Hundreds of people remain in temporary shelter as the Westport community rallies in the wake of the biggest flood since 1926.
More than 2000 people were evacuated by helicopter, Unimog, tractor and boat, on Friday and Saturday.
Yesterday, dirty, stinking floodwaters — mixed with toilet paper and firewood — were receding.
After three nights in welfare centres not everyone has made it home.
Many families are appealing for sightings of their missing pets.
On the ground, the exhausted community is rallying, although many of the rescuers have no home to return to themselves, including the town's fire chief and police officers.
Cafes opened on Sunday to feed rescuers, people began gathering donations and others offered to move stranded vehicles.
Charles Bruning, who photographed the flood, was yesterday morning serving breakfast to 60 new army arrivals, and 40 responders from Christchurch.
The Westport town centre in Palmerston St was unaffected, and Samara File has opened up a store there so people can bring donations, such as furniture.
"A lot of people walked out with the clothes on their back."
One family with a young child had not had a bath in three days, and had no clean clothes.
Stephen Switalla said he had just 15 minutes to evacuate from his Romilly St home late on Friday night as the floodwaters closed in.
He has been sleeping at the Salvation Army Hall.
Switalla and his wife had only recently returned to Westport from Timaru to spend their retirement, and were just starting to redecorate their house.
"Now we're back to square one again, so it's a bit heartbreaking."
Micky Ryan, who swung into action with his two Unimogs he usually uses for tours, said
the worst he saw was by the Buller Bridge at the entrance to town, where the water was halfway up the houses.
"There was some real sad stuff."
Former Westport mayor Pat O'Dea said the biggest flood he could remember was in 1972, but it was nowhere near this size.
"This is almost double what it was then. It's quite devastating."
Niwa hydrodynamics scientist Richard Measures said flood levels at its Te Kuha monitoring station, just upstream of Westport township, were the "highest since the major flood of 1926".
An exceptional 733mm of rain was recorded at Niwa's highest elevation station at Tuke Hut, behind Hokitika.