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‘Pretty grim’: Battle to keep spirits up amid Bluecliffs evacuation

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Local Democracy Reporter

15 March 2024, 8:42 PM

‘Pretty grim’: Battle to keep spirits up amid Bluecliffs evacuationThe removal of an old dumpsite at Bluecliffs, Southland, has prompted the evacuation of residents for fear hazardous materials - including explosives - could be present. So far, only asbestos has been found. The work is being undertaken as erosion threatens the site. Photo: Emergency Management Southland/Supplied

Bluecliffs residents living out of temporary accomodation amid a state of emergency have described a community under stress.


Last week, the small Southland township was evacuated so an old dumpsite containing hazardous material could be cleared.


Given just two days warning, the news came as a blow to some who were already feeling the pinch from the erosion threatening their homes.



Jan Stevenson has been living out of temporary accommodation in nearby Tūātapere since last week, and said it had been hard transitioning from a “home to a room”.


Permanent residents were allowed to return to their properties between 6.30pm and 8pm every day, but Stevenson said time went quickly.


"We’ve got a cat, so the poor thing is only getting fed once a day. By the time we get down there and feed her and my husband waters the tomato houses and the gardens and I try do a load of washing, and sometimes try and eat down there, the hour and a half just disappears.



“It would be nice if we can have a bit longer.”


Stevenson said residents had caught up for a barbecue since being evacuated in a bid to support each other.


“Everyone’s struggling really, a little bit, I would say.”



Resident Tess Thurlow said her situation was “pretty grim” as she moved between different accommodation based on availability.


In three weeks, she wouldn’t have a place to call home at all because her landlord was taking over the Bluecliffs address she shared with her three children — one of whom was neurodivergent and would struggle with moving out of the area.


“I don’t really have a plan to be honest,” Thurlow sad.



Last week, resident Uri Sirch made headlines after saying she would not be be heeding the evacuation notice due to a lack of information and disruption to her beekeeping business.


Sirch said the evacuation had been stressful, but was grateful she’d since been given an exemption by Emergency Management Southland to stay at her property overnight with her partner and son.


“All in all, I’m thankful that I can get into the house and the property overnight and do some work there," Sirch said.



“It’s enough to keep the business running, and that’s what I wanted.”


Aside from the stress of the living under a state of emergency, the past six weeks had also highlighted financial loss for Bluecliffs residents.


Since building a new house in the area almost four years ago, a retired Stevenson was trying to remain positive, despite admitting she had lost all value in her home.



“Nobody’s lost their lives, which is the most important thing," she said.


Bluecliffs has been under a state of emergency since February 8 as erosion caused by both the Waiau River and ocean continues to threaten properties.


In response to questions from Local Democracy Reporting, Emergency Management Southland controller Paul le Roux said good progress was being made on the removal of material at the dump site.



The weather had played its part in helping workers remove approximately 36 truckloads - or around 1100 tonnes - of waste material.


"So far no explosives have been discovered, however asbestos is present and being separated by specialists," le Roux said.


A final report assessing the attempt to open the bar at the Waiau River mouth was still being waited on, and the community would be spoken with once it was received and considered, he said.



Emergency management is accommodating a total 17 permanent residents following the evacuation.


LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air


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