"There are no words. It is devastating when you have to stand in the middle of the highway and tell your wife that your house is destroyed."

For Whangaehu resident Mike McDonnell, his wife Raywne and their children, memories of the February 2004 remain as vivid as they were 10 years ago. Sunday marks a decade since the rainstorm and subsequent flood catastrophe.

Mr McDonnell has lived in the small Rangitikei township for 50 years, and in his house opposite the Whangaehu Garage for 30 years.

But nothing could prepare him or his family for the events of February 16, 2004, when their house - and the entire Whangaehu township - was swamped by the swollen Whangaehu River.


Mr McDonnell said it had been raining heavily all weekend, but there had been no warning.

Mike McDonnell shows the flood level in his living room.
Mike McDonnell shows the flood level in his living room.

Flood waters entered the village as the river began to breach its banks about 8am on February 16. By 9am water was ankle-deep on the McDonnell property, and it was up to the patio by noon.

At the flood's peak, that afternoon, the water was more than 1.5m deep through the house. "I just stood there and watched it come up. There was nothing I could do."

Mrs McDonnell and her daughter had gone into Wanganui while Mr McDonnell helped resident evacuate.

He said among those rescued was a 90-year-old man who was brought from the end of Ruatangata Rd on a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Mr McDonnell spent Monday night at the Turakina Railway Tavern and at 8am when his wife was bought back to Whangaehu with other evacuated residents, he had to tell her the house was very, very bad.

"It might be we have to walk away from it," Mr McDonnell told the Wanganui Chronicle at the time.

However, they decided to stay. It took a year for the house to dry out and be repaired - made more difficult because the McDonnells had no insurance - during which time they lived with family in Wanganui.


Since 2004 another two major floods have brought water into the house - one in 2006 and one in October 2013.

Fortunately, insurance helped with repairs.

Only a handful of residents living in Whangaehu in early 2004 remain in the township.

Mr McDonnell knows flooding is an ever-present danger, but he can't go anywhere because of his mortgage.

"This place is worth more to us in our possession than if we sold it. We couldn't buy a dog-box in town with what we'd get if we sold the house."

Mr McDonnell said his family is now constantly prepared for an emergency.

"If you see me with my bags packed, start running. It's not because my wife has thrown me out."

In tomorrow's Chronicle we remember the catastrophic flood of February 2004 and talk to people who lived through them.
Photo Gallery of the 2004 floods -