Sunday, 05 July 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Accommodation business in ruins after terrifying flash flood

A Coroglen family is coming to terms with a terrifying ordeal that saw flood waters completely destroy two holiday cottages on their rural property, forcing the evacuation of eight tourists, including three children.

The devastating event occurred on Saturday night, 30 May (Queen’s Birthday Weekend) when, within the space of just 15 minutes, a tsunami of water from the nearby Kapowai River surged through their lifestyle property, Dragonfly Farm, smashing glass and furniture and leaving the cottages in utter ruin. The waterlines on the walls inside show the flood reached a height of 1.75m - four centimetres above the head of an average person.

And although more than 10 years of hard work building up their holiday accommodation business now lie in a sodden mud-soaked mess, owners Fiona and Justin Murphy say there is nothing to be done other than deal with it and they are just relieved and grateful that no-one was hurt. “I think we were a bit in shock for the first day,” says Fiona. “Then on Sunday I woke up in the middle of the night and it just hit me, if it had happened at 2:00am in the morning when people were asleep in bed, someone could actually have drowned because they may not have been able to find their way out. That was a sobering thought.”

Speaking to The Informer while surveying the carnage, the mum of two, who also runs Pinnacle Pilates Studio in Whitianga, is still trying to come to terms with just how fast the situation unfolded. “It all happened so quickly,” she says. “We do get flooding here and you can usually see it slowly rising. This was totally different. It started at 10:30pm, it just started rising so quickly. Justin and I went straight down to tell the guests that they needed to come up to the house. I had the group from the first cottage and we had just walked up the driveway when the man said he had left his laptop and wanted to go back for it. I said I would go because it was completely dark and at least I knew the driveway and where I was going. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill (at most a 20m distance), I was waist deep,”

The nightmare unfolded in total darkness, with power out and only torches to navigate. As Fiona made her way towards the cottages, she passed husband Justin leading the second group, including three children aged eight to 12, up the hill. “I went inside to find the laptop and there was water everywhere, the bed was floating. When I started heading back up it had reached chest height. I was holding the laptop in a plastic bag above my head, that was when I felt scared, you could feel the force of the water pushing against you.”

With all the guests safe in the Murphy’s main house, which is at the top of the driveway on higher ground, the couple’s thoughts turned to their animals. “I had seen the pigs on my way back up, they were trying to swim through it,” says Fiona. “Our daughter, Hannah, was amazing. She organised the visitors, got them towels and hot drinks, while I headed back out. Then I heard a man’s voice behind me and I thought it was Justin, but it was actually one of the guests. He just said, ‘What do we need to do now,’ and he helped me shove the pigs along and we managed to get them into the haybarn for the night.”

Sadly one of the four pigs had to be euthanised. “She was older and pretty traumatised,” says Fiona. “She wouldn’t eat anything for a couple of days, so we had to let her go.”

The cattle who were in a paddock at the front of the property were also carried away by the waters. However, all but one were found safe and well, including a five-month-old calf who miraculously was located at another property 4km away.

“We just didn’t know it was coming,” says Fiona. “We had heard all the warnings for Sunday and Monday of Queen’s Birthday Weekend, but this just came out of the blue and it didn’t stop. It’s like it just hovered over the area.”

The couple think there may have been a blockage further up the river which eventually gave way causing the powerful surge to hit at such pace. “We’ve been here for 14 years and we have never experienced anything like this, people who have been here a lot longer have said the same, it was just insane,” says Fiona.

Evidence of the onslaught is everywhere on the property - a neighbour’s boat sits upturned beside the entrance where Fiona also retrieved a piece of Justin’s trailer. “We don’t actually know where the rest of it is,” she says.

An insurance assessor has visited to survey the damage, although Fiona believes their insurance won’t cover the full cost of a rebuild. “They will have to come down,” she says of the cottages. “We hope that we will get enough of a cash pay out to maybe build one new cottage up on higher ground. We won’t rebuild down here now. We’ve had some minor flooding in the past, nothing too bad, but after this I just couldn’t ever have anything down here again.”

The holiday rentals had operated at around 95 to 100 per cent capacity during summer and between 50 to 60 per cent in winter, bringing in a third of the family’s income. “We invested a lot, it wasn’t just a side-line, it was proper business,” says Fiona. “We had just refunded around $5,000 in cancelled bookings due to Covid-19 and we were actually really pleased at how well bookings had picked up again. Now I have had to cancel another $2,000 worth of bookings, but what can you do?”

With a couple of spare rooms and some airbeds, the Murphys managed to accommodate all their guests on Saturday night. “They were great actually, one group in particular, they were typical Kiwis, they just rolled with it and helped out wherever they could and they were on the road pretty early the next day, no doubt keen to get home,” says Fiona.

“We went down and salvaged what we could. One of the suitcases did survive with all their stuff and some of the kids’ toys, which was pretty great. We just couldn’t believe it when we went in the next morning, it was so shocking, especially when you saw how high the water had risen, but we are okay and that’s the most important thing. When you think about it now, it could have been so much worse.”

Pictured: Fiona Murphy assessing the damage to the living room of one of their guest cottages after their property outside Coroglen flooded on Saturday evening, 30 May.

LATEST WEEKLY ISSUE

Latest business rest of site

Legacy Tiling

Legacy Tiling Ltd is a tiling service in the heart of Whitianga that achieves premium results at a competitive price.  We specialize in all aspects of tiling; porcelain, marble,…

ONLINE POLL

Do you plan to “Support local/Buy Local” wherever possible during the Covid-19 recovery period, even if it means paying somewhat more for items you could have purchased online from outside the wider Mercury Bay area?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.