Rumours about council disputes and questions over the urgency of reconnecting two parts of Piha have added to local frustration
Hundreds of homes remain cut off from vehicular access in Piha, with floodwaters still covering two northbound roads four days after the heavy rainfalls and land slips of Monday night.
The coastal community received 360mm of rainfall during the weather event, which Auckland Council’s Healthy Waters general manager said blew previous estimates out of the water.
“[That] absolutely made all of our previous estimates redundant to be quite honest,” he told the infrastructure committee of council on Thursday.
Joint efforts by Auckland Emergency Management (AEM) and Auckland Transport have seen the main route into Piha reopened – although floodwaters remain on North Piha Road and Garden Road.
Neither road is currently listed on AT’s list of flood-impacted road repair and recovery programmes as of Friday afternoon.
But while many homes remain trapped behind Piha’s newest water features, concerns have arisen around the public health risk of the water on Garden Road.
Waitākere ward councillor Shane Henderson said it’s an urgent issue that needs to be sorted.
“Garden Rd in Piha currently has standing water that desperately needs pumping, as it is a public health hazard,” he said.
He said contractors had attempted yesterday to find pumps that could do the job, but the pumps they had access to were too small.
Those contractors then directed their attention to opening up Piha Road – the community’s link to greater Auckland.
As of yesterday, 1m out of about 2.5m in North Piha had been pumped out, with plans to get to Garden Road next.
But Henderson said people living near the greenish water collecting on Garden Road were worried about it as a safety hazard. It’s a concern that only grows as the foul water bakes in the sun.
“I have been in contact with residents and let them know Garden Rd is going to be sorted out as soon as possible,” he said. “They are worried about the public health risks with this body of water and I completely agree with them. This needs to be sorted quickly.”
There was some confusion yesterday when the pumps were diverted away from the Garden Road flooding, which the council said was due to the pumps not being big enough.
Piha residents said on RNZ this morning, however, that there had been a financial dispute between council agencies over who would pay for the service.
Auckland Emergency Management deputy controller Rachel Kelleher refuted those claims in today’s press update, saying while there had been speculation about an alleged dispute between agencies, no dispute had actually occurred.
“I’d like to reassure you that all of our agencies are working together and for all of us our priority is the safety of residents,” she said. “Unfortunately, the pumps in that instance that were sourced were too small for the body of water and were redirected to Piha Road instead. Auckland Emergency Management and emergency services are in touch with the isolated households on Garden Road and we’re working together to remove the water and reopen the road as soon as possible.”
There’s been a lot of work to do in Piha, where local fire responders have been helming much of the response. Council property assessors expected to finish putting red, yellow and white stickers on impacted properties today.
However, Piha Ratepayers and Residents vice-president Ken Cowan said there had still been no action on the Garden Road flooding as of this morning.
He said up until now the removal of floodwaters had been the least of concerns for Piha residents dealing with power outages and the aftermath of significant slips.
“We have received no assistance or meaningful communication from AC or AT with regard to the Piha emergency and the removal of water, up until now, has been the least of our problems at Piha,” he said.
Auckland Emergency Management was visible on the ground today after bringing supplies and bedding for the community last night, but Cowan said that should have arrived three days ago.
“The bedding would have been very useful over that period when we had up to 70 displaced and/or evacuated people sleeping at the Piha Surf Club without sufficient bedding,” he said. “AEM up until now have been absent and denying requests for assistance.”
The return of electricity and opened access via Piha Road – as well as the sun finally coming out over Auckland – may allow the beach community to turn a corner following a horrid week. However, the slow crawl back towards normalcy carries its own challenges.
Tourists returning to the coastal village as the sun returns to the region have prompted locals to ask people to stay away until Piha is well and truly back on its feet.
Henderson joined in on those calls, saying that while Piha is no longer trapped in, he would urge people to stay away unless absolutely necessary.
“Road stability and safety is still a major issue, and this community needs time to assess the damage and get essential services back online,” he said. “Visitors and tourists need to stay away from Piha until it is safe to visit again.”