South Coast evacuees return home

16 April 2020

Wellington residents who were evacuated yesterday when powerful waves pummelled the south coast were able to return to their homes this morning, with one evacuee saying she was thankful for the support she received.

Powerful waves pummelled houses on the south coast.

Powerful waves pummelled houses on the south coast.

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Kristen and Steve Meads, and their two cats Theo and Lily, were one of five households evacuated from the Owhiro Bay and Happy Valley area, as sea water washed over the road and crashed into their properties, causing significant damage.

Having lived on Owhiro Bay Parade for 11 years, Kristen says they are used to seeing large waves, and with relatively little wind yesterday, no one predicted the events that unfolded.

“When a really big wave hit, it felt like a tsunami. I was standing in our kitchen and the water went up probably 1.5 or 2 metres – it was really scary,” Kristen says.

“I guess we thought it would pass by, but then the police came and knocked on the door and said we had to leave. We got our cats and our go-bags, and got our car and went up the road.”

Steve Meads with cats Theo and Lily.

The couple and their cats, along with other evacuees and their pets, were taken in separate taxis to the Boulcott Suites, where they all stayed overnight. Both Wellington Combined Taxis and Boulcott Suites allowed pets to accompany their owners, and staff from Wellington City Council Community Services team were on hand to support the displaced residents.

Kristen says Council staff greeted them at the hotel and then stayed in close contact, sending updates and information to keep them in the loop about the situation. They were also given a healthy food parcel with other necessities.

“We didn’t have to think about our food or accommodation or anything. It seemed like a really well-oiled machine and everything was taken care of. I was so impressed with how it was managed by the police and Wellington City Council – everybody has just been great, so thanks very much to the team for everything.”

Police provided a scene guard overnight to ensure the evacuated homes were kept safe. The Community Services team arranged for taxis to take the evacuees home this morning, with a staff member on site to meet them there to ensure everyone made it back okay. 

Waves threw debris across roads on Wellington's south coast.

The Meads were pleasantly surprised to discover their friendly neighbours had cleaned up a lot of the debris on their property, however Kristen says there is a lot of damage, with their fence destroyed, the garage door blown off and in pieces, and flooding throughout the house.

“It is a worry, but we’re okay. We’re not the worst off by any means,” she says.

NIWA forecaster Ben Noll says the waves that pounded the coastline had been caused by a deep area of low pressure passing, responsible for generating strong winds and large waves between the Chatham Islands and mainland New Zealand.

Much of the coastal road between Breaker Bay and Red Rocks was closed today, while debris was cleared away and works were carried out to repair sections of roadway damaged by the impact of the waves.

Council contractors were on site moving large amounts of rock, gravel, driftwood and seaweed, and using ‘sucker’ trucks to clear roadside drains. Contractors also helped residents clear access to their houses where necessary.

Roads at Breaker Bay, Island Bay and Owhiro Bay are expected to be closed to traffic and pedestrians tomorrow as the clean-up continues. The goal is to make the footpath and road safe, and get it to a state where it can be used. Further repairs will be done at a later date, once the lockdown has ended.