More rain on way for Westport as lengthy clean-up effort begins

More rain may be on the way for flood-stricken Westport as residents return to their damaged homes to start the long clean-up process and farmers reflect on their “soul-destroying” losses.

MetService forecasters said there was a “strong hint” the affected area may be in for more wet weather tomorrow, and possibly Thursday, before the sodden area gets a solid reprieve.

The forecast rain comes as the assessment of the damage to houses and farms, including stock deaths in the Buller District, continues.

While it will take some time to fully complete the assessments,”rapid” checks of most houses in Westport were done yesterday and by the afternoon most of the community were able to head home.

That didn’t mean their homes are habitable, just that it was safe for occupants to enter, survey the damage and start the clean-up.

Farmers were also starting to count the cost.

Hundreds of dead cows have started to wash up on Westport Beach and riverbeds after the animals were washed away in the raging flood.

Authorities estimated around 1000 livestock died in total when floodwaters ravaged the Buller District. More than half of them are dairy cows from one farm.

Pete Morrison, the Canterbury-based owner of a farm bordered by Buller River, described the loss as “gut-wrenching”.

Despite not living on the farm – he has staff who manage it for him – the deaths were still hard to deal with.

“It’s soul-destroying … it shouldn’t have happened.”

“You spend years breeding these things… f**k… it’s just gut-wrenching,” he said.

Morrison, a highly experienced farmer and former chairman and director of Westland Milk Products, did not have an exact number yet of how many animals had died but said it was “a lot”.

He said the river that had taken his stock was known to “come up and then go down”.

“It’s happened many, many times since I’ve owned the place – but this is the first time it’s done this,” he said.

“It was just a series of little things … they should have been all right where they were, it [the water] just got that much higher and they floated away pretty quick …”

Homeowners Derek and Joan Roberts were also coping with loss yesterday as they returned to their home of 20 years, taking the Herald in with them.

Their carpet and everything that touched was saturated when filthy river water invaded their dwelling on Friday night.

It will have to be ripped up, turfed out, replaced.

Furniture, other floor coverings, tools in the garage – all will need replacing.

The Roberts have no idea how long it will take insurance assessors to get to them.

But Derek said he wasn’t panicking.

“We’re not as bad as some people,” he told the Herald.

“It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Like many in Westport, the Roberts’ home will be contaminated by the filthy floodwater and they will have to stay elsewhere for some time.

But they can at least get the ball rolling in terms of in-depth assessments and clean-up.

They were calm and pragmatic about the situation.

“It’s a bit of a surprise for us, but one of those things,” said Derek.

“I expected [Joan] to burst into tears as soon as she walked in the door …But it’s just one of those things, you have to grin and bear it.”

The Insurance Council said Westport locals faced a “lengthy” clean-up, and assured them help was coming.

“As communities start assessing the scale of the event and the needs of those affected, such as short-term and medium-term accommodation for those whose homes are uninhabitable, insurers are here to help,” chief executive Tim Grafton said.

“It won’t be until the areas are fully accessible over the course of the week before insurers’ assessors will be able to get to the affected places to review the damage and what’s needed for the recovery.

“Clearing silt, drying out houses, getting resources and tradespeople into the region to undertake repairs will all take time and insurers will do everything they can to help their customers as quickly as possible.”

Buller District mayor Jamie Cleine estimated up to 1000 animals had been killed, many “heavily pregnant” dairy cows.

Contractors had been hired to start removing the carcasses.

Cleine, a farmer himself, said he was concerned for the rural community, but his focus has been on the town centre and getting that up and running.

“I’d like to get out and about and check farmers are doing okay as well.”

“It will be devastating for some – for some it’s whole herds or close to it,” he said.

“It’s really widespread.”

On Sunday the Government confirmed it would offer $300,000 in the form of a mayoral relief fund for Westport.

In addition, it would put up $200,000 for flood-affected farmers and growers across the West Coast and in Marlborough, which was also affected by the weekend’s flooding.

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