There are questions over the safety of council stormwater systems after the death of a teenager who went into a flooded drain head-first in South Auckland.

The fatal accident in Mangere on Saturday has sparked a safety probe from Auckland Council into the drain covers, with questions from the young woman's family over why they were not bolted down.

A close relative, who did not want to be named, said the 17-year-old - Violet - was gentle and kind. She was also autistic.

"The council should bolt the drains down so that a child can't lift it up. And she is very strong. If she punched you you'd fall over - she's very strong, and strong-minded."

Ngakitai Nati Pi was among those at a family event in a nearby community hall when screaming and shouting could be heard saying a person had fallen into a drain.

"We all ran and the first thing we saw, her legs were up and her head was down in the hole and the water was halfway over her whole body.

"We noticed that the cover off this trench of water had been lifted and put on the side of the road."

Michelle Ueli-Tuaimalo, who lives on Enuamanu St, said a relative saw Violet walking down the street about 4.10pm.

"She was playing with her ball near the drain. Not long after that it was all closed off. We heard her ball went in the drain - she probably lifted the grate to grab it and fell in.

"The kids from the community centre were playing and they came and saw her. . . their family tried to get her out of the hole and did CPR but she was gone."

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Gloria Esekielu said she, her mother and her aunt saw Violet walking down the street about 4pm. She was wearing an orange t-shirt and bouncing a small ball.

Auckland Council water general manager Craig Mcilroy said the council was carrying out a "thorough investigation".

"Our thoughts are very much with the family during this sad time and we would like to extend them our deepest sympathy."

He said the council investigation involved "comprehensive consideration of all safety issues" around drainage from the road, such as the type of run-off into which the woman fell.

The council has been reluctant to comment on the accident, first saying it couldn't because of the police investigation and now saying it "would be inappropriate for us to comment further while inquiries are ongoing".

Police said today that the woman, 17, died as the result of "a tragic accident".

"Police have spoken with witnesses who found her and to other local residents who saw her prior to an apparent fall.

"The matter has now been referred to the coroner who will determine the exact cause of death."

Police confirmed the woman was found in the drain about 4.40pm yesterday.

Local resident Fonga Fenton said the young woman was a familiar figure in the street and was often seen passing the time playing in the road.

She said she often looked out for the teenager because she was known to have had seizures which required help from others.

There were also concerns that the young woman might not have a great awareness as to her own wellbeing, and Fenton had often sent her home for being lightly-clothed on cold winter days.

Fenton saw her yesterday morning and recalled saying: "You need to go home and put something warm on before you come out on to the street."

She said the young woman had collapsed with a seizure in the street a few years ago, requiring help from locals.

"You would often have to sit with her to make sure she was okay."

The drain was just four houses away from the young woman's home.