Auckland weather disaster: Mayor Wayne Brown admits 'hiccups' in response

4:33 pm on 30 January 2023

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown says there were hiccups in the response to the unprecedented weather event in the city on Friday, but pointed to the Civil Defence Emergency Management duty controller as being the one "in charge".

The death toll from the floods in Auckland is three and the city went into a state of emergency after torrential rain hit on Friday.

Officials are warning Aucklanders to prepare for more damage as another storm is forecast for Tuesday.

"It has taken some time for everyone to appreciate just how wide and deep an event this is, and it isn't finished yet," Brown told reporters at a conference held in Sunnynook Community Centre.

"It's nothing like Friday night but the ground is so saturated and the drains are so full so it could be even more dangerous than Friday."

By Saturday morning, they still had not understood it was such a widespread event, he said.

"On Saturday morning, we were all thinking in terms of the lessons we learned in the New Lynn flood and we thought perhaps there was another New Lynn flood somewhere else, we didn't realise it was 25 New Lynn floods.

"We didn't realise that ... there was five more days of this coming and we are not finished."

Brown said he was recommending businesses and schools remain closed tomorrow and that the Army should be brought in to help sandbag and other duties.

"Stay home if possible," he said.

Brown has defended himself against criticism that he did not call for a State of Emergency earlier, saying he followed the advice of the professionals when deciding whether to declare an emergency.

However, today he acknowledged communication with the public on the disaster on Friday fell short.

"I want to say to Aucklanders that yes there have been hiccups of course.

"I accept that communications including mine and my office were not good enough, especially on Friday night.

"I don't think I personally did anything wrong," he said when asked about what "hiccups" he was referring to.

"The leader of an event like this is the duty controller and so it's a brave person to overturn the duty controller until you've got a clear understanding of what is going on."

Asked what he could have done differently back then, he said: "I'd like to have known earlier from those people who - you can only respond to what you know. From the office, [it looked like] a wet day. The first feedback - which is one of the reasons I want the review - actually came from my elected officials.

"The first thing from South Auckland came from customers in shops. I was quite surprised that it wasn't coming back from the emergency management."

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown speaking to the media about the Auckland flooding on 30 January 2023.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown speaking to the media about the Auckland flooding on 30 January 2023. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

He said after a call with Waitākere councillor Shane Henderson, they realised it was bigger than they had thought.

"At that stage, we made sure that my office was linked directly to the Emergency Management agency and I was put in touch with the duty controller who under the legislation is the person who is in charge actually."

Brown said he "is certainly not going to resign" despite criticism of his early response.

"I was elected to fix Auckland and this is a giant fix-up.

"I believe that my role is in first of all making sure that we are getting the best, most efficient use of the resources that we have available, and that's what I've been concentrating on."

Even before the state of emergency, staff were making decisions right from the start on Friday afternoon, he said.

There would be an independent investigation into the response on Friday, including his own, he said.

"We want recommendations for improvement, and we will act on them.

"Everyone's going to be reviewed here. Myself, the performance of the organisation, and it needs to be kept in mind, this is unprecedented in scale and it took some time for people to understand."

He said he had also spoken to the son of the man who died in the Remuera landslide.

"This is not about me, this is about the people who are in trouble, and that's been my first call, go to where people are in trouble, go to where the emergency centres are, listen to what they want.

"Yesterday it was quite clear we had rather too much resources in some and not enough resources in others. I heard what they did and arranged for a re-balancing of that."

Brown said he agreed that climate change was the reason for the extraordinary weather event.

"As the prime minister has said, this is climate change. And I agree with him."

Speaking to Kim Hill on RNZ's Saturday Morning, Brown was asked if this was an example of climate change affecting the city.

He said it was "a bit early to jump to that".

"Let's fix things that we've got now, I'm worried about the people here and safety first, then I'm worried about the restoring of the infrastructure and then we'll be worrying about the impact on people who've lost property and we'll work our way through that. But it's a bit early for that and it's not helpful either to be honest."

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