Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rena spill: 'Shame on you' - furious locals slam officials

A helicopter transported salvage workers to and from the stricken container ship Rena yesterday. Photo / Alan Gibson
A helicopter transported salvage workers to and from the stricken container ship Rena yesterday. Photo / Alan Gibson

Patience is wearing thin in the disaster-stricken Bay of Plenty as heartbroken locals demand to know why their calls offering help haven't been answered.

Many are voicing their anger over what they see as a slow response by the authorities to launch a volunteer programme, adding to building fury over the crisis which has forced beach closures and already exacted a huge economic toll.

Tensions boiled over at a public meeting at Mt Maunganui College last night after a panel including Maritime New Zealand boss Catherine Taylor and Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby addressed the gathering of about 200.

One furious local stood and told the panel "shame on you".

A woman stood to the side of the hall muttering: "What is our Government doing about this? What is John Key doing about this?"

The gathering was forced to shout one man down as he vented his rage at the panel. "How the hell did this happen in the first place?"

Other outspoken locals were told to "shut up" by others in the crowd when they continued to interrupt.

Some told how they had launched their own clean-up efforts - despite the authorities urging people not to.

At a blackened Papamoa Domain yesterday afternoon, a group of 15 locals grew sick of waiting and formed their own unofficial clean-up gang.

"I'm sick and tired of watching my Tangaroa go to s***," she told the Herald. "We tried to help out but we are still waiting to hear back - now we've waited 24 hours and that's not good enough," Rona Otene said.

Belinda King of Papamoa burst into tears when she saw the beach. Her partner, Ati Parapara, said locals were growing angrier by the hour.

"They should have done something earlier ... now it's gone to that stage where everything's destroyed," he said. "Half my whanau want to help but they can't get on to the beach because they have to ring the hotline. It's just not fair. Just looking at the water is killing me ... it really hurts."

Tauranga builder Max Davies said efforts had been so slack that the Government deserved a vote of no confidence in the elections.

Justine Wilton broke down as she saw the fouled state of the same pristine beach she had taken her children to play on days earlier.

"We'd seen it on TV but when you see it for yourself, it really brings it home and we're all just starting to process what it means for us," she said.

Other locals hit out at public meetings in Papamoa and Mt Maunganui yesterday. "We are all so frustrated. Why has it taken so long? It's been over a week," one woman asked of the delay in recruiting volunteers.

More than 1500 people have volunteered for a clean-up expected to last for weeks. Many who had registered online were asked to wait a week.

Mr Crosby said he had come across a "wave of emotions" from people.

"We know it is frustrating for local people, who are saying 'these are our beaches and we want to be able to look after them'. People are going on to the beaches and trying to clean up themselves, but they risk further damage to the beach and tracking the oil into carparks and urban areas."

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said it was "vital" the clean-up be done in an orderly manner to avoid even more damage to the environment.

- NZ Herald

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