.

Kyle Stevenson runs his signwriting company Nexus Signs from his house in College Rd, just metres from where a flood-swollen Rangitaiki River surged through the stop-bank last Thursday morning.

"It literally opened up in front of my house - I've got a big 100-square-metre shed, and yeah, it's just gone," said Stevenson, who has temporarily relocated to nearby Kawerau.

"The house, too, has actually been picked up and pushed on to the neighbour's section: when I went to go check yesterday, it's just completely written off."

But he had been prevented from getting out of his car and inspecting the damage up close.

Rob Morris runs a family engineering business in Ngaio Place; he was, ironically, halfway through building a flood pump when disaster struck.

The flood had left one room in his house underwater, but that wasn't his main concern.

"We've got sheds with American cars that are underwater - my wife's got a '66 Mustang and a BMW; we've got two '59 Ford convertibles, a Jaguar, a '57 Chevy and two classic motorcycles - a Matchless and a Norton," Morris said.

"So we really want to access them so we can start drying them out and getting some anti-corrosion measures in place."

Carl Anderson, an electrician also based in College Rd, had also been cut off from his building.

"We've had some limited access to the building, but it's just a wait-and-see game at the moment."

Charelle Stevenson, of merchant timber company Peppers Building Supplies, said half of the company's yard was underwater following the flood.

While the water had been pumped away, she still had no clue when the business, which employs six people, would be back in action.

"We get trucks in and out every day and we are also a timber treatment yard, so when are they going to be allowed in?

"And as for how long the rest of town is accessible ... even if we've got a minimised operation, who are we even going to sell to?

"We don't want to be making anyone redundant, so any assistance that can be offered - whether it's access or a Government package - is going to help keep our community going."

In spite of what had happened, she hadn't heard from a single business owner who was now considering leaving town.

"We've got a very strong community spirit and that's why we are so keen to get into our businesses and then get going."

Anderson echoed that view.

"There are some businesses that have lost everything ... and I don't think bailing out is on their mind at the moment.

"We are just here to support one another, to pick up the pieces, and to work in a common direction toward getting our town going again."

Near town, members of local group EDIT - the Edgecumbe Development and Improvement Team - were meeting to discuss how they could offer each other support.

In the flat, flooded pastures surrounding Edgecumbe, members of the Rural Support Trust, charged with shifting 2000 head of stock, were doing the same: many of the 40 pumps being used to clear paddocks and orchards had been volunteered by local farmers, along with tractors and other equipment.

But they too had a long recovery in front of them: land owners whose properties had been only lightly hit were only just clearing water now.

This morning, local contractor Nigel Timbs of Stockland Fencing Services was among a small team battling to pump away ponded water from a nearby orchard before more bad weather hit.

"There's been a bit of time pressure to get it done, but we're just doing as much as we can."

Bridges said what relief could be offered businesses depended on their circumstances - but those could change again in the next 48 hours.

"Many can potentially get in and get up and running again, which is what we want, but further bad weather just makes things that much slower.

"So we are listening to what they've had to say and we have taken more information from them ... and you can expect to hear more from the Government in due course."

- NZ Herald

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