Glass was strewn through a bedroom on the bottom floor of Bonnie Campbell's home, floating in pools of muddy, silty water.

The Kaiaua resident's East Coast Rd home had been hit hard by waves of floodwater when it burst over the sea bank in the small coastal town south of Auckland yesterday.

The floodwater had punched through a glass sliding door and demolished her fence. The 84-year-old said she had been at the house with her great-grandchildren yesterday morning when they noticed how high the tide had become.

"We looked out and I thought "Well the tide is still another three hours until it's high, and it's already coming over the bank already ... we'd better move our cars'."

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The trio moved the two cars sitting on the property around the corner to higher ground, but then found themselves trapped.

"We couldn't get back, the tide had just swept through so quickly. So so quickly, it was unreal."

Campbell's 14-year-old great grandson, Tyler, said they had been warned to get out by an alert from the local fire brigade.

"By the time they said that though, it was a bit too late."

Campbell looked stricken as she inspected the damage throughout the bottom floor of her home.

Her back yard had been transformed into a lake, with a garden shed partially submerged. A dinghy that had been sitting over by the shed had floated across the water to rest by the house

There had been flooding in the area near the beginning of last year, she said, but it hadn't been nearly as bad.

Her daughter, Tina Killeen, said the flooding was a crisis that could have been averted if the council had put measures in place like a seawall.

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"Something should have been done after the last time the area flooded," she said. "It's like they're the forgotten people down here."

Just hours after waves burst over the seabank in the coastal settlement, residents were launching into a cleanup effort.

Displaced residents were relocated to the Kaiaua fire station, where volunteers were cooking and looking after fire crews as they rotated on and off shifts helping with evacuations.

Despite warnings from Civil Defence to "stay away", many shell-shocked residents continued floating around the town on Friday afternoon surveying the damage.

Residents had been urged to self-evacuate when an alarm was activated by the local fire brigade but many had stayed in the area, sheltering with family or friends.

People could be seen pulling cars and other possessions from the floodwaters.

Meanwhile diggers were out in force on East Coast Rd, which runs along the coast of the small town, working to clear a foot of sand blanketing the tarseal.

Another Kaiaua resident and antique collector was shell-shocked upon realising he had lost the bulk of his antique collection, stored in the front room of his waterfront home.

Dan Cooper had been out of his house when the flooding started, and described the scene he came back to as "devastating".

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items, gone. Everything we own."

Cooper said the town had been hit with a similar level of flooding back in the 90s.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," he said. "The council hasn't done anything about an awful lot of flood protection, because we're coastal I guess."

Despite the soggy mess caused by the flooding, Cooper said he loved the area and its scenic views. "It's still a little slice of paradise," he said.

The Hauraki District Council said staff were still assessing damage as access became available.

They were determining the number of people and properties affected. Those worst damaged would be assessed for safety by council building inspectors over the weekend.