Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall's likened the community's flood response to that of Christchurch's community post earthquake.
The Whanganui state of emergency has been lifted after two days of preparing for the worst.
170 people and almost 30 businesses were evacuated, but were able to return to their premises after 8 this morning.
Mayor Hamish McDouall said the community's response had been magnificent.
"It's made me really proud of the community and particularly the numbers of people who are just walking in this morning at 5.30am."
He said they have had a lot of outside support as well.
"I had a phone call from Australia last night apologising for gifting us Cyclone Debbie so it's been really fantastic, (it) doesn't make us feel isolated," McDouall said.
8am THURSDAY update
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall had said the state of emergency would likely be lifted by midday.
Whanganui has been in a state of emergency since Tuesday evening, as ex-Cyclone Debbie had caused huge floods.
The river peaked at 8am, but fell one-metre below the stopbanks.
"It's (been) really good overnight, the river levels in the city dropped little by little throughout the night.... even though when you go down there and see it looks pretty ferocious," McDouall said.
170 residents and about 25 businesses were able to return to their homes and premises from 8am.
"It's great news and I think we're lucky that some of the rain has probably fallen in different catchments and spread evenly throughout the district," McDouall said.
He said he was pleased with the city's text book emergency response to huge flooding.
"There'll be one or two nay-sayers who ask why did we evacuate. The simple thing is, I'd rather be cautious and respond to the science than ignore the science and have somebody killed."
"I don't think there's anything I'd do differently at all... considering the numbers were eye-watering and potentially catastrophic. I think we needed to declare early and since then I think it's run very, very smoothly," McDouall said.
Latest flooding update from Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall
The Horizons Regional Council said the Whanganui River at Pipiriki is forecasted to reach 12.6 metres by 2.00am tomorrow, Thursday 6 April 2017.
This would likely result in an 8 metre peak over the Whanganui City Bridge at 8.15am tomorrow morning, with possible flooding in low lying areas.
Evacuations began in low lying areas of Anzac Parade and Putiki shortly after midday today and were completed by 4pm.
Civil Defence Controller Stuart Hylton said evacuations had gone well.
“At this point, approximately 170 people from 112 individual residences have reported to either our Whanganui Girls College or St Paul’s Church. A number of these people will have self-evacuated. Our welfare centres are in full swing.”
The affected areas of Anzac Parade and Taupo Quay had been cordoned off and security would be in place over night.
State Highway 4 is closed along Anzac Parade between Hakeke Street and Purua Street and closed from the Whanganui River Road/State Highway 4 intersection to Raetihi.
The Ministry of Education had advised that all schools in the Whanganui District would be open tomorrow except for Whanganui Girls College, which was being used as a Civil Defence Centre.
The Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said 200 homes were being evacuated this afternoon.
Whanganui is in a state of emergency, with the flood now expected to peak early tomorrow morning, all schools closed and 500 people to be evacuated.
"A lot of people were very hopeful this morning that it was just an excuse to shake out your flouro vests and hopefully nothing would happen - and hopefully nothing will happen - but a precautionary and prudent approach is the right way when dealing with small margins of error," McDouall said.
He said river levels were not as bad as what was originally predicted, but there still would not be a lot of stop bank lee-way.
"You should see the roomful of volunteers I've just walked out of - it was just magnificent to see people from local iwi, the Defence Force, the Fire Service, the Red Cross, Police... it is extraordinary the number of people who are ready to ensure that everybody is safely relocated," McDouall said.
The council hoped to have evacuations complete by 4pm today.
McDouall said peak flow was now anticipated between early morning and 7am tomorrow.
An evacuated Whanganui business owner said they had an amazing community and everyone wanted to help out.
Whanganui is in a state of emergency as the ex-Cyclone Debbie flood peaked today.
All schools were closed and people were prepared to evacuate.
Riverland Family Park's Michael Wilson said they had learnt from the 2015 floods that it paid to take precautions.
"Last night at 12.30 we managed to get everything out of the facility - all the go carts and things like that."
"Riverland Family Park is still ok, it's still looking like another metre and a half until we would get flooded, so I suppose what happens now is it just depends on the rain up in the catchment. But (Civil) Defence have said it looks like we will get flooded."
Wilson said keeping safe was the most important thing and the Council had done a good job.
Expected rainfall in the district was not as large as predicted but the Civil Defence Emergency Management team were keeping a close eye on the changeable weather situation.
The river-side of Taupo Quay, from Wilson Street to Moutoa Quay, had been closed from 10am as a precaution.
Jeannie Marshall from the Whanganui River Top 10 Holiday Park said the flood was not as bad as they expected.
"Last night we were told that essentially our entire holiday park was going to get flooded and we've woken up to really good news this morning which suggests that only the lower bits of grass is going to be affected," Marshall said.
"No sites or units should be affected hopefully if they've got the predictions right this time."
Marshall said they had been here before with the 2015 floods, so knew what to do.
"We've moved a few bits and pieces that could get hit and we'll keep an eye out on updates throughout the day and if we need to do more, we'll do more."
"(It was a) bit of a sleepless night with a bit of worry and a bit of planning about what we were going to do today but a lot more relaxed this morning."
Marshall said they were open for business as little and other than being a little damp, all was well.
Whanganui mayor said no one had been formally evacuated, but a lot of people had self evacuated.
"That's precautionary because in 2015 they got 20 minutes to go. So to have the luxury of 20 hours, a lot of people are packing up their precious things and getting ready."
McDouall said river levels were frightening last night and they're more optimistic today.
"It's been a very variable storm system - about 20 minutes ago it was almost sunshine so we really need robust figures before we pull the trigger of evacuation."
Hamish McDouall said current river levels might well trigger evacuation but not overflow the river banks.
8am Wednesday update
McDuall said it was heartening to see the community working as their own support network.
"What was amazing was the community support - people ringing up people in affected areas saying have you got a place to stay, why don't you come over tomorrow morning and the kids can play."
The Whanganui District Council called a state of emergency last night and the potentially historic flood would peak today.
All schools were closed and people were preparing to evacuate.
McDuall said they were cautiously optimistic this morning.
30-people had self-evacuated, while compulsory evacuations wait on a 10am weather update.
"We're lucky, we have a bit of time, we didn't have time in 2015. But we have about 20 hours to save your precious things, maybe raise things, check on your elderly neighbour and also to evacuate and find safe refuge," McDuall said.
Peak flood levels were expected at midday on Wednesday and people in affected areas were being told to evacuate.
Modelling showed peak levels at Pipariki gauge would be about 17.7 metres, which is 2.7 metres higher than 2015 flood.
"It's really important that no precious photograph, no memento, not even a pet is worth losing your life and I wouldn't have signed a state of emergency declaration if I didn't think that had the potential," McDuall said.
McDuall encouraged everyone to protect their family and keep safe and said welfare centres had been set up.
"Sadly, I've got to tell you that the Horizon's comment was that the flood may reach historic levels," McDuall said.
A Whanganui farmer said everyone had been in a flap-panic shifting stock.
Tony Wilson lives half an hour from Whanganui on the Waitotara River and said farmers had been working hard to prepare.
"We've been shifting all the hale-age out of the shed that could get flooded," Wilson said.
Updates can be found on the Whanganui District Council's Facebook page and Brian FM.