Criticism of response to June floods

The Clutha District Council's response to June flooding exposed a lack of local input in the council's emergency management, a West Otago Community Board member says.

After members of the community raised concerns about the council's response to widespread flooding on two occasions, which closed five roads and affected three others in West Otago, John Herbert, of Heriot, asked for a report from the council on its processes, at the community board's July 15 meeting.

At yesterday's meeting, despite emergency management officer Brendon Smith's Civil Defence response report noting three ''obvious failings'', Mr Herbert questioned why the council did not consider people in the area as one of its possible resources when assessing the threat posed by flooding.

''It's pretty simple stuff,'' Mr Herbert said.

''You've got to have eyes and ears on the ground.''

The community board will meet Mr Smith before its next meeting on October 7. The report received yesterday noted a shortage of staff capable of executive decision-making, a shortage of signs, and unsatisfactory ''reporting timeliness''.

But Mr Herbert said the council's process - which involves monitoring the Otago Regional Council website - presented a safety issue.

''They're looking at a screen,'' he said.

''It can flood in Kelso without it even raining in Kelso - that's the issue.''

Signs were not put up in time and were placed too close to the closed sections of roads, where drivers had passed roads that offered detours.

Too often drivers took risks on flooded roads, he said.

In the June 3 flooding, the Pomahaka River burst its banks and flooded the Waikoikoi-Tapanui highway.

Cr Michele Kennedy, of Tapanui, was returning home after St John training in Invercargill when she came across the flooded road at the Glenkenich bridge. No signs were in place, but she knew the road would be impassable and took the detour.

The following morning, a woman suffering hypothermia had to be rescued from a tree by a firefighter on a jet ski. She had driven around flood barriers in the dark and her car swept away, into a farmer's fence.

The council's chief executive, Steve Hill, said the failures had been taken up with the contractor and the emergency management officer would address how local knowledge might become part of the council's emergency response.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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