Cyclone Gabrielle: Thames-Coromandel already facing fifth severe weather event of year

2:39 pm on 13 February 2023
Debris left by the high tide rising above the shoreline in Tairua on 12 February, 2023, as sea surges from Cyclone Gabrielle begin to be seen.

Debris left by the high tide rising above the shoreline in Tairua on 12 February, 2023, as sea surges from Cyclone Gabrielle begin to be seen. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

There is "no doubt" people have fled from Thames-Coromandel, the region's Civil Defence controller says, as it faces a fifth week of severe weather this year.

Coromandel Peninsula has a red heavy rain and strong wind warning in place until Tuesday morning due to Cyclone Gabrielle. MetService said the region could expect to see a further 250mm to 320mm of rain about the ranges on top of what has already fallen, and 100mm to 150mm about the coast.

Civil Defence's Garry Towler told Morning Report there are widespread power outages, small slips on roads, and tree falls.

"There's been surface flooding [on roads] but nothing major. We had high tide at 1am and that held, although there was some overtopping.

"We did at one stage have wind gusts in excess of 120km/h, which really stirred people up because when you get winds that strong, there's a really weird noise that goes with it."

There are two emergency operation centres operating - one in Thames and another in Whitianga - with about 150 personnel, including from emergency service partners.

Towler said there had been five severe weather events in the area this year alone.

"We've been fully activated, in terms of emergency management, for five weeks, we had two days down. It's quite exceptional, there's no doubt about that.

"Everyone is holding up so far, it's really tough, they're very storm fatigued."

The massive landslide that sliced through State Highway 25A, sweeping away part of the route from Kopu to Hikuai.

A massive landslide sliced through State Highway 25A, the route from Kopu to Hikuai, earlier this year after heavy rain. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

The consequences of that meant "there's no doubt" people had left the Coromandel entirely, he said.

"Our resident population on the Coromandel of around about 40,000 and I would guess from what we are hearing, and once again it's anecdotal, that probably that population is around about there or maybe a little bit less even from what it was and what it would normally be let's say on a normal Waitangi weekend, 200 or 300,000 people."

Early on as warnings were issued about the cyclone, those in low lying coastal areas of the Peninsula were warned they may need to self-evacuate. Towler said most that could go to friends and family from those at-risk areas had already done so, and they would be focusing on those remaining on Monday.

"We really encourage that because it's much better people are in the comfort of family and friends, than sitting in a cold hall with their own blankets and stuff. Because we can't provide motel-like accommodation for these people."

The Peninsula's east coast was seeing coastal surge and surface flooding, while on the west coast there is concerns for debris and land instability.

"This is where sections that are on hillsides, which we have many, have cracked and they've got large cracks going through the backs of their sections and so forth," Towler said.

"With our partners, Waikato Regional Council and GNS Science, we've got some really good intel on where this likely to happen and it's quite frightening."

Civil Defence was planning for more impacts on Monday night and heading into Tuesday, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs