"I saw the whole wall just fall over and smash into the middle of the road."

With these words, College Rd resident Fred Mansell begins to tell the story of his year after the Edgecumbe floods.

"I was just shocked when I heard the loud crash, Fred said. "Because the water just came in so fast over the stopbank. Yeah, it was scary."

Worse was to come.


Fred has lived in the house almost all his life. It was the family home.

And in the instant it flooded and was pushed off its foundations, a lifetime of memories were washed away.

"Oh, it broke my heart," he said. "We were staying at my daughter's place and I'd come and park up there on the front lawn and sit there and look at the house. For up to two hours, just sitting there and remembering things from when I was young."

Fred paused to think and said: "It sort of took its toll on me."

His wife Pare didn't find out until later about Fred's daily vigil outside his childhood home.

"He's not the same," she said. "He's aged a lot. He was never idle, and [now] a lot of the time I catch him sitting down and it's like he's watching TV, but he's not."

Their long-time neighbour Arlene Watters, often saw Fred sitting in his car.

"It's especially hard when you see Fred trying to cope," she said. "And same with Pare. Pare is a strong woman, and she didn't break until we did a karakia and blessing over there.


"And it was nice that she had all her mokos around her, that held her up. Because she's been Fred's rock right from the start."

Fred agreed, letting Pare in on his feelings about her for the first time.

"Without Pare… she's my backbone. Without her I don't know where I'd be, probably had a breakdown or something," Fred said. "That's one thing I'm really grateful for."

Like Fred, Arleen has lived in College Rd almost all her life. But for Arlene, the river holds a special significance.

"That's where I had my accident."

Arlene is a partial tetraplegic and has used a wheelchair since she was a teenager when she twisted her neck badly while diving into the river across from her home on College Rd. She was paralysed and had to be resuscitated twice in the ambulance.

"It's been rough but hey, I'm still here."

Decades later, she's a well-loved member of the Edgecumbe community, and a great neighbour to Pare and Fred.

In the next house along were John and Marilyn Kearns, who were also a strong part of the neighbourhood.

Prior to the flood last April, they were concerned about the concrete wall across the road.

The river had risen up out of its banks, quadrupling in volume, and pushing up against the wall.

They became even more nervous when they saw it starting to leak.

"Tuesday, the wife noticed it," said John. "I noticed it more on the Wednesday when I came home from work, the volume of water that was coming down the road. And it was actually seeping underneath the stopbank."

That morning it was John who woke up Arlene and with help of her carers, she was bundled into a van with just minutes to spare.

A year later, she's back in her home but she's lost some of her neighbours. John and Marilyn moved to Kawerau and on the other side, Pare and Fred's house was completely totalled.

"Losing Pare and Fred is like losing my Aunty and Uncle," Arlene said. "Yeah [like] losing part of your whanau."

The good news for Arlene is that Pare and Fred have stayed in Edgecumbe, and they've moved two doors along, into John and Marilyn's old place on the other side of Arlene.

"I think it was meant to be," said Fred. "We didn't want to go anywhere else to live. And the opportunity came up and it was meant to be that we bought it."

But like many sets of neighbours around Edgecumbe, the flood has torn them apart.

"We feel safe here [in Kawerau] away from that river," said John's wife Marilyn. "It's always in the back of your mind, every time it rains."

But Pare couldn't bring herself to leave College Rd.

"I know there are people out there that think we are crazy staying here," she said. "But our children were brought up here, our grandkids are coming through now and this place is just special."

Arlene is emphatic.

"This is my home and this is my hometown."

"Having the river there doesn't faze me," she said. "I know it's there and its always been there. It's just hard when there's people [who say] 'oh, it's going to flood again' and they send some of the Edgecumbe residents into panic."

To which, her answer is: "No, it won't happen again if they fix it properly."

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