Questions from Dunedin's floods

People in the worst-affected areas of South Dunedin area knew just how bad this month's flood was on the Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

It has, however, taken a while for the magnitude of the damage to sink in for many others in the city.

Although the statistics, the initial photographs and the reports tell part of the story, it is the plight of individual people and families, with more surfacing each passing day, that have the most impact.

When the rains came tumbling down on Wednesday, June 3 - 175mm fell in 24 hours - there must have been growing anxiety.

The issues mounted from the relatively minor matter of leaking roofs, to water in basements, through slips and dropouts, to road surface damage and overloaded stormwater pipes and - most heartbreaking of all - to inundation by sewage-contaminated water.

Given the volume of the downpour, the outcome could have been even worse.

The Taieri flood-protection schemes and ponding areas seem to have largely done their jobs, and a repeat of the 1980 floods, which closed Dunedin's airport at Momona for months, did not occur.

Fortunately, much of the rain was close to the coast so massive torrents were not pouring down from the Upper Taieri as well.

North Dunedin, too, seems to have escaped without widespread flooding.

Lindsay Creek and the Water of Leith seem to have largely coped, although the Otago Regional Council's multimillion-dollar flood protection scheme is only partially completed.

Not surprisingly, there are many slips and road damage will take a lot of money and time to fix.

Among the worst hit are St Leonards Dr, Upper Junction, Portobello Rd, Hatchery Rd and Highcliff Rd.

Many a track is also badly scoured and blocked, and it will take many, many months for some repairs to be completed.

The major exception to scattered destruction is, of course, South Dunedin.

The storm water and sewerage systems could not cope and many households are bearing the brunt.

It is taking a long time to determine the scope of the problems and everything that needs to be done.

Many questions - both large and small - are being asked, particularly of the city council.

What can be achieved so the flooding does not recur?

Was the council's and civil defence's emergency response fast enough and co-ordinated sufficiently?

Why were there not more sandbags immediately available - and whose responsibility should they be?

Was regular maintenance carried out to an acceptable standard so the water would drain away more quickly?

In particular, were mud-traps cleared properly and often enough and does Dunedin need its own specialist suction truck?

Why did it take a week for systematic door-knocking in the worst-hit areas to get under way?

How are volunteers to be best used?

How can vehicles being driven along flooded streets be slowed so that houses and businesses are not repeatedly soaked from wash waves?

Many more questions have emerged and more will arise. Reviews, meanwhile, have been promised to learn from the experiences.

The city council, notably, will have to be prepared to examine rigorously both the wider issues and the particulars.

The city for many years has had a focus on basic infrastructure.

It is a huge task replacing ancient stormwater and sewerage pipes, and the floods illustrate both the importance of this continuing work and how much is still to be completed.

The floods put into perspective discussions about libraries, swimming pools, stadiums, cycle paths and museums.

While the city cannot stagnate and must continue to prioritise appropriate and affordable development, out-of-sight pipes should never be out-of-mind.

Supposedly, this was a more than ''one-in-a-100-year event''. Given the apparent frequency of extreme weather events, Dunedin will need to be prepared for more of the same.

Should sea levels and water tables also rise, the challenge to protect South Dunedin will only grow.

How, then, will the city respond?

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