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Lower North Island floods

Lower North Island floods

Farming in some of New Zealand's most productive districts has been dealt a massive blow by flooding in the lower North Island, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton and Civil Defence Minister George Hawkins visited the Manuwatu-Wanganui area and met with farmers, and local government officials to discuss what was needed and how central government could help further.

The air force flew the ministers over flooded areas around the lower Manawatu river and Wanganui hill country, but unfortunately the weather was too rough to enable the ministers to land in the hill country, as they had intended.

Mr Sutton said many of the farmers affected by the floods had been suffering under drought conditions only a year ago.

"This flood is more shocking, in that it was so sudden. Some people had to make a run from their cowsheds in the middle of milking and flee their homes, the water came up so suddenly and so unexpectedly."

Erosion he saw in Wanganui hill country was bad, he said, and it would take some time to restore road and communication links.

Mr Sutton said that even now, with continuing rain warnings, some farmers were unable to return to their farms, and it would be some time before rebuilding could start in earnest in many situations.

"The Government had committed to this rebuilding effort. An initial package has been announced, and more help is being discussed at Cabinet tomorrow. This flood is far too big to expect farmers and local government to deal with on their own. My visit was to assure people that they are not facing this on their own: all the people of New Zealand want to help.

"People are doing what they can, but sometimes that seems pathetically small when you look at the scale of what needs to be done here."

Mr Sutton said initial storm reports were just of heavy rain, but as more information came to hand over the next few days, the catastrophic scale of the damage emerged.

"The economic damage seems certain to exceed that of Cyclone Bola. The resources of the nation are here to help out.

"We can't take away all the pain, but we can do our bit."

Government agencies in the area had good links with Federated Farmers because of work done during last year's drought, Mr Sutton said, and this was helping during this latest disaster.

"People need to concentrate on making sure that they and their families are safe and well, and on rebuilding their lives and businesses. Government agencies are well aware of what people are going through at the moment, and ordinary business requirements are well down the list of priorities."

Mr Sutton said Revenue Minister Michael Cullen was sympathetic to the plight of farmers affected by the floods, and IRD would be asked to put in place measures to ensure farmers were not penalized for not reporting by GST and provisional tax deadlines, when many had lost all their records in the water.

"This Government is well aware that agriculture is the powerhouse of the economy, and everything possible will be done to ensure that this productive part of the country is restored to what it was before, as much as humanly possible."

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