30 Sep 2023

New community hubs to help protect Hawke's Bay residents during disasters

7:48 pm on 30 September 2023
Damage seen in Tūtira, Hawke's Bay, which was left isolated after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Many roads in Hawke's Bay were damaged by recent storms. Photo: Supplied / Chloe Hill

Rural communities in Hawke's Bay will soon be better prepared for disasters thanks to new facilities designed to help them cope when they become isolated.

A number of rural communities struggled without power, communications, fuel and food after being cut off by road during Cyclone Gabrielle in February.

But the Ministry for Primary Industries' North Island Weather Events fund has given $1.3 million to Hastings District Council for 10 community resilience hubs stocked with goods to see them through emergencies.

They would include things like a back-up power generator, satellite mobile connector, a bulk catering kit, emergency toilets and showers, AM/FM radio and hygiene kits.

Patoka resident and community board member Isabelle Crawshaw said her community of around 300 were cut off from nearby Hastings and Napier for two months.

"We lost two of our bridges that give us access into town, so we were completely isolated, and we didn't have power for about three weeks," she said.

Crawshaw said fuel was hard to come by, but desperately needed for the machinery working on restoring the roads.

The aftermath of flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle seen from above Tūtira, Hawke's Bay.

The aftermath of flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle seen from above Tūtira, Hawke's Bay. Photo: Supplied / Chloe Hill

They relied on household generators - a staple in rural areas - but were without other vital things like medication, animal health products and food.

"There was a wide range of things that you need to keep a rural community sustained for that sort of period of time, and we sort of just did it on the basics of what we had available to us."

Civil defence, Hastings District Council and Ngāti Kahungunu delivered things like a Starlink and emergency generators via helicopter, and Crawshaw said they were lucky to have a community hall to gather and cook at.

But it was not set up to be an evacuation centre or a facility for 300 people, she said.

A new resilience hub would ease people's minds.

"There's just those basics that I guess, when something like that happens that gives people a bit of reassurance and a bit of confidence that we've got that capacity within the community.

"We just don't have that at the moment."

The council said it was working with communities to finalise hub locations and understand what they wanted and needed most.

It was also seeking out extra cash to establish more than the initial 10 hubs.

The government money could be used to purchase a container, improve existing community buildings, and buy critical supplies.

Deputy Mayor Tania Kerr said the cyclone showed the importance of being prepared, especially for rural communities which were more at risk of being isolated during severe weather events.

"This is the start and we hope to be able to support an increased number of sustainable community-led hubs depending on need, priority, and any future funding becoming available.

"Essentially they will be safe places people can go to that will have power and connectivity with basic supplies as decided by that particular community."

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