Kataraina Toka’s Mt Roskill home will never be the same, after water shot up through the floors on Friday evening.
It took just 10 minutes for her house to be inundated with dirty floodwater rushing, not in from outside, but up from the ground, soaking everything in its path.
Toka’s home was flooded amid record-setting rainfall in Tāmaki Makaurau on Friday, which left more than 5000 homes damaged and at least four people dead.
Toka, her partner, their four children, her brother-in-law and her niece had no time to think before it was time to escape the house, without knowing where to go.
She turned to local community pages on Facebook, asking where on earth she could go in these rains.
That’s how they found themselves at Wesley Primary School, sleeping on gym mats at first and counting their lucky stars – and generous neighbours – they had somewhere dry to sleep.
The family said they “practically swam” to the school from O’Donnell St, just around the corner. They arrived around 1am, and were fed and given a spot for the night.
“We lost nearly everything. Power went out. We pretty much swam here in chest-high, waist-high water with all four of my children.
“We’ve gone home [today] and everything is contaminated. We didn't think it could happen to us. We were prepared, we blocked the doors. But as soon as it hit the floor boards, we tried to start lifting things up high but within 10 minutes or so it was already knee-high.”
Now, they sit and wait for their landlord to tell them how long before their home is liveable again. Toka’s children are aged 11, 9, 3 and 1, and her niece is 21.
“We don’t have anywhere we can go because there are so many of us,” she said.
She said if an emergency alert had been sent out sooner, they might have evacuated their home before they had to swim out of it – especially given their location.
Toka’s street immediately backs onto Oakley Creek, where flooding spread out over several blocks, Wesley Primary School principal Lou Reddy said.
Reddy, alongside teachers and staff from his school, local church groups and other community leaders, has been running an emergency centre out of his school hall since around 9pm on Friday night.
On Friday night there were 18 people in the hall, then on Saturday night 25 people spent the night. Reddy expected that number to grow.
Tai Gibbens spent Sunday morning in hospital after her waterlogged home caused her rheumatic fever to play up.
She was admitted with shortness of breath and a tight chest, and then discharged around midday on Sunday.
She and her four children, aged 9, 8, 6 and 5, will be staying in Wesley for the foreseeable future and have no alternatives for now.
Gibbens said with four young kids and her heart condition, it was too risky to leave their house on Friday evening, even with water covering the floors, so they didn’t get to the school until Saturday.
Reddy said the community’s response had been a silver lining to the immense tragedy of the floods. In particular, Global Hope Missions and Acts of Roskill Kindness (ARK) had been managing the response centre.
People needed help though, he said. Families needed clothing, bedding, furniture, appliances – everything and the kitchen sink, he said.
Reddy said if an emergency alert been sent, he might not have gone home that evening. When the floods hit he was home, putting his children to bed, and had to rush out to turn his school into emergency accommodation.
He is hoping the government will allow Wesley to become an official distribution hub for resources. On Sunday afternoon, the school hosted Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni as she addressed media about the latest government response.
Update: Kataraina Toka and her whānau are now housed in a hotel.