Westport weather: Government to provide relief fund for flood-affected regions

Government ministers have arrived in flood-stricken Westport to see the damage to the region.

Acting Minister for Emergency Management Kris Faafoi, Agriculture Minister and West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor, joined by Buller District mayor Jamie Cleine, flew over the area and then evaluated the flood damage on the ground.

Faafoi thanked the efforts of emergency groups, including the Defence Force and police as they work around the clock to help residents.

The Government would offer $300,000 in the form of a mayoral relief fund, he said at a press conference this afternoon, as well as $100,000 for the Blenheim-Marlborough region.

In addition, Faafoi announced $200,000 for flood-affected farmers and growers across the West Coast and Marlborough regions

O’Connor said the extra funding would help farmers recover and includes wellbeing support, specialist technical advice and other flood assistance.

“MPI will be working with industry groups, such as DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and NZ Winegrowers, to determine how this financial support can have the greatest impact. Support is available for farmers who are short of livestock feed, or who have had baleage and fodder crops damaged by floodwaters.”

The national feed coordination service can help connect farmers with surplus supplementary feed listed for sale. Farmers needing feed support are encouraged to call 0800 FARMING (0800 32 76 46).

Farmers who need wellbeing support should call their Rural Support Trust on 0800 RURAL HELP or 0800 787 254.

That brings the total amount of Government support for the flood recovery to $600,000.

Faafoi said limited rentals for displaced families in Westport continued to be a challenge, and as flood waters receded, welfare issues would become “more apparent”.

About 1000 people were still evacuated in Westport, and about 500 of them still need welfare support, possibly for weeks and months. Many were in Kainga Ora housing.

The mayoral relief fund would help those people, Cleine said.

He said the welfare centres were coping well so far.

“It’s not a long-term solution, but they’re safe,” he said.

Faafoi added there would be challenges for people “for some time yet”.

“We do want to send a message to people that if they do need help, they can get it,” Faafoi said.

O’Connor said one local farm might have lost 700 animals. Some had been moved to places that historically safe, but the Buller River had risen more than it ever had.

He said the river had never been so high, and emergency services had done incredibly well in difficult circumstances to keep the death toll so far to zero.

O’Connor added that other farmers had also lost hundreds of animals, though the overall damage was unclear at this stage.

He said farmers will find it more challenging to get feed to their animals for the spring season, but the Rural Support Trust would be able to help.

O’Connor said the quantity of the water had breached the flood overflow, gouging a channel for the water to flow through – which is what it was designed to do.

He said the existing infrastructure for flooding was “okay” in Westport.

“But we don’t know how much water can fall in those hills. The Buller River is normally a very big river. This is historically high levels that have never been seen before.”

The West Coast regional council had asked the Government for $7.5 million for flood prevention and didn’t get it, but Cleine said it may not have made a difference.

“There will be a lot of analysis from this. There’ll be a lot of learnings,” Cleine said.

O’Connor added that the flooding was “extraordinary”.

Faafoi said building assessments in the coming days will give a better idea of who can return to their homes.

“Some people won’t be able to go back into them immediately,” he said.

O’Connor added that friends and families have provided a lot of accommodation.

“It’s not going to dry up in a hurry, as you can tell.”

Cleine said nearby towns might be able to help with extra beds, though it was unclear at this stage if that would be needed.

The clean-up would likely take months, said Buller Emergency Management Operation Centre controller Bob Dickson.

About 800 homes had been affected, he added.

“We have a lot of anxiety. Resilience is still high but we’re conscious that can change over time,” Dickson said.

“It’ll be more than a week. Probably many, many months. This is a big, large-scale event.”

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