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Flooded Edgecumbe evacuated

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/04/2017

Severe weather warnings have been lifted across New Zealand after three days of heavy rains and flash flooding.

The last notifications were lifted in the South Island on Thursday evening as ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie's low pressure remained shunted east of Canterbury in the South Pacific Ocean.

But while many New Zealanders can set about mopping up on Friday, residents in the Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe remain under a state of emergency as floodwaters surge through streets.

Almost the entire 1600 population faced a night away from home after they were evacuated when the Rangitaiki River breached its banks.

The river's stopbanks burst near College Road, turning streets into rivers as deep as 1.5m at some points in what Whakatane District Council has called a one-in-500 year flood event.

A floodwall down-river from Edgecumbe at Thornton School was also in danger of breach on Thursday evening as authorities evacuated nearby residents, Bay of Plenty Regional Council said.

Prime Minister Bill English will visit the area on Friday morning to assess damage.

It comes after police and the fire crews went from house to house in Edgecumbe searching for anyone needing help evacuating, while welfare centres were set up at the Firmin Lodge in Kawerau and at the Whakatane War Memorial Hall.

Boats were also used to rescue some residents in areas that couldn't be reached by trucks.

The council says the Whakatane and Rangitaiki Rivers are now at historically high flood levels and some residents may need to be out of their homes for 72 hours.

Resident Deeana Tubb says it looked like her family would "lose everything".

"When I got home the water was already waist-deep in the streets. I managed to get some valuable documents out of the house and everyone else and we headed to Awakeri," she told NZME.

The evacuation comes after the remnants of Debbie brought heavy rains to most of the North Island and top of the South Island since hitting on Tuesday night.

On Thursday, 47 schools and 21 early childhood centres were still closed, affecting about 6500 students and pre-schoolers.

"The majority of these schools and early childhood centres (ECEs) have been closed because of flooding on nearby roads. There has been no reports of major damage although several schools and ECEs have reported minor damage," the Ministry of Education said.

Kaikoura in the South Island spent much of Thursday isolated with one road reopening between 3-6pm.

Canterbury residents are also asked to remain cautious around rising rivers as rainfall makes its way down from the mountains.

Late on Thursday evening, a 30m landslip struck a house in Omokoroa, near Tauranga, while earlier, about 200 residents evacuated in Whanganui were allowed home.

Fears the Whanganui River would overflow in a repeat of floods in 2015 prompted early evacuations on Wednesday but water levels subsided.

In Wellington, 50 people were forced to leave homes after a rising Owhiro Stream damaged properties.

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