10 Nov 2018

Hawke's Bay flood: 'You have to confront the issues'

8:11 am on 10 November 2018

An early warning system alerting residents living near Esk River in Hawke's Bay of rising water levels could be on the cards after a devastating flood earlier this year.

Eskdale Holiday Park campground was flooded after the river breached its banks.

Eskdale Holiday Park campground was flooded after the river breached its banks. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

Heavy rain caused the Esk River to burst its banks in the early hours of 8 March, flooding 91 homes and forcing the evacuation of a nearby school and campground, washing slash from forestry onto some properties.

Seven homes were yellow-stickered.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Civil Defence was investigating setting up system that would send residents living near the river a text message to alert them of future flood risks.

"At the moment, when the river reaches a certain level, a text message is automatically sent to our duty flood officer. We are looking at whether we can send that directly to residents," Hawke's Bay Civil Defence emergency management controller Ian McDonald said.

There were 200 properties at-risk properties near the Esk River but not all were permanently inhabited.

The geography of the Esk catchment was "short and sharp" and heavy rain could result in the river rising quite rapidly so sending a text alert would be a much quicker way of warning people, he said.

"In a matter of half an hour or so the river can reach quite high levels so we are trying to cut out the middle person between the flood warning devices in the river and getting the warning out to the public."

Residents could choose whether they wanted to receive the warning text, Mr McDonald said.

Eskdale Holiday Park residents were forced to evacuate the campground in the early hours of 8 March as the river burst its banks.

Owner Daniel Gale said he already had a river warning system in place so a text message about future events would not be helpful.

Other residents who lived in the affected area told RNZ they would rather see a proper stop bank put in place to stop flood waters crossing the railway line.

The March flood washed away sections of the raised KiwiRail track, delaying the reopening of the Napier-Wairoa line.

Residents living nearby the track said it was never a proper stop bank so it could not be expected to hold back flood waters in the future.

Flood debrief

A "warts and all" debrief on the civil defence response to the Eskdale flood exposed some areas that needed to be improved, Mr McDonald said.

The internal report was accidentally put on the council's website last week but was quickly taken down when the mistake was realised.

It found the response from all the organisations involved in flood relief effort worked well overall, and many of the flood affected residents were resilient and had enough resources to help themselves.

But there were delays in getting building inspections carried out because Hastings District Council did not enough four-wheel drive vehicles capable of travelling in flood waters.

There were also some communication issues between organisations over who was supposed to do what, the report found.

Ian McDonald said the debrief showed there were some areas to improve on.

"That's the point in these debriefs, they are a warts and all debrief, and you can't sugar coat things, you have to confront the issues.

"Over the years councils have tried to reduce costs, and four-wheel drive vehicles are one cost, but obviously that came at a cost when it came to responding to this event."

Hastings District Council had since purchased more four wheel drives for its building inspectors, Mr McDonald said.

A Hawke's Bay Regional Council spokesperson said the draft report would be discussed internally and a final report on the Esk flood would be presented to the council in early December.