Woman warned authorities before wall breach

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By Jaden McLeod

A woman who lives next to a wall holding back the river which swamped Edgecumbe, says she called three different authorities to warn them of a possible breach - but was ignored.

Deborah Mainwaring says that last Wednesday, the night before the Rangitaiki River breached, she noticed it getting high and the concrete wall on College Rd, which she has lived for 30 years, starting to crack.

She said she and her husband Reuben Coen called the Whakatane District Council, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Civil Defence, to warn authorities.

"Nobody had any answers. They were confused, they were having to check back with colleagues. The Regional Council was saying well we don't think it's going to breach - it can get up pretty high you know."

And, she says, it's not the first time the couple have called concerned.

"We were being told it will all be alright, and actually no one was at the wheel. I mean Civil Defence was hopeless, I'm really ashamed of Civil Defence and how they behaved. And I'm ashamed of the [Bay of Plenty] Regional Council, for all the years that we have told them that the wall is going to be about as useful as a mural wall."

Local Focus took this claim to Operation Edgecumbe headquarters in Whakatane.

"We've got no record of contact, but obviously we will look into it," said Whakatane District Mayor Tony Bonne.

"I was at the public meeting on the night that the volunteer firemen got up and said they'd rung with concerns. That's what the independent inquiry will look at, and I've taken it up with the Chairman of the Regional Council."

Mainwaring prepared evacuation kits on Wednesday night.

Continued below.

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Then, in the hours leading up to the breach on Thursday, she noticed water coming through the wall and yelled to her elderly neighbour to evacuate.

She and Coen packed their kits and evacuated.

"We have this problem of the dam being our controller, really," Mainwaring said.

"If the dam has to release because it's going to burst, or if they've held back too long or miscalculated when they should start releasing then we're in their hands. There's that awful moment between a community and a company - where you don't know who is going to win."

Mainwaring says authorities' irresponsibility has killed the town, and believes it will be a long struggle for Edgecumbe to recover.

"They were negligent in this one, I really do believe that, and if they're surprised at the anger - and just pass it off as people wanting to vent, then they don't understand the despair of when you look at your life having just been dismantled and you're just not sure you can put it back together again."

Mainwaring and her husband Reuben are now living in a sparse motel room in Whakatane with their dog, Layla.

"We know so many people who have absolutely nothing, and they're now just thrown to the wolves. That is what we find shocking, that they could have been left with no warning, no resources, yet they are expected to pick up and somehow put their lives back together again."

They now wait to be allowed back home.

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