Prime minister accepts some may never return to homes

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MEETING UP: Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne and Prime Minister Bill English assess the damage at Edgecumbe. Photo Louis Klaassen D5158-043

PRIME Minister Bill English said visiting Edgecumbe and witnessing the scale of the flood the town had experienced had revealed to him that some people would probably never returned to their homes.

“It’s come home to me seeing the scale of the impact.

“Lives have been completely changed in the last 24 hours. They have left everything behind … they are not sure where they are staying tonight. There is real uncertainty.”

During a quick visit to the Eastern Bay today the prime minister visited Edgecumbe and was briefed on the natural disaster by Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne and civil defence officials.

Mr English said when he stood near the breach in the College Road stopbank at Edgecumbe he could see water up to the windowsills of some houses.

Asked if there would be an independent inquiry into whether the Matahina power scheme could have been better managed in the lead up to the flood, Mayor Tony Bonne told a press conference convened at Whakatane District Council there should be.

“There will be a full investigation because those accusations (of mismanagement) are out there and we need to make sure everything is done correctly.”

Mr English said there was bound to be a range of opinions about how the dam was managed but “there needed to be a full understanding of what happened”.

“This remains a town on a flood plain, a basin on a flood plain actually.”

On how the Government might be able to react to people who did not have insurance, he said there were always those who were uninsured, for whatever reason, during such events.

“That will be dealt with. People who can’t get into their homes, the elderly … we’ll deal with those issues when we get to them.”

Mr English said the Edgecumbe flood was at least as significant as the Kaikoura earthquake in terms of its impact on people.

“We want people to know they are fully supported. We will do whatever we can to give them some certainty and we will stick with them because we know for some this will be a long process.”

Asked if the flood was an opportunity for the Government to accept climate change was a reality and rainfall events exceeding the design capabilities of infrastructure in place should prompt consideration of the retreat option for Edgecumbe, Mr English said it was not possible to just uplift people communities.

“We’ve got to find some innovative solutions.

“The good thing is that central and local government are on the same page.

“There is a much better understanding of the long-term risks, including the risks related to these weather events.

“We’re on a path to looking for solutions; we’re not arguing about what the issues are.”

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