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Army helps clean up trash as number of houses with red stickers in Westport to be confirmed

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Tyler Croft and Amy Axford-Hooker have lost everything to the recent floods in Westport and will have to find another place to live.

CHRIS SKELTON/Things

Tyler Croft and Amy Axford-Hooker have lost everything to the recent floods in Westport and will have to find another place to live.

The number of homes with red stickers in Westport should soon be confirmed, as army personnel are deployed to help tired residents clear their homes of soaked carpet and damaged items.

Heavy rains caused widespread flooding in the city on the west coast this weekend, forcing about half of the city’s residents to evacuate their homes, close roads and damage homes.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said more than 60 houses were covered with red stickers on Thursday morning, meaning the houses were uninhabitable, although people were allowed to return to collect their belongings and assess the damage.

“More than” 300 houses were labeled yellow, meaning they were habitable but needed to be cleaned or repaired, he said.

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A spokeswoman for the Civil Defense Emergency Operations Center (EOC) said authorities expected fewer than 100 homes to receive red stickers.

More rain had fallen overnight, which was sometimes heavy, and authorities “were watching closely,” she said.

Cleine said the rain had caused no further problems but was “really bothersome”. It was important to bring the city’s streets back to normal in order to boost residents’ morale, he said.

Drain-clearing trucks were out Thursday morning to ensure the water could drain freely, but there were no significant problems at this stage, the EOC spokeswoman said.

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

A new group of hard-working volunteers helps rid flood-damaged homes in Westport of their soaked carpets.

“However, it slows down the cleanup for people and makes it more difficult to air out/dry out their homes, so we’re aware that people might be a little fed up.”

The spokeswoman said “huge amounts” of household waste had to be disposed of, including contaminated carpets and other soggy items that could pose a health hazard if not disposed of promptly.

Army personnel would be on the road for the next few days to help remove waste, starting in the worst-hit areas.

A volunteer helps remove carpet from Salu Acklino's home in Roebuck St, Westport, after recent flooding.

CHRIS SKELTON/Things

A volunteer helps remove carpet from Salu Acklino’s home in Roebuck St, Westport, after recent flooding.

“We know that people may be concerned about not getting their stuff on time, or that they don’t have their insurance company’s approval yet… we’re working on ways to help people who may not have their stuff in time for [Thursday’s] collection.”

A representative from the Insurance Board would be present at the community center at the NBS Theater until Sunday to answer any questions.

Buller Electricity had additional teams to cut off power to the affected homes.

A representative told a public meeting in Westport Wednesday night that staff would ensure homes were safe before power was reconnected, but appliances were not.

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The EOC spokeswoman said there had been rumors of arson and looting, but police said they were unsubstantiated and that there was “no evidence of such practices”.

There had been an incident with someone posing as a building inspector, but it “sounds like it was a one-off or pretty isolated”.

Anyone doing official work always has ID and anyone concerned should call the police, the spokeswoman said.

Cleine said the welfare centers that had hosted evacuees would be closed around lunchtime on Thursday.

He expected South School, one of the welfare centers, to reopen to students on Monday after the school holidays.

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