Several families have been left homeless and many others face a massive clean up after the Rangitaikei River burst through its stopbanks and raged through Edgecumbe on 6 April.

Many Edgecumbe residents escaped with only what they could carry as the river washed through the town.

Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Teams (DWST) have been on the ground assisting with the flood response and providing support to affected residents in Civil Defence Centres.

Red Cross National Disaster Management Officer Andrew McKie says the impact will be felt for a long time in Edgecumbe.

“The disaster isn’t over when the floodwaters recede or when the cyclone has passed. For many, this will just be the start of a really tough time.”

Sunken homes

Red Cross DWST member Nicky van Praagh went with families returning to their Edgecumbe homes for the first time, a few days after the flood.

“It was surreal. Houses had sunk, some were obviously moved. The engineer told us that the backbone of the house had broken – you couldn’t go in because it was too unstable,” she says.

For families returning to their destroyed homes, the damage could have a big impact. Red Cross teams were there to provide psychosocial support and help them through.

“There was an older man who was all alone. He got to his home – it had the big ‘no go’ on it. He was just standing there, looking at it, just really overwhelmed by the damage.”

Another wild night

A week after the flood, Edgecumbe and nearby Whakatane were battered again by ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook, which caused mass evacuations and road closures across the North Island.

As ex-Tropical Cyclone Cook swept across the North Island, Red Cross teams prepared for a wild night.

They assisted with coastal evacuations throughout Bay of Plenty. About 135 people stayed overnight in the Whakatane Memorial Hall, arriving at the centre as they were evacuated throughout the afternoon. Civil Defence and Red Cross team members helped them settle in.

Other travellers arrived at the centre in the early hours of the morning, unable to continue along the roads because of debris and uprooted trees.

Red Cross liaison officer Nancy Kareroa-Yorke spent the night supporting people in the centre and said the community appreciated having a safe place to sleep.

“We know it can be distressing having to evacuate, especially after the floods. Our job isn’t only to set up the beds and provide supplies, it’s also to be a friendly face through the storm.”

Red Cross will continue working in the Edgecumbe area and will support the community throughout the recovery journey.