You just have to grin and bear it – Westport homeowners return to waterlogged, contaminated homes

Their feet sink into the sopping wet carpet, the smoke alarm going off non-stop as they trudge through their waterlogged Westport home.

Derek and Joan Roberts have lived in their Peel Street house for more than 20 years, moving from the property across the road where they spent “30 or 40” previously.

The smoke alarm is blasting, neither of the couple able to deactivate the high-pitched noise it’s emitting.

They give up and start to make their way through the house, allowing the Herald to join them.

Derek heads to the kitchen. The power’s been off but there’s still stuff in the fridge they can salvage and remarkably, still ice cubes in the freezer.

A lot of their things have been destroyed – books, photos.

“Anything below 2 feet is stuff,” said Derek.

“It’s not particularly good … We might be able to save some but … luckilyI’ve got most of the photos on the computer.”

Derek slops further into the house and suddenly cries out to Joan. He’s found the couple’s beloved cat, Alfie.

Days ago a neighbour went looking for Alfie – by kayakwhen the street was still under huge amounts of water. No sign.

The couple feared they might not see the cat again, but he was home safe and sound, curled up on their bed.

Their delight at finding Alfiediminishes when they find out he’s been to the toilet on their bed.

Like many residents of Westport, the clean-up is going to take the Roberts a long time.

Their carpet and everything that touches it was saturated when filthy river water invaded their home. It will have to be ripped up, turfed out, replaced.

Furniture, other floor coverings, tools in the garage – all will need replacing.

They have no idea how long it will take insurance assessors to get to them.

But Derek said he wasn’t panicking.”We’re not as bad as some people,” he told the Herald.”It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

The couple were among hundreds of residents allowed back to their properties this afternoon after “rapid assessments” were completed by specialists.

Their home was ticked off as being safe to enter, with no substantial damage.

It will be contaminated for sure and won’t be habitable for a while, but they can at least get the ball rolling in terms of in-depth assessments and clean up.

The couple were calm,unfazed as they returned.

They’ve seen floods before – none as bad as this – but living in Westport for most of their lives has taught them a thing or two about this kind of event.

“It’s a bit of a surprise for us, but one of those things,” said Derek.

“I expected (Joan) to burst into tears as soon as she walked in the door…But it’s just one of those things, you have to grin and bear it.”

The Insurance Council of New Zealand said earlier today that many people in the Buller District faced a “lengthy” clean-up and assured them help was coming.

“Those in the affected areas will be turning their attention to clearing the damage and getting things back to normal,” said ICNZ chief executive Tim Grafton.

“As communities start assessing the scale of the event and the needs of those affected, such as short-term and medium-term accommodation for those whose homes are uninhabitable, insurers are here to help.”

Grafton said that due to limited or no access to some areas the recovery process may take some time.

“It won’t be until the areas are fully accessible over the course of the week before insurers’ assessors will be able to get to the affected places to review the damage and what’s needed for the recovery,” he said.

“Clearing silt, drying out houses, getting resources and tradespeople into the region to undertake repairs will all take time and insurers will do everything they can to help their customers as quickly as possible.”

Grafton said those with homes that are uninhabitablemay be eligible for a temporary accommodation benefit included in most home and contents policies, and to ask their insurer what support they can offer.

Customers will have a single point of contact for their claim with private insurers now managing EQCover claims on behalf of the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

“This includes some damage to residential land within 8m of the house caused by flooding or landslips, or damage to residential properties caused by landslips, so be sure to let your insurer know if you have any damage so they can help and get the get the right people out to assess your residential property and or land,” said Grafton.

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