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PHENOMENAL FLOOD

KOPUAWHARA TRAGEDY

DEATHS BY MISADVENTURE

FINDING AT INQUEST

(By Telegraph—Press Association.)

WAIROA, April 5.

The inquest into the deaths of nineteen of the victims of the Kopuawhara camp tragedy was concluded late this afternoon. The verdict of the Coroner, Mr. V. E. Winter, was as follows:—

"That each of the deceased was found dead on the shores of the Kopuawhara Stream below No. 4 camp, Kopuawhara Valley; that the deceased met their deaths by drowning in the Kopuawhara Stream at approximately 3.45 a.m. on February 19; that the deceaseds' deaths occurred by misadventure arising directly out of phenomenally severe flooding of the Kopuawhara Stream, which occurred suddenly during the hours of darkness, whereby No. 4 camp was completely swept away and destroyed; that the' evidence shows that the deceased would in all probability have been rendered unconscious before death by moving boulders and logs in the stream, and so would have been incapable of assisting themselves to safety."

SELECTION OF SITE.

In evidence John Victor Haskell, formerly assistant engineer in charge of railway construction works in the Kopuawhara Valley, said he was there practically from the beginning of the works. He fixed the site of No. 4 camp and inspected the site many times before deciding, upon it. His opinion was that the site was absolutely safe. There were totaras and other trees growing on the site and they had been there for probably a century. He I noticed an obsolete water channel round the single men's quarters and it appeared to him to be a depression caused by a backwater or old water channel when the stream was considerably higher, probably in prehistoric times. Both ends of the depression were blocked and he never considered there would be any danger of water breaking through in a flood. He was on the site for about nineteen months and the highest flood he could find any record of showed that the water was never less than six feet below the decking of the bridge. _ | Onslow Garth Thornton, district engineer, Public Works Department, Gisborne, said that he had had considerable experience in dealing with floods and rivers. He had prepared calculations and the discharge capacity of the Kopuawhara Stream on normal flow at the No. 3 camp gauge after the flood was 27 cusecs. The capacity of the. channel as at No. 4 camp was 13 728 cusecs without spilling over the banks at all. If the water spilled over the banks one foot the capacity would be 16,932 cusecs. The discharge capacity of this flood was 33,000 cusecs. The area drained by that discharge was 12.64 square miles. Such a discharge was something lie had never heard of before. Some three or four years ago very heavy rain occurred in the same locality, some 15 to 18 inches falling in 24 hours in the drainage area of tli Nuhaka River. The total rainfall on that occasion was about doume what it was on this occasion and yet the Nuhaka River rose more on this occasion than it did then. To his mind this showed that there was unprecedented rainfall in a comparatively short time. This may have reached a peak just before the- flood of up to four inches an hour for about half an liour. Assuming all the ram ran off, as could'happen, four inches for one hour would produce a fall of 33,000 cusecs. That would be an unprecedented rainfall in his experience of New fealand or anywhere else The mtensitv of the fall and not the total fall was the cause of floods of a short, sharp nature such as the Kopuawhara one Such floods could be produced only by an abnormally intense rainfall for a short period.

TORRENTIAL RAIN.

William Leslie Bell, resident engineer at Bartlet-'s Camp, said that on February 18 and 19 he was at Bartlett's Camp, which is situated about 20 miles south of Gisborne at the foot of the "Wharerata Kanges on the northwest side of the watershed. Kopuawhara was on the south-east. He was awakened at 2.15 a.m. on February 19 and it was raining in torrents. He got up and went out to the front porch to find out the direction of the wind. He went back to bed and remained awake until 3.30 a.m. During that time it was raining more intensively over a long period than he had ever previously experienced. He obtained a rainfall record kept at the top of the Whareratas and this showed that for 24 hours from 7 a.m. on February 18 to 7 a.m. on February 19, eight inches of rain fell, and from 9.30 p.m. on February 18 to 7 a.m. on February 19 six inches fell. Boyd's Camp was situated on a stream -which drained the northern side of the ranges and at the camp the stream, witness thought, •'was rather bigger than the Kopuawhara Stream. This stream drained approximately 17 miles, and on February 19 it was in flood, washing away a portion of the married men's quarters and two highway bridges. One of the bridges had been built in 1931 to replace a bridge that had been there for 45 years. The highway for about a third of a mile was silted.up to a depth of a-foot and fences that had been in existence for about 50 years washed away. About 20 chains below one bridge there was a Maori fortification built about 70 years ago and consisting of a trench and parapet well above water level. The trench was half-filled with silt. Hundreds of acres of flats were covered with silt and thousands of logs, all brought down by flood, and fences were washed away. An old resident had stated that the highway had not been under water for at least 45 years. The stream, where one bridge was washed away, reached a level of 14.8 feet above the highest known flood previously. At another point it was 15.3 feet higher, and at a third point 20.6 feet higher. A flood to equal this one had never occurred.in the locality. Intense rainfall of an unprecedented nature, lasting over a period of probably three hours, was, in his opinion, the cause of the disaster.

After giving his formal verdict, the Coroner added that, from the evidence given, he was satisfied that the dumping of spoil from the tunnel into the stream had nothing to do with the disaster.

REAL CAUSE OF DISASTER.

"It is quite clear to me," he said, "from the evidence that has been given by all witnesses, that something very much out of the ordinary occurred in Kopuawhara and the surrounding districts on the night of February 18. It is something, perhaps, that has never before been heard of in the history of New Zealand. This, in my opinion, was the. cause of the flooding of the Kopuawhara Stream, thereby causing the washing away of No. 4 Camp and the deaths of 21 persons who were swept away. It is something which has never been experienced before, this sudden downpour of rain which was the cause of the disaster. I have already expressed my sympathy with the relatives. The disaster is one of the most appalling in the history of

New Zealand. I had an opportunity of visiting the locality and the scene of desolation and devastation was so astonishing that it conveyed something to me of the terrible ordeal of thai night. PRAISE FOR THOSE IN CAMP. "I am convinced that everyone in the camp that night is deserving of the highest praise. I take this opportunity again to express sympathy with the relatives and to express the hope that the survivors will have a happy future and forget the horrors of that night." The Coroner also paid a tribute to the police, engineers at the camps, and witnesses for the manner in which they gave their evidence.

Mr. L. W. Willis also expressed sympathy with the relatives and his appreciation, on behalf of the Public Works Department, of the splendid cooperation given by employees, officers, and the police.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19380406.2.193

Bibliographic details

PHENOMENAL FLOOD, Evening Post, Volume CXXV, Issue 81, 6 April 1938

Word Count
1,345

PHENOMENAL FLOOD Evening Post, Volume CXXV, Issue 81, 6 April 1938

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