This Friday marks one year since a flood-swollen Rangitaiki River pushed through a 44-year-old flood wall and forced the evacuation of a town.

Just after 8am on that Thursday morning, water was seen trickling through joins of the painted concrete wall after rainfall from Cyclone Debbie turned the otherwise amiable river into a fast-flowing beast.

Just 30 minutes later the pressure became too much for the ageing structure that some say sustained damage during the 1986 Edgecumbe earthquake and during the 2004 floods, and it gave way.

It was fortunate Edgecumbe Primary School principal Kahu Walker had decided to close the school for the day.

Damaged Edgecumbe homes in the weeks after the flood. Photo / File
Damaged Edgecumbe homes in the weeks after the flood. Photo / File

Otherwise, pupils would have been making their way to classrooms as the tidal wave of water swept down the stop bank and along the streets, swamping anything in its way.

Boats, tractors towing trailers and trucks were used to evacuate residents, many of whom had become aware of the unfolding disaster as water rose up through their floorboards.

Most left without any belongings. They did not have time to find pets or gather up a lifetime of keepsakes, they just had to go.

Once the town had been emptied it was cordoned at each of the entrances. People took shelter with family and friends or at one of the refuge centres set up in response to the flooding. It was days before they were permitted to return home to see the damage caused.

Hundreds of volunteers put in thousands of hours pumping water away from Edgecumbe, shovelling 2500 tonnes of sediment from the town and recycling 18 tonnes of ruined white ware and steel, and helping homeowners strip floorboards and walls from houses.

Donations flooded in from around the country, money, vouchers, clothes, furniture, household goods and clothes – from individuals, businesses and organisations.

A recovery team was set up once Civil Defence had left the Eastern Bay of Plenty and has since overseen the rebuild of a town.

Residents and volunteers cleaning up after the flood. Photo / File
Residents and volunteers cleaning up after the flood. Photo / File

Since 8.30am on April 6, 2017, the majority of the Edgecumbe community have ridden a wave of emotions.


Shock, then anger, then acceptance. Most have turned their heads toward the future.

As at March 29, 70 per cent (212) of the 305 affected properties had been repaired and people have returned home.

The majority of the remaining affected properties (78 homes) are at various stages of the repair, rebuild or sale process. These include rebuilds under way by insurers, or by the homeowners.

Fifteen properties (5 per cent) show minor or no progress on repair and these are high priority for the recovery team and its Community and Building Navigator Service.

Among those are a small number still in negotiation with their insurance company, or still deciding what to do with their property.

Each day next week in the lead-up to the town's one-year flood anniversary, the Rotorua Daily Post will be talking with a different person from Edgecumbe – about what they were doing then, what they are doing now and about how things have changed for them since April 6, 2017.

Edgecumbe: By the numbers
182ml of rain fell in two days
1600 people evacuated from the town and surrounding area
15 homes assessed as severely damaged/uninhabitable
252 homes required repair before being reoccupied
17 homes rebuilt for those who had no means to repair their houses
200 home received free insulation from funding from Eastern Bay Energy Trust
$160,000 distributed to 142 applicants from Mayoral Relief Fund
$300,000 distributed to qualifying affected farmers through the MBIE fund

As at March 29 – Progress getting families back home (target is 304 properties)
212 homes (70 per cent) repaired and reoccupied
Of the remaining affected properties 78 (25 per cent) have repairs under way and are at various stages of completion
172 families or individuals have picked up a Recovery Welcome Home Pack