14 Feb 2023

Muriwai residents face massive cleanup of cyclone-damaged properties

7:18 pm on 14 February 2023
A house hit by a landslide in Muriwai

One of the affected properties. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Major landslides have taken out houses in the West Auckland community of Muriwai.

Power is out, people have been told to move out, and many do not know when they will be back or what will become of their homes.

It comes as Fire and Emergency continues the search for a volunteer firefighter missing after being trapped inside a house where he and others were investigating flooding.

Domain Crescent resident Nick Armstrong was lucky to emerge unscathed from a turbulent night after a slip took out another house just down the hill.

Armstrong was the first on the scene and found no one was at home.

His campervan was not so lucky, another landslide overnight sending it crashing down the driveway and into his girlfriend's car.

While Armstrong considered the motorhome a write-off, his house was largely intact.

Nick Armstrong's campervan in Muriwai, west Auckland

Nick Armstrong's motorhome is probably a write-off, he says. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

However, with slips on all sides, it was a dangerous place to remain.

"Mum and Dad have come to the rescue, so I'm going to go back to their place," he said.

He had packed a small box with a few essentials: "A couple of t-shirts, some boxers, a hat, charger, some cash - that's about it."

He said his next move would be to check in with his insurance company.

"I'm guessing it's going to be a while before we can get back and get everything sorted. It's a waiting game for now."

Not far down the road, the house Armstrong checked on in the night was set on a 45-degree angle by the force of the landslide.

Its contents - beds, tables, kitchen appliances - had burst through its shattered windows or were piled against the walls.

Damaged goods at a property in Muriwai

The damage at a property. Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

It was just one of many houses police were concerned about, prompting them to evacuate the area around Domain Crescent completely by noon.

Meanwhile, a convoy of Auckland Council building inspectors were on the scene early in the morning to gauge the safety of homes on the cliff overlooking the beach.

But with the danger of further slips too high, police decided to put a halt to assessments for the time being, and established roadblocks around much of Muriwai.

Many residents at the top of the hill had sleepless nights wondering what the storm would bring and spent the morning driving around trying to check in on family and friends.

'The whole thing wobbles'

Benji Ewens lives 50 metres from the cliff edge.

"It's just been smashing the house," he said. "We're on pylons; the whole thing wobbles.

"We're surrounded by pōhutukawa and they're all slowly falling apart.

"We moved our cars last night just to make sure they were somewhere branches wouldn't fall on them, and now all those areas are covered in branches."

Damage to trees in Muriwai in wake of Cyclone Gabrielle

Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Israil Foreman and his three children evacuated their Ngatira Road home last night, making their way along with hundreds of other Muriwai residents to the local surf club.

"It was very full," he said.

"There were people asleep on the floors, chairs, beanbags - anything they could find.

"We managed to find a couple of beds for the boys, but there were probably 400 people packed all over the place."

Like much of Muriwai, the surf club was without power, and after a couple of hours, the Defence Force began evacuating people from this temporary refuge to Waimauku War Memorial Hall and Henderson's Trusts Arena.

"The army turned up with their Unimogs and evacuated everyone within half an hour.

"At that point we thought we'd head home because we weren't forcefully needed to go anywhere."

Dylan O'Connor and his daughter Grace were among those who did make their way to Waimauku Hall throughout the day.

The hall was 5km from their home in Muriwai Valley, and with their street blocked by fallen trees and a concrete power pole, they had to complete the journey on bicycles, battling against heavy winds.

O'Connor made light of the situation: "Let's go back to the 80s and get on our pushbikes - what else can we do?"

His house could be without power for seven days, although he hoped it would be restored sooner.

Despite the long journey, he was grateful for the simple comforts the hall provided.

"We came in for a cup of tea and a bite to eat, and we're very thankful - extremely thankful."

Auckland Council's emergency management team has been asking property owners in the worst-affected parts of Muriwai to consider their own safety and stay out of their homes for the time being.

National state of emergency: What you need to know

  • The New Zealand government has declared a National State of Emergency, to assist in the response to Cyclone Gabrielle.
  • The declaration will apply to the six regions that have already declared a local State of Emergency: Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke's Bay.
  • A national state of emergency gives the national controller legal authority to apply further resources across the country and set priorities in support of a national level response.

National Emergency Management Agency advice:

  • Put safety first. Don't take any chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
  • Stay at home if it is safe to do so. But have an evacuation plan in case your home becomes unsafe to stay in.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of Civil Defence and emergency services.
  • Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater: even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles. Flood water is often contaminated and can make you sick.

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