Westport weather: Government ministers on flyover to assess damage

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

Acting Minister for Emergency Management Kris Faafoi, Agriculture Minister and West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor, joined by Buller District mayor Jamie Cleine, carried out a flyover of the area to assess the situation before evaluating the flood damage on the ground.

Speaking at this afternoon’s press conference, 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, as well as $100,000 for the Blenheim-Marlborough region.

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

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

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

He said the welfare centres that had been set up were so far coping well.

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

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.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor said one local farm might have lost 700 animals. Some animals had been moved to places that historically safe, but the Buller River had unfortunately 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 and were able to keep the death toll so far to zero.

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

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

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