Some evacuated Edgecumbe residents could be facing a long wait to get back into their homes.

Residents whose homes were in dry zones were given access on Saturday for about 15 minutes to collect essentials but a cordon remained in place around much of the town.

Those in a small section, around 46 homes in the south-eastern part of town, have been told they can return home on Monday morning. The homes, on Hydro Road, Nikau Place, Miro Place and Konini Place, will have running water but no wastewater services and will be using Portaloos.

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said he hoped all residents would be able to return to their homes by Easter.


Hundreds of people queued up in Awakeri, Kawerau and Whakatane to register for a brief trip back to their homes to pick up essentials.

In Awakeri frustrated residents lashed out about being evacuated from dry homes as they waited in a slow-moving, 40-metre-long line.

Edgecumbe resident Paul Mills said he felt "a very deep-seated anger" at having to stay with relatives in Tauranga since Thursday despite his home being unaffected by the flooding.

He said he felt as if he was in "an information black hole" amid what he considered to be poor communication from council staff.

Edgecumbe resident John Davies is frustrated he is not able to go back to his house even though it was unaffected by the floods. Photo/George Novak
Edgecumbe resident John Davies is frustrated he is not able to go back to his house even though it was unaffected by the floods. Photo/George Novak

Jonnie Joseph, whose home was also unaffected, said he believed information about the floodwater levels was wrong and the registration process too slow.

"It's been backing up since early, mate," he said. "It's a local government shambles again."

On Monday, Ministry of Education representatives would be at the Civil Defence Centres in Awakeri, Whakatane and Kawerau to support parents with school and school holiday arrangements.

The Whakatane Emergency Response team was working closely with the Ministry and could offer support for parents wanting their children to return to school this week. The team could also help with alternate arrangements for parents returning to work but keeping their children out of school, and with school holiday arrangements.


With the cordon still in place, Edgecumbe schools were unlikely to be assessed until Monday at the earliest but indications were that although the schools hadn't been badly damaged, but they would be affected by lack of services.

On Saturday night angry residents stormed out of a public meeting as tempers flared about access to their homes.

Hundreds of displaced residents had gathered at the Whakatane Wall Memorial Hall. At the meeting residents spoke of losing their homes and questioned the management of waterways before and during the disaster.

At a press conference today, Bonne said the residents' response was "part of the grieving process".

He admitted the strong response caught him by surprise.

"I was floored," he said. "If we'd been [at the meeting] on time and the sound system was working it might have been different. Somebody cocked up unfortunately."

Bonne repeated a pledge to thoroughly investigate events surrounding the flood.

In response to questions about the size and quality of a concrete stopbank which failed, Bonne said he believed the proximity of a nearby road had influenced the type of stopbank that was in place.

"There have been millions of dollars spend on flood ways," he said.

"But I can't guarantee that we can protect people from massive weather bombs.

"This was a storm of all storms and rivers were 30 per cent higher than what they were designed for."

Police Eastern Bay Area Commander Kevin Taylor said a cordon remained in place to provide security for homes and for health reasons.

The breach in the Rangataiki River floodwall had been plugged and water was no longer flowing into Edgecumbe.

The water was naturally receding but because of the volume, more would need to be pumped out. Pumping could take up to 10 days to complete.

A spokeswoman for the Insurance Council of New Zealand said it was too early to say how many claims had been lodged.

Meanwhile, Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee said he wants to get to Edgcumbe this week but it may be too soon to announce the nature of any government support just yet.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges inspected the area today, local MP and Social Development Minister Anne Tolley would accompany Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy on an inspection tour on Monday, and Brownlee would try and get up there this week as well.

"Until we have a clear picture of exactly what's needed, we can't really respond at this stage," Brownlee said.

"I doubt there'll be any particular announcement this week."

He said there was a longstanding arrangement between central and local government in such cases that central government funded 60 per cent of repairs and local government 40 per cent for damage including roads and infrastructure.

"I understand there are some difficulties there with some houses being more than adversely affected by the stopbank failure but until all that is assessed and in front of us, we can't race out there and say 'this is what's happening.'"

As for business support packages that were available after the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, Brownlee said each disaster was a different situation.

"The difference with Kaikoura was the isolation and in Christchurch it was the fact that people simply couldn't get to their businesses."