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Tauranga house collapse: 'It was just chaos and panic'

The scene where a house collapsed from a landslide in Tauranga's Egret Avenue.
The scene of the house collapse in Tauranga. Photo: Krystal Abey-Leenders

A Tauranga family of seven thought they were in the middle of a huge earthquake when their home was hit by a slip which woke them up overnight on Saturday.

Residents of a Maungatapu cul-de-sac in Tauranga rallied to save members of the Hodgson Hanan family - two parents and five children aged nine to 14 years old.

Some rooms were crushed, upstairs bedrooms had fallen away, floors were wonky, and the lounge was filled with mud.

Teresa Hodgson said she woke up about an hour after going to bed to what they initially thought was a huge earthquake.

She said she wanted to make sure the children were safe but once she left her bedroom, she realised that she was walking downhill and the house's structure had been damaged.

She found one of the boys crying at his bedroom door and heard the oldest girl calling out for help.

"But once we got to the lounge, there was no lounge, it was just like deep glassy mud and it was just hard cause we couldn't see anything, so we're trying to travel towards the voice calling out for help.

"We tried to ring 111 at this stage 'cause I realised walls had come down, the house was going down."

She found the older girl, but then had to work out to rescue the other two nine-year-old children and a 12-year-old whose bedrooms were at the other end of the house.

Her daughter's bedroom was quite close to a bank, Hodgson said.

"But after 10 minutes of frustration and trying, I realised I couldn't make it through the mud to her and I had to find another way.

"I also realised her bedroom wasn't there, that whole side of the house had slid and moved."

Her partner, Luke Hanan, advised her to get out of the house with the children they had already found, and they would find another way to get to the other children.

"We had to break a fence down, because there was no way to get out that wasn't mud, and our house was then on the neighbour's house, so we couldn't walk between houses like you used to be able to."

When they managed to get out on to the street all the neighbours were there, and they gave them blankets and towels to wrap themselves in since the family was not dressed since they had been in bed.

"And they told me that they had three kids, so Luke's two boys and my daughter that we were searching for and they were already being taken care of by the ambulance staff.

"I don't remember much after that - just being hosed off and grabbing Bailee, that's the little girl I'd been looking for, and calling my mum and just crying ... and just asking 'can you pick us up, we need you'."

Hodgson said when her parents turned up they were shocked, because she had only told them the house had slipped and they were needed.

"And then they came and were not expecting to see the house in different pieces and in the middle of the road and the neighbours out there and it was just chaos and panic."

Hodgson said the children were now doing surprisingly well, but it was a traumatic night.

"My daughter's room was absolutely crushed and I'm glad ... she left that room as soon as she could and she went to the boys and they had an idea.

"Because their room had twisted and slid, their room was like a top, like a second storey kind of room, they'd slid and they were almost on the ground and there was a truck underneath it so they slid out and onto the truck - so they didn't spend much time in the house, they got out straight away."

The children were in shock and shaking and one of them vomited later in the night, she said.

A house has collapsed on Egret Ave, Tauranga.
Emergency services at the scene. Photo: NZ Herald

It was a scary and terrifying experience for the whole family, she said.

Residents from the entire street pitched in to help after the incident and they ended up at the neighbour's house, Hodgson said.

"They were looking after Bailee, they opened their house up to us straight away, even though we were covered in mud and they were getting us water, letting us use their phone."

Teresa Hodgson's husband, Luke Hanan, returned to the house today but said it was pretty horrific inside.

"How the kids got out is the thing that you'll always scratch your head about, that's for sure because their rooms were absolutely destroyed.

"Just covered, roofs down, where they were sleeping or lying at the time just basically touching the roofs in some of the rooms, you know."

Hanan said the only things they managed to salvage was a couple of dolls for the girls and a few clothes from a couple of the rooms.

"The rest of it was pretty much destroyed or buried in mud."

Hanan said he was still incredibly shaken up and had not slept for a couple of days and was probably still just operating on adrenaline.

Greerton Fire Brigade senior station officer Paul Arrowsmith was there for the rescue operation and said emergency workers feared the worst as they arrived, with the slip still moving.

"It was a very chaotic scene, we had a lot of people covered in mud, some up to their chest, neighbours running everywhere, people screaming.

"We were told there was still two children missing so I sent two firefighters into the house where they were able to do a very quick search."

No-one was in the house, and they then found the children had been gathered up by residents on the other side of the street.

The children were "covered in mud and blood", he told Morning Report, and though very scared were otherwise unharmed.

"The little boy I helped carry to the house, he was quite traumatised and shivering quite violently - it was obviously quite a traumatic event for them.

"They were very, very frightened little kids.

"It was something that really hit hard on all the police, fire and ambulance as well as the neighbours how badly this had affected the children but it's miracle everyone got out alive."

The local community had jumped in to help the families before emergency services got there, he said.

"I can't say enough for the neighbours - they did sterling work to help get those kids out before our arrival and it just shows what a great community we've got here in Tauranga."