By Lois Williams, Local Democracy Reporter
Several hundred Westport residents could be homeless for months in the wake of the biggest flood to hit the town in nearly a century.
About 2000 people - half the population - were forced to evacuate over the weekend and shelter with friends and family or welfare centres as the Buller River spilled into the town, turning much of it into a muddy brown lake.
Many evacuees were this morning confronting the impact of the disaster for the first time, after Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine pressed Civil Defence managers to allow them to return to their homes to assess the damage for themselves.
"People were doing that anyway - they're pragmatic people here and they can decide for themselves if their homes are fit to stay in."
Some floodwater had been contaminated with sewage and people working on the houses should wear gloves and a mask and use hand sanitizer, Cleine said.
Homes that had a metre or more of water through them would be uninhabitable until they had been stripped of sodden wall linings, and carpets dried out and repaired.
"There could be between 100 and 200 houses in that state - we'll know later today. We don't want anyone staying in a wet house and we will find accommodation for those families in the meantime, whether it's a motel or Airbnb or whatever."
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said many of the worst affected homes were in the State housing area, but the floodwaters had also reached a new subdivison and areas never before affected by flooding.
"Everyone involved, from the council staff to the army and the emergency management team, has done an extraordinary job at the weekend with getting people out and into welfare centres - it was exemplary."
The Government had committed $300,000 to the Buller Mayoral Flood Relief Fund and $100,000 for rural relief, with more support to follow.
"We will also be looking at the options for accommodating people who can't go back to their homes, and that could mean bringing in temporary housing units and mobile homes, or whatever."
Accommodation would also be needed for the workers and tradespeople who would be needed to repair the damage to homes and roads, O'Connor said.