Five years ago this weekend Whanganui had its worst flooding on record.
Whanganui and its surrounding districts were hit with 131mm of rain in 48 hours meaning 190 million litres of water had to leave the Whanganui catchment.
The Whanganui River breached its banks around midnight. Four hundred people, mainly in Putiki, Aramoho and Whanganui East, were evacuated.
When Whanganui woke on June 21 low lying parts of the city and surrounding areas were under water.
Whanganui was cut off from the rest of the country with all state highways closed. Rural roads were blocked with slips.
Horizons Regional Council recorded the Whanganui River reaching a peak of 9.1 metres at the City Bridge at 3am that Sunday with a flow rate of 4690 cubic metres per second.
Kevin Ross says while a lot of things had happened over the years the effect on people and assets during the June 2015 flood was "just astounding".
He was chief executive of Whanganui District Council at the time and civil defence controller and said the events of 2015 reopened the debate on whether Whanganui was well enough equipped to handle events of that magnitude.
"There were places we hadn't seen before coming under pressure, and we were responding to multiple places throughout Whanganui," he said.
By the early hours of June 21, low lying areas across the region were swamped, including the city's CBD and large parts of Anzac Parade.
Police brought in an additional 55 staff while Red Cross deployed 12 teams to aid in the evacuations.
"The further you move on from a flood, the more the conversation seems to taper off," Ross said.
"I don't think that the debate has been finalised, but I know the council are doing some good work on climate change and whether that will effect how we respond to these types of events in the future."
Council and iwi closer
Ngā Tāngata Tiaki O Whanganui chair, Gerrard Albert, said that since the 2015 floods, iwi and council had worked much closely together.
"During 2015 we saw communities up the river isolated, and to large degree there was distance between civil defense and iwi," Albert said.
"Since then, when there was the threat of flooding in 2017, and during the recent Covid-19 pandemic, we've worked intimately together.
"We've got to plan ahead, not just with our communities but also on our infrastructure that's close to the river.
"Climate change will affect a lot of things moving forward, and any plans we make must align with that reality."
'A heart-breaking process to go through'
Rangitikei mayor Andy Watson said his district had farms that lost diary sheds and milking platforms, which signalled "the end of the line in terms of their business".
"It's a heartbreaking process to go through, it really is, and parts of that flood will live in my memory forever," Watson said.
"We had a call come in that put a group of people's lives absolutely at risk, and we had to say to sit tight and hope that water levels drop.
"Helicopters couldn't get in to rescue them, and if they'd tried to evacuate they were likely to drown.
"It doesn't get much more personal than that, and my thanks go out to all the people that gave their time and that volunteered to support."
Watson said there had been a push to set up the trustees for a mayoral relief fund, that would have money available in "these sorts of events."
"I appreciate the Government has helped us in the past, but the country isn't a bottomless pit."
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said that because "a flood of that magnitude" would eventually happen again, preparation was "absolutely key".
"What the Whanganui District Council can do is plan and structure our land use around the river, so that when it happens again the damage to individuals and property is limited.
"That's why we have a flood zone in Putiki, and different provisions alongside the river."
McDouall said new houses, in particular, needed to be able to deal with a flood, and that he was always looking at different ways Whanganui could "live with the river".
"The one or two days every few years where the river does flood, that's Horizons, but every other day, places like Anzac Parade, Putiki and the Balgownie Industrial area, they're ours.
"We need to be involved in any critical decisions on the shape and the look of those areas."
McDouall, who lived near the Matarawa stream in Whanganui East at the time of the 2015 floods, said his children were "learning to kayak" on Raine street that Saturday morning.
"My neighbours property, the late Ron Roebuck, backed right on to the stream, and as I walked down I saw a flat gleaming area around his house.
"The first thing I thought was 'oh, I didn't know Ron had concreted', but of course it was water.
"Ron was inside watching the rugby, and I said he needed to get out, but he just turned around and said, 'I've seen worse'.
"He really loved his rugby, did Ron."
According to the New Zealand Insurance Council, the flood resulted in 2644 claims in the lower North Island alone, with insured losses of $41,541,818.
Business has only just paid back debt
Annette Jones, the owner of The Burrow and Indulge Skin Spa in the Taylor's Landing Mall on Taupo Quay, said she had only recently paid back the loan she took out to cover the costs of the flooding.
"None of my stock in The Burrow was insured when the floods hit, so we had to get cleaned up and get back open as soon as possible," Jones said,
"I think the only thing I could claim on was my vacuum cleaner, which came from home.
"We cleaned, cleaned, cleaned, and I think we managed to open up again after about 10 days."
Silt still came up through the tiles from time to time, Jones said.
"It's just a little reminder, but we're all still here and our lives are the most important thing."
Across Taupo Quay at the Sarjeant Gallery, curator Jennifer Taylor Moore said "the troops were called in" to clear out the bottom floor and move everything upstairs before the river breached its banks.
"The gallery shop and exhibition space was completely underwater, and when I returned to survey the damage, it felt like you were in a in a cave.
"There was the bubbling coming from under the building, and everything was just dripping.
"There was a river running down Taupo Quay, and birds were flying overhead not knowing where to perch.
"The whole thing was surreal."
Horizons Regional Council recorded the Whanganui River reaching a peak of 9.1 metres at the Town Bridge at 3am that Sunday morning, with a flow rate of 4690 cubic metres per second.
A need to plan for the next one
The mayor of Whanganui in 2015, Annette Main, said she still worried about when the next flood would hit.
"People have rebuilt their homes, and houses have been bought and sold since that flood, and people forget how absolutely devastating it was," Main said.
"I believe Whanganui came to the fore during that time, and everybody was supportive of each other and worked together to minimise the effects of the floods."
Main said she was concerned about the stop banks running along the river having the necessary capacity to withstand future floods.
"Since 2015, there hasn't been anyone who has talked about the condition of those stopbanks, and I think there's been a fair bit of complacency."
'All I had left was a clock and a painting'
Angie Cawley returned from Auckland to her Anzac Parade home that weekend to find all she had left was "a clock and a painting", after the flood waters had subsided.
"My bed had floated all the way up to the ceiling, and the top of it literally looked like you could climb in and have sleep," Cawley said.
"That shows how strong the force of the water was.
"I've since bought a house on the other side of town in Springvale, and now that we're having earthquakes, I've learned that Springvale is the place that could have liquefaction if we have a big one.
"You just don't know what's around the corner, but you have to carry on."
Horizons Regional Council River Management leader Ramon Strong said Horizons was working on a "retreat strategy" for houses that ran along Anzac Parade.
"It's a relatively thin corridor of properties that are exposed to river flooding, so instead of building stopbanks, it would be a case of taking those [properties out of that flood prone area.
"There is a component of mitigation in our long term plan for Putiki, and how we might look to provide a degree of flood protection for the part of the town centre that is exposed to river flooding."
"There will be a fairly intensive amount of community engagement in our long term plan, and we'll be actively looking to the views of Whanganui residents as to whether we've got the mix right."
Putiki Marae was severely water damaged by the 2015 flood, and Chairman Hone Tamehana, said the response from the community was "tremendous".
"Our marae is a peoples marae for all of the community, and people came in their droves to help after the floods," Tamehana said.
"The biggest problem for us was feeding everyone who came to help.
"We kept channels open with all our marae, and we were there to support one another where we could.