The latest fatberg to cause problems for Gisborne's pipes earlier this week.

Gisborne District Council

The latest fatberg to cause problems for Gisborne’s pipes earlier this week.

The smell of raw sewage nearly blew a Gisborne woman backwards when she walked into her home earlier this week.

The first thought that went through Heather Hannam’s mind is that her husband had used the toilet first, but how wrong she was.

Upon walking into the bathroom Hannam was welcomed with walls splattered with raw sewage, sodden bath mats and the smell of ‘rotten’ faeces.

The unwelcome explosion occurred while Gisborne District Council contractors were clearing a large ‘fatberg’ near Sponge Bay, using a high-pressure water blaster.

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Fatbergs are usually made of rags, wet wipes, condoms and solid fat – all things, a senior wastewater operations engineer says, that should not be flushed down a toilet or sink.

“I came home and opened the door to this stink, and I thought ‘what on earth is going on here?’ I went into the first bathroom, because as you know when you get home from work, you gotta’ go…but I couldn’t,” Hannam said.

With the first toilet clearly out-of-bounds, she went to the en-suite bathroom to encounter the exact same sight.

Workers spent most of the day using picks, shovels and hoses to break down a 500kg fatberg in Gisborne in July.


Workers spent most of the day using picks, shovels and hoses to break down a 500kg fatberg in Gisborne in July.

“It was mostly water, and I suppose little bits of poo. So I picked up all the bathmats and put them through a hot wash in the washing machine and got a mop and started cleaning down the walls with disinfectant. I just sprayed it everywhere.”

Hannam said she had read in the local newspaper that there had been a sewage blockage near her home, with the sewer main going down her street.

“After the cleaning I got really angry because the least the council could have done was to let us know they were planning on doing this, otherwise we would have put the toilet lids down.”

Hannam, who lives behind her parents, who are in their eighties, went to check that a similar incident hadn’t happened in their home.

“They said the toilet water had come right up to the top of the bowl, but had gone down again. But mum thought they were having an earthquake or something,” Hannam laughed.

“But if that had exploded when she had been sitting on the toilet it would have cleaned her out.”

Hannam said she could laugh about it now, but at the time, the last thing on her mind was laughter.

She spoke to a Gisborne District Council engineer and said he told her the incident hadn’t happened to every property.

A 'fatberg' found in Gisborne sewer main in July.


A ‘fatberg’ found in Gisborne sewer main in July.

“He was actually really good and offered to send a cleaner over straight away. He was really apologetic for what had happened. Obviously I had done all the cleaning by then.”

On Friday both Hannam and her husband were down in Wellington for a family birthday, but she took precautions before she left.

“I certainly made sure I put all the toilet lids down,” she said.

The Gisborne District Council took to social media last week, saying that since Covid-19’s alert level 2, the city’s sewer network had come under ‘intense pressure’ with a 60 per cent increase in blocked sewer pipes.

“The same happened last time we went into lockdown. It’s creating a massive amount of work for our hard-working crews. We’re bringing in more crews, but we need your help to avoid any sewer overflows on to private property or into the rivers,” the council said.

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