April floods leave 'off-grid' Port Waikato family with baby homeless

A family who moved to Port Waikato to escape crushing housing costs and make a better life have been made homeless by flooding.

Rachael Baker, 45, lives in Te Kohanga in Port Waikato, with her children and grandchildren.

On April 7, floodwaters from weeks of heavy rain spilled across their paddock. The family were woken at 5am to "ankle-deep water and a river flowing outside our front door", Baker says.

Floodwaters rose rapidly, flooding their cars and home, Baker says. She and daughter Molly, 22, dragged the children from their beds, grabbed their dogs and waded through waist-high water to safety.

A neighbour's septic tank overflowed and sent sewage into the water, ruining clothes, mattresses and couches. A camera full of photos of the kids is among the ruined belongings.

The floods were made worse because culverts in the nearby Whauwhautahi Stream were blocked, damming the water so it spilled into their property.

The children - Baker's son Iosefo, 11, and Molly's children Rehaan, 5 and Abby, 1, are now "traumatised".

"The water's receded but it's left mud, topsoil, all that sh*t. And it's all through the container house," Baker says.

The family is doing its best to be self-reliant. Baker's brother, Thomas, owns the land but the whanau was working to create Papakainga, a form of communal housing.

The Port Waikato home of Rachel Baker and her family, who have been forced to live in cars after the flooding left their container home uninhabitable.
The Port Waikato home of Rachel Baker and her family, who have been forced to live in cars after the flooding left their container home uninhabitable.

They had bought two shipping containers and were busy converting them in to houses. They don't yet have consent on the houses but had been living in them anyway, with solar power and a backup generator.

Baker's daughter Molly moved from Whangarei with her children to help her mother and be close to her whenua. The humble paddock had been "full of life" before the floods, she said.

"Every day from morning till night you'd just hear music and kids running around playing at the creek, and all of us older kids outside painting ... to make it alive here."

The floods were "heartbreaking" after all their work, she said.

"Everything was very awesome, it was good, but because of this we're having to start from scratch."

The kids are traumatised and are acting up, and she wants to provide them with stability but they now have nowhere to live.

The family own dogs, so have struggled to find accommodation. The council paid for them to stay in a motel and to stay at the local marae for two weeks, but that ended on Tuesday night.

They are now staying with whanau and waiting for a Work and Income appointment on Monday.

Their geotech consultant warned the council the clogged pipes could cause flooding, and neighbours asked for the culvert to be cleared as far back as August 2016.

Another view of the flood damage to Rachel Baker's home.
Another view of the flood damage to Rachel Baker's home.

Family have complained to the Waikato District Council, written to the mayor and local MP Jacqui Church. They'd also contacted Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta who is now advocating for the family.

Mahuta's electorate agent, Pania Wilson Baker, is in favour of people finding their own solutions to the housing crisis and thinks the council is doing its bit to make the papakainga set-up liveable.

The council did not directly answer questions about whether it had assessed or unclogged the culverts before the floods.

But Sue Duignan, the district council's general manager for customer support, said they had been helping the Baker family, including providing temporary hotel accommodation.

Debbie had damaged many properties, and roads and waterways were being inspected, she said.

But she said the shipping containers were unconsented and not habitable, so shouldn't have been on the property anyway.

"According to legislation, Ms Baker must obtain an appropriate building consent for any building work on the property (including containers) before moving back on to the property."

Council staff would be meeting with Baker soon, she said.

- NZ Herald

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