‘We were fortunate, thank God’

Saturday November 16, 2019 Written by Published in Environment
On Wednesday at the Pandanus Petrol station, workers rushed to move goods and switch off the fuel and electrics as the waters rose. MELANIE COOPER 19111378 On Wednesday at the Pandanus Petrol station, workers rushed to move goods and switch off the fuel and electrics as the waters rose. MELANIE COOPER 19111378

First came the floods. And when the water receded, then came the clean-up.


When Lilyanna Rennie and her husband first got a call that there was flooding around Avatiu, they were worried.

Torrential downpours hit Rarotonga on Wednesday afternoon. Worst affected was the Avatiu area, as water and debris swept down the stream then backed up behind the inadequate Avatiu bridge.

Nothing prepared the Pandanus petrol station owners for the severity of the damage. Rennie says she thought it would be similar to the previous heavy rains and rising water levels – gone within an hour.

It wasn’t.

When she arrived at the fuel station, the water was up to her knees and rising. It was worse than she had imagined.

Her staff took quick action when they saw the water beginning to rise – they managed to lift stocks in the shop out of harm’s way and, importantly, shut down fuel pumps just in time.

“The boys did the best they could,” Rennie says. “I take my hat off to the boys, they were able to save as much products as they could.”

The one silver lining in the storm cloud was that it occurred as the staff were changing shift, meaning Pandanus had all hands on deck.

Her five staff followed safety precautions, basically shutting everything down.

“They saw it coming and were able to act fast. Freezers were shut done, electronic stuff put up on high shelf. We were fortunate, thank God.”

Deputy prime minister Mark Brown stopped in, not long after the waters had peaked. He arranged for the fire authority to drain water from the area including their shop.

Nonetheless, it took the whole of Thursday to clean up the area using a water blaster, and they knew that water had gone through the petrol machines.

Big signs on the building and smaller ones on the pumps now alert motorists that there will be no petrol until next week, though they are still selling diesel.

They do not want to resume selling any petrol until everything has been checked properly and tested, Rennie says.

“We have a system in place to test the petrol and we were told that we can sell but we want to wait until we get an accurate reading.

“What drives the people is our service, the fuel and the boys happy smile when they get the windscreen cleaning. Unfortunately, we are quiet but hoping to regain that service again next week.”

Next door at Sea Salt Takeaways, proprietor Alex Kermode is relieved the flash flood water levels did not reach inside the premises.

“The water only reached up to a couple of the buildings steps; we are quite lucky, we are higher up from the ground level,” Kermode says.

Their stock and furniture on the premises were undamaged.

This was the second time the area had been flooded severely – but this time the waters had risen much faster.

Teariki Rauru lives up the road in the Ruatonga area of Avatiu. He says there are around eight homes in their area and the heavy rain affected most of them.

It took about two to three hours for the water level to recede, Rauru says. Though the heavy rain and flood did not enter his home, movement around their area was restricted.

“I experienced this before, that was the last time maybe 15 years ago and decided to build my house around three blocks higher.

“And I’ve advised anyone the same, who wants to build their home in this area.”

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