A family airlifted to safety at Tolaga Bay this morning are extremely grateful to be alive after a traumatic ordeal in which they "lost everything" to flooding.

Two adults and their 4-year-old grandchild were airlifted by helicopter to safety after their house was flooded and their woolshed washed away.

The had spent four hours on the roof of their home before being rescued by the ECT Rescue Helicopter shortly before 9am.

They had been on the roof since 4.30am, in what the 4-year-old granddaughter said was "a cool adventure".

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Tairawhiti Civil Defence Emergency Management group controller John Clarke said the three people were now safe with whanau in Tolaga Bay.

State Highway 2 at Mangatuna Road north of Tolaga Bay has been closed and at Whangara. Photo / Tairawhiti Civil Defence
State Highway 2 at Mangatuna Road north of Tolaga Bay has been closed and at Whangara. Photo / Tairawhiti Civil Defence

"They have been on the roof for four hours and were very wet and cold. The young girl has been checked by paramedics and was all clear.

"The family is enjoying having a shower and relaxing after what would have been a traumatic time," he said.

Clarke said he understood from the woman that floodwaters had swept away their woolshed, her partner's work truck, her car, a digger, tractors and trailers.

A couple thought the nearby river was receding before a great rumbling noise preceded a "heap of slash and a torrent of water" smashing into their house.

The man said the slash smashed the windows and water poured into the house. The water was waist height.

"I think it was a flash flood, possibly caused by a log jam up the Mangatokerau Gorge where the river narrows."

They went out the back door on the opposite side of the flow and on to the deck. They pushed their way out through a plastic roof and on to the roof of the house to await rescue.

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The water had flooded their home and had reached a metre from the ceiling.

The woman said there was water everywhere. They could see no roads, no roofs and there was a just one huge water pool.

They had phoned Gisborne District Council shortly before 4am but emergency services were unable to reach them at that time.

Another two households in the area have also been affected by flooding and were being checked from the air, and about 20 people self-evacuated from houses around the area.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon says people near the Hikuwai River are also advised to evacuate.

He said around five more families were likely to be affected.

State Highway 35 is now open to traffic after being closed for several hours today at Mangatuna and Whangara.

The river water had been lapping the Waiomoko Bridge at Whangara but this has since receded.

On behalf of Tairawhiti Rds and Downer, journey manager Helen Harris thanked the many farmers who got out in difficult conditions and helped open local roads.

"We are co-ordinating our resources with Eastland Network to ensure they have the access they need to restore power to affected residents," she said.

The Paroa and Mangatokerau Rds at Tolaga Bay will be closed until 5pm Wednesday with an update due midday Wednesday.

Harris said there was considerable slash across both of these roads which will require heavy machinery to remove and enable the roads to be opened.

Other roads closed are Pa Rd, Waiomoko, Arakihi, Kiore Rd, Anaura Bay Rd, Kaiaua, Waihau Bay, Glenroy and Tauwhareparae.

"We expect to have updates for these at noon tomorrow. We hope to have the roads open by 5pm tomorrow.

"The problem for us and for our contractors is that we can't do much until the floodwaters have receded. Machinery will just get stuck. We plan to open roads progressively throughout this time.

"We are equally aware that we have another downpour from later tonight. The land is inundated with rain and there is the potential for further issues including slips and road closures."

A weather watch is in place from 9pm tonight until 1pm tomorrow afternoon.

Civil Defence will continue to monitor the situation.

Residents are asked to contact the Gisborne District Council on 06 8672049 or 0800 653 800 to report all road issues.

"We rely on residents informing us about any issues across the district," Harris said.