Clover Drive is west Auckland’s ghost road, a year on from the floods
A year on from the devastating Auckland Anniversary floods, one of the worst hit streets in Auckland’s west is largely empty.
The water ripped through houses and gardens on Clover Drive as nearby Momutu stream burst its banks and stormwater drains simply could not cope with the deluge.
Locals had to flee their homes as the sewage contaminated water levels rose, submerging cars and carrying rubbish and debris.
Twelve months on, many homes on the street crouch behind security fences, the windows and front doors boarded-up with plywood.
Each one represents a family who lost their home.
In one garden a red rose blooms among the pūhā and weeds, signs that once someone cared.
Nearby a pile of mattresses grow mould.
Over the fence is a mound of ragged plaster board shards among general household rubbish.
Further down the street live Emily, Andrew, and their two children. They are still waiting for a property assessment to find out whether the council will fund flood-prevention improvements or if authorities will buy them out.
Emily and Andrew watched Anniversary flood waters ripped through their property, downing fences and flooding their garage.
As the rain continued pouring down, Andrew left to get their daughter from pre-school. On his way back he couldn’t drive down Clover Drive, the waters had risen.
He left their two year-old with a neighbour at the corner to get back to Emily.
“I was stuck in the house with the cat,” says Emily. “I can’t swim, for me, it was quite scary.”
From their front door they watched as cars on the street were submerged and wheelie bins floated by.
“We were not far off being put in a kayak,” Emily says.
In the aftermath Andrew got sick. Emily says it was likely caused by the sewage in the flowing water.
She says in the year since the floods people from other neighbourhoods have used Clover Drive as a dumping ground for unwanted mattresses, sofas and general household rubbish.
“It’s happening on our doorstep, which is our home.”
Emily says she calls the council to report the dumping but they “don’t want to know” and she feels like giving up.
The odd stolen car has also been abandoned after a joyride.
“While we wait and wait, there’s no contingency plan to look at how things can be applied. They forget we’re people, we’re not numbers.”
Street kids also target the abandoned houses. Recently a carload of people turned up and tried to steal the air conditioning unit from an empty home.
All the while, the uncertainty of their largest asset – their house – hangs over them.
Emily and Andrew are one of about 2400 Auckland home owners who have opted into the council’s property assessment. Properties where flooding could be life threatening will get an offer of being bought out.
Auckland Council expects there to be 600 homeowners bought out and a further 100 to receive financial support for flooding mitigation.
But even once they are “categorised”, Emily says it is likely there will be another wait until work can be carried out.
“It’s like the Christchurch earthquake.”
She wants the council to lay out a timeframe of what will happen and when, to provide residents with a clear picture.
Even now, one year on, the once soothing sound of rain on the roof will put Emily on “high alert” and she finds herself thinking about packing a bag.
Down the road, Christina lives with her husband, children and grandchildren in a two-storey home on a slight rise.
She was out shopping when the flood waters rose.
“I had a phone call from my husband saying: ‘Do not come to the house’.”
Christina parked around the corner and walked the rest of the way. She could see the water lapping at the window sills of some of her neighbours’ homes.
The family opened their home to the community, providing dry clothes and a meal that night to about 30 neighbours, some of whom had nothing but the wet clothes on their backs.
“I told the kids: ‘Go to your closets and get everything’.”
One neighbour, aged in his 80s, was brought to her house by boat.
“I thought he was dead.”
He was lying down in her home. She bent down to check on him and heard him whisper “I want to go home to the island”. He was referring to his birthplace of Samoa.
The man was evacuated by ambulance.
The following day her sons went out onto the street, popped the drain lids and cleared them of debris.
In the aftermath, Christina was touched by her neighbours’ gratitude. A woman phoned and thanked her for providing the old man with dry clothes, offering to return them. A man turned up with cash in an envelope.
“He was crying. He said: ‘This is a little token’… I said: ‘Look, I’m not expecting anything from any of you’. We just help the best we can and the people appreciated it.”
In the year since she has seen few of the houses repaired.
“The street kids keep coming and break into the houses.”
A person has also tried to break into one of her cars.
Outside her home she looks down the street at the abandoned Kainga Ora homes.
“I don’t know where the families are, I haven’t seen any of them since.”
Like Emily, she too is haunted by the memories of the floods every time there is a heavy rain.
“It will happen again because I’ve never seen any work.”
A year has passed since the floods and Christina’s back deck is still stacked with three beds and mattresses and a lounge suit, all damaged in the floods.
Charlie and Elsie live a few doors up. They moved back from Perth a year before the floods and count themselves as “fortunate”. The waters went through their garage and went no higher than the second of four steps that lead to their front door.
Charlie was down at the hardware shop when the waters were rising. When he returned the fire brigade wouldn’t let him drive up to the house.
He says many of his neighbours are still waiting to have their homes assessed.
“It’s been 12 months since the flooding. They’re not moving very quickly.
The couple, who rent from a private landlord, hold out hopes of moving back to Perth.
They also report rubbish dumping on the street by others who believe no-one lives on Clover Drive anymore.
The street’s future remains uncertain.
Kainga Ora owns 18 of the homes on Clover Drive, 12 of which are vacant and will be demolished.
Regional director Taina Jones says no decision has been made on what will happen to the properties.
The Kainga Ora homes are a fraction of the 3000 across the Auckland region that were red and yellow stickered, indicating access is restricted or prohibited.
A year on, just under 1000 remain stickered.
Nicholas Vigar is head of Auckland Council’s planning for healthy waters.
He says following the January 27 floods a survey of waterways was carried out to assess natural blockages in streams and creeks. Contractors are finishing up clearing the worst blockages.
The most severe examples included a tiny house blocking a culvert on Don Buck Rd and a container blocking a waterway on Wairau Rd.
He says the common misconception among the community is that the flooding was caused by blocked streams.
“That is not what our modelling is telling us. Those houses are on a flood plain and would’ve flooded… If there’s another event we’ll get the same result.”
Vigar says there’s a similar mistaken belief that stormwater upgrades will fix the problem.
“You can put all the stormwater pipes in the world in there and it wont make a difference. You’re in a flood plain”
He said a culvert upgrade on Don Buck Rd is being looked at and could help lower the risk to Clover Drive but modelling on the upgrade will not be ready until the end of March.
“I feel dreadful for the people of Clover Drive and I’d like to give them some certainty.”
Vigar said while somewhere between 5 and 10% of homeowners will be bought out, 90 to 95% will not.
“If it happens again, they will flood.”
Vigar did not answer questions on when or how often wide-spread flooding could occur.
“We talk about a one in 100 year event but it is not one in 100 years going forward, it is one in 100 years looking backwards.”
Predictions are difficult as the rainfalls are simply getting bigger and bigger.
The Auckland Anniversary weekend flooding has been described as a one in 100 year event but Vigar says it was actually 40% bigger than a one in 100 year event.
He described predicting the next flooding event as “crystal ball gazing”.
Community group West Auckland is Flooding (WAiF) supports people like Charlie, Christina and Emily lobbying the council and central government on behalf of residents.
He sympathises with the council when it comes to assessing individual properties. He says it is not an easy job that can be done by drawing a circle on the map. It requires experts on the ground.
But in the meantime a lot of people remain displaced, paying rent, some are suffering from mental health issues after having their homes flooded multiple times.
“We need to give these people clarity.”
Like Emily, he agrees the situation is comparable to the Christchurch earthquake with the date for assessments being pushed out.
He said the toughest part will be deciding which community level investments get the go-ahead, investments like the Don Buck Rd culvert upgrade.
He says work on the bridge some years ago reduced the flow of water by 60%, creating a bottleneck.
“How long does it take to build a fricken bridge? Bare in mind the people actioning this is the Auckland Council and they’re under-resourced. Let’s say it takes six years. What do the people do for six years? What is the insurance process, what are the banks going to do? Are they going to be able to live in their homes?”
He says in the long-term there needs to be a “grown-up conversation” about where people live.
He describes Clover Drive as the “canary in the mine”.
“If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it is coming to your door or a loved one’s door… Can we continue to live in places inundated by flood water?
And like Vigar, he says more stormwater infrastructure is not the answer.
“I love the environment but I’m not a tree hugger … but in my experience you can’t concrete your way out of mother nature … You have to get out of the way.”
He says the rivers and streams are the city’s arteries and veins but they are full of rubbish.
“Unfortunately it’s my generation, the Millennial Generation, who will have to fork out the money because for so long generations have stood by and allowed this to happen.”
The one positive to come out of the flooding has been tightening of the West Auckland community. Emily told Stuff she now knows the names of her neighbours and has their phone numbers.
Carter’s community ties have also strengthened.
“We know all of our neighbours now, right up the far end of the street… Westies stick together.”
WAiF held a public meeting on Monday, attended by the new Minister for Emergency Management and Recovery Mark Mitchell.
He says he has prioritised getting out to the flood-hit regions and has been talking to local officials, communities and iwi about whether central Government can do anything to help progress the recovery effort.
“We want to see recovery sped up and finding out how to do that is part of our Government’s 100 day plan,” Mitchell says.
Article written by (Edward Gay, www.stuff.co.nz – Original article)