It may have been 40 years since the deep south’s “Black Friday” floods, but protecting communities from future events is becoming “more critical than ever”.
Southlanders have been remembering the anniversary today.
On this day in 1984, the region plunged into a State of Emergency which lasted a month after unprecedented flooding in Invercargill and the nearby townships of Otautau and Tuatapere.
Environment Southland chairperson Nicol Norrell told 1News, “the the size and the impact of that flood in the devastation it caused was massive”.
Around 5000 people were forced from their homes as 134mm of rain fell in a 24-hour period.
Thousands of stock was lost and almost 1000 buildings were damaged. A total of $55 million was paid out in insurance claims.
Four decades later, officials are recalling the lessons learned from those devastating days and months of recovery that followed. It was seen as a turning point for the lower south.
Craig Sinclair from Emergency Management Southland said: “There was a lot of investment after those floods… around the south and so most of the stuff we have now was built in the aftermath of that 1984 flood.”
But in the last three years, securing that network has become a priority for the regional council.
Flooding is Southland’s most common natural disaster.
“To be fair there probably hasn’t been enough done over the last 30 years. So we’re in catch up mode at the moment,” Horrell said.
The climate-resilient programme followed the 2020 floods in Gore and Mataura.
Gore residents were forced to evacuate, and a programme began to repair or build new flood banks.
The Government also invested around $15 million of funding with ratepayers topping the rest.
But Environment Southland said the region needs to explore more than just upgrading stop banks, and the infrastructure in most places are reaching their maximum height.
The council is getting prepared to consult residents about having potential planned flood plains and controlled dams to slow the river in a future event.
While there is no figure on funding, it is believed to not be cheap.
Horrell told 1News: “The NIWA reports that we’re getting say we will have more intense floods more regularly.
“We will be talking to our community during the long-term plan to say, ‘look we need to spend more money.'”
It is in hopes of mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.
“Because it’s not if it is a matter of when, that we’ll have another event in Southland.”