Don Smith evacuated so quickly he didn't have time to grab his toothbrush.

It was 8.30am yesterday when the fire brigade told Mr Smith and the two dozen other remaining residents of his retirement village that a stop bank was threatening to burst and they needed to get out.

"There hadn't been any water yet," he said.

"But they were worried."

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Mr Smith aged 85, grabbed a bag of clothes and was out the door in five minutes, driving to Awakeri with his mate.

He left behind most of his belongings and his 13-year-old cat, Dani.

After driving around various small towns with little knowledge of what was going on, the two men ended up at a Red Cross station at Whakatane War Memorial Hall at 2.30pm.

Mr Smith was one of three people to sleep on stretchers in the hall last night - his mate slept in the car, and another couple slept inside.

"I hope to get some more stuff out today and feed the cat," Mr Smith said.

The stretcher had been "comfortable enough" and the food, including sandwiches and pizza, pretty decent.

Flooding around Whakatane was "the worst I've seen".

After talking with the Bay of Plenty Times, Mr Smith stood up to have breakfast in the hall.

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He was not too bothered about the situation.

"It's nature."

"You've got to put up with it, don't you?"