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‘What the hell? We’re alive': Massive slip misses couple’s home by a mere metre

Author
Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Mon, 20 Feb 2023, 7:55am

‘What the hell? We’re alive': Massive slip misses couple’s home by a mere metre

Author
Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Mon, 20 Feb 2023, 7:55am

A retired couple living in the picturesque hills of Tiniroto stood and watched while barbecuing dinner as the largest slip in the Gisborne district - spanning about 15 acres - slowly missed their home by a metre.

Clive, 69, and Helen, 58, Foster have been living back at their property on Taurau Valley Rd for a few days since the massive rocky slip filled in a 20 metre deep valley beside their property just after 6pm on Tuesday.

“It’s pretty amazing, aye? It’s huge. Our boundary is just down here… Basically 99 per cent of it missed us, you know what I mean,” Clive Foster said of the downhill effects of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“We just said ****, we’re both alive, no one got injured, the house is all functioning like it was last week, it’s all fine. Really speaking, it’s great. What the hell? We’re alive. It’s just a mess.”

What was once fields of limes and mandarins beside the Fosters’ property is now a jagged undulating trough of massive rocks and light brown earth.

The full scale of the large slip that came very close to Clive and Helen Foster's home on Taurau Valley Road near Gisborne Photo / George HeardThe full scale of the large slip that came very close to Clive and Helen Foster's home on Taurau Valley Road near Gisborne Photo / George Heard

 

Cyclone Gabrielle has destroyed significant parts of the North Island. A large slip has come very close to Clive and Helen Foster's home on Taurau Valley Rd near Gisborne. Photo / George HeardCyclone Gabrielle has destroyed significant parts of the North Island. A large slip has come very close to Clive and Helen Foster's home on Taurau Valley Rd near Gisborne. Photo / George Heard

 

The slip came within one metre of Clive and Helen Foster's home. Photo / George HeardThe slip came within one metre of Clive and Helen Foster's home. Photo / George Heard

Trees that were hundreds of metres up the mountain are now embedded in the slip, poking in and out of the rubble at all sorts of unnatural angles besides the Fosters’ house.

But the lead-up to the massive slip was deceptively quiet.

“The neighbour came up the drive and said ‘you’ve got to get out, you’ve got to get out’ and we said ‘what for?’” Helen Foster said.

“Then we came round the back of the house and said ‘oh my goodness’. It was just after six o’clock at night. If it was at night time it would have been a lot more scary.”

Clive Foster said all they had left to do was stand and watch as the huge mass of earth slowly moved down the waterlogged mountain beside them.

“Oh, we were getting a bit concerned, haha. It wasn’t until it started hooking into these trees. It’s hard to describe. There’s a huge bank down there that’s what saved us. It was like 45 degrees,” Clive Foster said.

“It was a big bank, with big trees on it. I was on the barbecue cooking up dinner. It was about 6.15 and you could just hear all this bang crash, bang, and that was all the trees getting demolished.”

Helen Foster described the initial sounds as: “a cracking noise like matchsticks breaking. We saw the earth starting to come down, and we thought ‘something’s not right’.”

Helen Foster surveys the slip. Photo / George HeardHelen Foster surveys the slip. Photo / George Heard

 

The slip was channelled down a gully near the Fosters' house. Photo / George HeardThe slip was channelled down a gully near the Fosters' house. Photo / George Heard

The slip destroyed one of the Fosters’ water tanks and concrete slabs surrounding it into a mound of earth that leaves a metre of space around one side of their house.

While the Herald was speaking to the Fosters, a Gisborne District Council building inspector walked round the back field and announced the house was now red stickered.

The Fosters had just been commenting on how no one from Civil Defence or the Gisborne District Council had come to visit them since Tuesday when floods from the overnight downpour of Cyclone Gabrielle was causing havoc in the area south of Gisborne.

The inspector said this was “definitely” the largest slip from Cyclone Gabrielle in the Gisborne region.

“It is what we’d class as being an imminent risk which technically means in theory the house is red stickered,” he said.

“Because essentially, if it failed again, and we don’t know when, it could take out the house. You’re extremely lucky.”

The inspector said “imminent risk” from a slip is classified as anything within eight metres of a property or structure.

“You’ve probably got the biggest new landslide in the district from this event. When you’re flying over it, it’s what we call a debris flow. So it actually has a lot of moisture in it and that would just act as a bulldozer if it hit your house.”

Helen Foster with a piece fo fruit salvaged from the slip. Photo / George HeardHelen Foster with a piece fo fruit salvaged from the slip. Photo / George Heard

He was however not entirely optimistic about the Fosters having a smooth interaction with the the EQC [Earthquake Commission] - a crown entity providing home insurance to help communities get their lives back on track after a natural disaster.

“The insurance company does all the handling with EQC now. I can tell you that it’s a pain in the arse. We find that it doesn’t work as well as what it used to in the past,” the council inspector said to the Fosters.

Surprised at this, Helen asked: “Oh, okay, I thought it was meant to streamline things and make it easier?”

The inspector said: “For EQC it does. But for the people that it’s actually affected, no. Because there are just more people involved.”

The Fosters will tonight face having to find new accommodation until the future safety of their house is determined.

The council inspected said a berm of some sort may have to be erected beside their property, or the house actually moved further up the hill.

“I thought we were okay. I thought it was just a matter of getting some earthworks to move it over there, and we would be fine,” Helen said.

“Goodness.”

Pointing to the line of trees beside her property which had directed the slip away from their property slightly, Helen said: “You’re dead right, they saved us”.

The Fosters' house has been red-stickered as another slip could easily hit it. Photo / George HeardThe Fosters' house has been red-stickered as another slip could easily hit it. Photo / George Heard

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