Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Mainly on account of the growth of settlement on the Poverty Bay Flats, a big flood in January, 1876, did more damage than any of its predecessors. At Wharekaia 22.85 inches of rain fell in a week. The flood waters broke out of Awapuni Lagoon, flattening the sandhills and reaching the bay. At Kaiariki the Greene family awoke to find that their home was on the opposite side of the river to that on which it had previously stood. A boat was sent from Gisborne to rescue seven women and six children who were marooned at Makauri. Mrs. Bilham, who lived on the western side of the Waipaoa River, was rescued by a yacht. A. Ross (manager for J. U'Ren at Tutoki) was drowned.
An inundation in the 1820's was called by the natives the Kingi Hori (King George) flood. William Williams and E. F. Harris mention a very heavy flood which caused the Waipaoa River to form a new outlet in 1841, but the former regarded a flood in June, 1847, as the heaviest since his arrival in 1840. In the eyes of the natives, however, neither was sufficiently severe to earn the award of a special title. The Wikitoria (Victoria) flood in March, 1853, must have been worse. It was not named after Queen Victoria, but in honour of a notable local woman who died about that time. She might have been Wikitoria Hineko, one of Paratene Turangi's wives. W. L. Williams says that silt was deposited over a page 368 large portion of the Flats. This flood was described by the Rev. T. S. Grace as “much heavier than the oldest Maori remembers.” A winter of great scarcity followed.
The bursting of the larger lake at Papuni led to grotesque conjectures on the part of the natives as to how the flood had originated. Wi Pere (Native Land Court, May, 1878) said that the cataclysm was attributed to a sea serpent. Some natives had claimed that they had seen it lying among some boulders. It had, they averred, enormous teeth. They also believed that it eventually fell over Te Reinga Falls and that its remains were picked up at Napier!
A flood in July, 1906, caused so much water to overflow from the Waipaoa River into the Taruheru River that a sandpump was swept away, Nelson Bros.' bridge was carried down to Carnarvon Street, and the Grey Street and Lowe Street bridges over the Waikanae Creek were badly damaged. During a flood in September, 1909, Thomas Robinson (18 years old) was drowned in Gold Creek, Otoko, and Dudley McKenzie (27 years) lost his life in the Waihuka stream. Continuous rain from midday on 28 March until the afternoon of 1 April, 1910 (17.27 inches) led to a flood which was held to have been 18 inches higher in and around Te Hapara than the 1876 flood. At Bushmere the Waipaoa River rose 27 feet above normal level. Four feet of water flowed over Nelson Bros.' bridge over the Taruheru River. Some of the small town bridges were damaged, and roads and bridges on the East Coast and in the Wairoa district suffered. George Alfred Connor was drowned in Waikanae Creek.
[References to the disastrous floods on the East Coast in 1916–17 appear in the chapters dealing with Uawa County and Waiapu County.]
Poverty Bay's most destructive flood occurred on 14 May, 1948. In the early portion of the storm, half of the roof of the grandstand on Childers Road Reserve was blown off. A house in Andrew Street, Te Hapara, was blown over, but the inmates (Mrs. Green and two children) escaped injury. Lightning struck down a large willow tree in front of G. Carlin's house at Makaraka, broke the windows and damaged a chimney. The lower portion of the Flats was covered with a huge sheet of water. Over 100 residents of Victoria Township were billeted in the town.
Between Kaiteratahi and the sea 21,000 of the 39,000 acres of flat land were submerged. Dennis John Russell Willis (21 years old) was swept from his horse and drowned at Whatatutu. Stock losses included 250 head of cattle, 16,000 sheep and 360 pigs. A. D. Todd (engineer to the Poverty Bay Catchment Board) estimated that the Waipaoa River brought down 40 million tons of silt. Shingle was deposited on several flats above Whatatutu which, previously, had been subject only to silting.
Lack of rain in Poverty Bay during the summer of 1875–6 rendered the countryside “more parched than has ever been known before.” In 1913, the driest year on record, only 25.40 inches of rain fell. What is regarded as “the worst period of drought on record” on the East Coast occurred between September, 1885, and January, 1886. Only 7 inches of rain fell during the seven months. Large numbers of stock died. In Poverty Bay conditions were nearly as bad. Prayers for rain were offered in Holy Trinity Church, Gisborne, in December, 1907. During the 77 days between 30 November, 1912, and 15 February, 1913, rain fell on only 12 days, and the aggregate was only 1.58 inches. It was estimated that over 20,000 head of cattle died in the Poverty Bay-East Coast area during a drought in 1926–7.