Like other residents in the beachside suburb of Piha, Kim Kerrigan is battling to learn the fate of her property. Meghan Lawrence reports.

When Kim Kerrigan got home on a rainy autumn day, much of her house was underwater.

The mailbox couldn't be seen under the swell and cars were floating down the road.

"I went to open the gate to let the water and debris wash away and unfortunately I got taken with it.

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"I was hanging on the gate. I couldn't get to my feet at all. The last thing I remember before being sucked away was thinking somebody might come soon, and they didn't.

"Fortunately there was a wooden cross-bracing under the house and I got washed into that. I managed to catch my breath and get my bearings a bit.

"By the time I came back around, the house was completely submerged."

Glenesk Rd residents Joe Ward, Kim Kerrigan and Anita Ward, with baby Forrest, 4 months old. Photo / Doug Sherring
Glenesk Rd residents Joe Ward, Kim Kerrigan and Anita Ward, with baby Forrest, 4 months old. Photo / Doug Sherring

She opened doors in the home to let the water out but it just kept rushing in.

The home is on Piha's Glenesk Rd, a quiet street that tumbles from the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges towards the Tasman with a mixture of owner-occupied, tenanted, and seasonally-occupied houses. The property is one of about 100 nestling among native bush alongside the gentle Piha Stream.

Usually it's a placid oasis with private footbridges and sheltered wildlife. But on April 28, bits of the idyll were washed away.

Within four hours, 80.5mm of rain fell on Auckland's West Coast, resulting in a catastrophic surge in the stream that swallowed roads and houses.

Flooding reached a depth of 2m on some parts of Glenesk Rd, causing residents to flee. Twenty-four properties were extensively damaged. Insurance claims nationwide totalled $21.2m — a figure likely to rise.

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The flood waters rushing through Kim Kerrigan's home. Photo / Supplied
The flood waters rushing through Kim Kerrigan's home. Photo / Supplied

But the worst was still to come for Kerrigan and her husband Grant.

Instead of moving back in after the home dried up, six months later they are still staying with family.

Like the owners of the other 23 Glenesk Rd homes, they're in limbo.

They are awaiting an Auckland Council-sought engineering report before it decides whether their properties are too dangerous to live in, or whether residents can repair or rebuild, and they are yet to know who will cover the cost.

And they're battling with the council which says there are no viable structural changes it can make to avoid flooding ruining homes in the area again.

"We thought initially the houses would be repaired and we would move back in ... but we don't seem to be any closer to a resolution," Kerrigan says.

"We've had no home since April 28 but we are still paying rates, mortgages, power and insurance on homes we can't live in.

"It's been emotionally, mentally and financially tough."

Walls in the couple's lounge, dining room, bathroom, kitchen, laundry and toilet are damaged.

Among things that need replacing or fixing are the electrical wiring, heat pump, floors, insulation, cabinetry and plumbing. The house needs bacterial cleaning because of the septic tanks in the area. The estimated repair cost is between $116,000 and $158,000.

Flooding on Glenesk Road, Piha. Photo / Kim Kerrigan
Flooding on Glenesk Road, Piha. Photo / Kim Kerrigan

The Glenesk area has been developed since the 1940s. Given its position on a natural flood plain, flood notations were added to the LIM reports — the summary of information the council holds on a property — in 2000.

Since 2009, flood risk has been covered on every LIM report for an Auckland home.

Kerrigan admits when they purchased the house, in January last year, the LIM warned it was in a flood plain and the water had once got into the garage in 2002.

"So, worst case, we expected to be paddling in a little water underfoot outside, not up to my knees in the lounge or raging like a torrent around our house."

The April flood wasn't the first in Piha this year. Between 5pm and 6pm on February 3, 27.5mm of rain fell.

A park ranger said at the time the resulting torrent was the worst and fastest he had seen in 30 years.

The council's healthy waters department assessed Glenesk Rd's flooding risk after the two weather events and its report completed in August reveals 24 properties — including the Kerrigans' — are at risk of frequent flooding.

Thirteen council-owned buildings are also deemed at risk, including the West Coast Gallery and Nigel Hanlon Hut on Seaview Rd. The council's Piha Mill Camp and Piha Domain Camp Grounds are at risk, as is the Piha Volunteer Fire Brigade building nearby.

Thirty-one additional properties have access cut off in flooding events.

Cars submerged in the flood waters on Glenesk Rd. Photo / Supplied
Cars submerged in the flood waters on Glenesk Rd. Photo / Supplied

After considering a range of risk-reduction options, including widening the stream and raising or removing houses, the report concluded there was no public infrastructure solution for the catchment. It also stated the council had no legal obligation to implement any infrastructure.

The council has commissioned engineering experts Tonkin and Taylor to review its report. The company's findings are expected by the end of November.

The 24 properties have been surveyed by council engineers twice, in June and in September, and owners given individual reports on the property's flooding risk.

At a public meeting on October 13, residents were told their homes could be issued with dangerous building notices, requiring them to make the buildings safe. In some cases, they won't be allowed to live at the properties until the changes are made.

General manager of the council's healthy waters department, Craig Mcilroy, says no notices will be issued before the independent review is concluded.

"Naturally, this process will take time," Mcilroy says. "In the meantime we are doing our best to be open and transparent.

"If the council found there were any buildings posing a danger, our policy provides that we will issue a dangerous building notice."

He acknowledges it has been stressful for the community. The council's obligation was of duty of care and public safety, he says.

If Tonkin and Taylor found an infrastructure solution, it would have to be put in front of the mayor and councillors as there is no council budget for it.

Debris left washed up outside Kim Kerrigan's home on Glenesk Rd following the floods. Photo / Supplied
Debris left washed up outside Kim Kerrigan's home on Glenesk Rd following the floods. Photo / Supplied

That's not good enough for Kerrigan who wants action now.

"Our relationships are under pressure, our work life is being affected, and emotionally we are all exhausted and frustrated beyond belief.

"These homes were built to their regulations and code, yet the council are dragging their heels in finding a resolution for those of us displaced due to their complete lack of infrastructure, monitoring and planning.

"It begs the question, what are we paying rates for in Piha?"

Anita Ward and her father Joe own a rental on Glenesk Rd that was tenanted at the time of the floods. They had to evict their tenants, causing a loss of income, and have been unable to rent it out since.

"It's no fault of our own so we should feel like we will get backed up by council when something like this happens," she says.

Insurance claims are also up in the air for Glenesk Rd residents as they await the report.

Broadly, under the Earthquake Commission Act, claims for flood or storm damage can be made only for land under residential buildings and their immediate surrounds, not for the buildings or their contents.

However, the commission can't cover loss of use of land because of a decision by a regulatory authority — in this case, the council's decision to apply dangerous building notices.

So, homeowners would have to cover the cost of any land alterations themselves.

The council won't say whether consents would be granted to clear sections and build new homes.

Flood damage to Anita Ward and her father Joe's rental home on Glenesk Rd. Photo / Doug Sherring
Flood damage to Anita Ward and her father Joe's rental home on Glenesk Rd. Photo / Doug Sherring

The commission's head of response and recovery, Robyn Nation, says it has met Glenesk Rd residents to discuss claims for flood damage.

"We have received, or are expecting, a small number of claims."

Residents dealing with their personal home and contents insurers don't want to complete claims for repairs until they know whether they are even allowed to return to their homes.

"If council place dangerous building notices on the homes ... we can not live in them even if they are repaired, as we can not fix the flooding problem," Kerrigan says.

Her insurance is with IAG New Zealand.

When asked about cover, claims performance general manager Roger Wallace said: "We are working with the homeowners in this situation regarding their options under their insurance policies."

It's not clear if residents' properties will be insured in the future.

After any major event, IAG assesses whether it will continue to offer cover, Wallace says.

"Homeowners need to know that if a risk is not mitigated or is unable to be, then their policy could change."

The council-owned Piha Mill Camp on Glenesk Rd is closed. The Piha Stream runs through it and the old sawmill building on the land is often rented out for children's camps and events.

A map of where the floods hit in February and April of this year.
A map of where the floods hit in February and April of this year.

Director Boyd Clark says he decided not to take new bookings after the council found in August there was the potential for loss of life in the event of severe flooding. The organisation has been involved with the site since the mid-1980s.

"It is quite sad to see that, after all those years, we have to close because of a report ... and there are no alternatives being put forward or investigation as to how we can overcome the issues of flooding.

"From our point of view, this reduces the ability for people to experience Piha at an affordable level — and obviously the Waitakere Ranges have been closed as well [to restrict kauri dieback disease] which is another issue causing problems."

The council bought the camp land in 2007 to secure access to the regional parkland.

"While it is disappointing that use of the camp, as we know it, may not be able to continue, public safety is paramount," says Mark Bowater, head of parks services.

"It is important to note that the use of many of our parks has changed over time but their history has not been forgotten and management plan processes allow us to look at new ways of using parkland."

Piha Domain Camp Ground owner Fiona Anderson says it was open for business but refused to comment further. Operators of the two campgrounds were advised of the flood safety risk at a meeting with the council on October 16.

The council has also met community groups which lease the 13 council-owned buildings affected — all but three are based on land at the two camp grounds — to advise them of the flood safety risks.

The Tonkin and Taylor report will include structural assessments of the buildings.

Auckland continues to experience significant storms, Waitākere Ward councillor Linda Cooper says.

An estimated 127,000 homes, with a total value of about $4 billion, are in flood-prone areas.

"So we take this very seriously. In the vast majority of cases, any flood damage will be covered by insurance, and building modifications can usually mitigate future flood risk."

Waitakere Ranges Local Board member Steve Tollestrup understands Glenesk Rd residents' anxiety but isn't sure of the alternative.

But board colleague Ken Turner believes the council is driven by self-interest — avoiding costs.

The current timeframe in which Auckland Council assesses the region's floodplains, and which properties fall within them, is about every 10 years although Piha was reassessed in the August report.

Helensville MP Chris Penk says residents are in a tough situation through no fault of their own.

"It's unfair for them to bear the burden when it's core council business to get involved in exactly this type of situation. Meantime they've had to pay council rates on those uninhabitable properties, which must stick in the craw.

"A buy-out option should be investigated as a priority, so the cost of that can be weighed against the engineering solutions that Auckland Council has initially rejected." Kerrigan hopes the council and their insurers will "do the decent thing". "Six months in we are just all tired and want it to be over. If the insurance companies would pay us our total loss, and the council could buy the land and turn it into beautiful wetlands, then the floodplain is doing what it is supposed to."