13 Jan 2023

Cyclone Hale aftermath: Defence Force vehicles used to supply Tairāwhiti's isolated pockets

11:37 am on 13 January 2023
Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Agencies in Tairāwhiti are scrambling to deliver food and supplies to communities isolated in the wake of Cyclone Hale.

And the region's mayor Rehette Stoltz says she will "absolutely" be seeking financial assistance from central government to help communities recover.

The East Coast area has been in a state of emergency since Tuesday and communication is a major issue for welfare checks, with pockets cut off from roads, power, service and landlines - some since Monday evening.

Those who have a connection say the damage is devastating.

Toby Williams farms on the coast south of Tolaga Bay. He said his fencing is flattened, crops destroyed and debris strewn across the land.

"Some of the forestry slash and stuff that's come down is months [worth of work] you can only do little bit by little bit, a machine can only move so much.

"I think the roads are going to [take years to fix] and some will never be repaired, there's only so much these roads can take ... so there's going to be some hard decisions in the next few months."

Two unimogs from the Defence Force are distributing welfare packs, like food and medication. For those in even more remote areas like Tauwhareparae and Whareponga, they are being airlifted.

Deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga said communication was one of the biggest hurdles right now.

"Batteries are getting low, wireless and cellphone network connections are all going down and comms are really patchy all up and down the coast ... but we'll eventually find a way, it may be one person's land inside a community might still be operational so we'll just keep trying."

Wharehinga and local MP Kiri Allan flew across the region in a helicopter on Wednesday to view the damage, calling it "eye-opening".

Kiri Allan

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Allan urged isolated residents who are in need of assistance, if they have phone access, to call the council.


Mayor Rehette Stoltz, who was overseas visiting family when the storm struck, said it was still "all-go" and "hands-on".

"We are still in the response time, and once things settle down we will be able to start with our recovery," she told RNZ's Summer Times on Friday morning.

"But there is still so much happening - we're still dealing with families that are cut off, people that have no electricity.

"One of the biggest issues up the coast is people don't have access to EFTPOS - so they can't go to the store. So we will be addressing that this morning, seeing how we can help. Small things on the ground that people need help with, with their day-to-day stuff that we will be addressing today.

"That's aside from the big stuff, the infrastructure stuff, the roading stuff that is ongoing, trying to reconnect our communities."

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz says agencies talk to each other but sometimes information is not shared in good time.

Rehette Stoltz. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

Stoltz, now back in New Zealand, said she was in constant communication with Allan and Civil Defence teams while in South Africa.

"That's the wonder of the internet and our cellphones - it doesn't matter where you are, you can still be kept up to date … we could make decisions quickly, get stuff done."

Convoys established between towns

State Highway 35 between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay will open Friday and Saturday during daylight hours, but only at select times.

Waka Kotahi will operate a convoy system with a Downer vehicle in the front and the back for safety.

"People need access to food, they need access to medicine, they have appointments, so we are trying to get our coast community connected up again," Stoltz said.

The convoy will run between Tolago Bay and Tokomaru Bay three times a day in each direction. The schedule, and where to gather, is on the Gisborne District Council website.

Stoltz said talks have already begun with central government about receiving taxpayer assistance in the recovery.

"Our community cannot afford to do this on our own."

Forestry inquiry wanted

Forestry slash has caused much of the damage nearby the rivers and streams that flooded, leading to furious calls for change.

Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said there needed to be consequences, and called for a formal inquiry.

"We think they've been getting away with blue murder for far too long and it's time to put a stop to it. It just seems completely unfair that people who live downstream should bear the cost."

Stoltz said a probe would be "timely".

"We can see events like this happening more and more. Any information we can gather to see how and what we can do better or different will be welcomed by the Gisborne District Council."

Earlier, Minister for Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty told Morning Report it was clear damage caused by forestry slash was a concern.

"The level slash has caused a lot of destruction to the region ... before and we saw from images from up in the East Coast Tairāwhiti that it has again become an issue but I haven't had the opportunity to speak to [Forestry Minister] Stewart Nash about that but I certainly will.

"It's clearly something that needs to be looked at. What the solution is, I'm not in a position to say but I will want to have a conversation with my colleague to hear his thoughts and see if there is something that can be done about it."

McAnulty has not yet visited the region but said he has been in close contact with those on the ground.

The government was assessing whether a mayoral relief fund would be needed but the level of support wasn't limited to this, he said.

Clean-ups across the rest of the country

Over in the Coromandel Peninsula, clean-ups have begun but - they're not out of the woods yet.

Thames-Coromandel mayor Len Salt said the region was saturated, fearing more slips may occur in the coming days.

"The hills are saturated, the catchments are saturated ... our roading crews are really used to doing this, we've got people all across the district on top of it at the moment but we've still got to keep a close eye on it."

South Wairarapa has also been hard hit by the tail of Cyclone Hale.

The community at White Rock was cut off by flooding near Tuturumuri School, but cleared later Thursday evening.

Tora and Te Awaiti are blocked still by a slip on Tora Road.

The council said roading crews were working to clear slips and assess the state of the roads, but were hampered by flooding and ongoing land movement.

Further north, Te Wharau Road was closed between Gladstone and the East Coast.

Several rural roads between Masterton and the coast were also closed.

As the remnants of Cyclone Hale move away from New Zealand, MetService said it should be a settled weekend.

But a front is heading to the South Island, and is expected to bring another bout of rain early next week as it moves up the country.

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