15 Feb 2023

Tolaga Bay farmer seething as forestry slash causes floodwaters to swamp house, land again

1:32 pm on 15 February 2023
In Tairāwhiti, farmers near Tolaga Bay saw forestry slash and land damage from winds and heavy rain as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle.

In Tairāwhiti, farmers near Tolaga Bay saw forestry slash and land damage from winds and heavy rain as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Supplied / Bridget Parker

There is widespread damage to farms across the North Island with those in parts of Gisborne and Hawke's Bay particularly hard hit and forestry slash is once again a huge problem.

Tolaga Bay farmer Bridget Parker said forestry slash has caused a huge amount of damage to her farm yet again.

"It's enormous; there is silt all over the road. It's so thick you can't walk through it; there are logs as far as the eye can see. There is so many logs all the fences are down; wherever you look it's total carnage."

Parker, whose farm has been destroyed by forestry slash during storms multiple times, said they can look at forecasts for rain, wind, drought and even tides but they could not predict what was going to happen when it came to the logs.

"We don't farm logs. Their logs [the forestry companies] and their friggin' silt needs to stay inside their friggin' estate gates.

"It does not have the right to be spewed over the 3000 hectares of beautiful land that is farmed on the flats below it."

Parker said Minister for Forestry Stuart Nash needed to visit the region within the next week to answer to farmers.

"There's floodwaters everywhere, in our house, in our sheds. It's far higher than last time and we are really really struggling to cope; we're really angry."

Logs brought down onto farmland in Tolaga Bay, Tairāwhiti, as flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Some of the slash on Bridget Parker's farm. Photo: Supplied / Bridget Parker

Hawke's Bay area 'smashed'

Forestry slash has also caused issues on farms in Hawke's Bay where there was widespread flooding and slips.

Suz Bremner, who runs sheep, beef and friesian bulls along the Taihape Napier Road, said she has never seen damage like it.

"I tipped out the rain gauge this morning. It was overflowing at 170 millimetres so we don't know how much we've had.

"The power is out but from what we are hearing from people nearby is that the wider Hawke's Bay area has just been smashed."

Bremner said she went for a drive around her farm this morning to assess the damage but roads were blocked by trees while tracks have been washed away.

"Looking at some of our neighbours who have big cliff faces on their properties the slip damage is horrendous.

"We have a road through the top end of our farm and we turned down there this morning and my husband and I could not believe our eyes. The slash that had washed down through the creeks is unreal; I've never seen that before.

"I think the forestry has come down and created a dam and then during the night it's just exploded and now there's slash everywhere," she said.

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Other farmers RNZ spoke to in Hawke's Bay said they were hunkering down waiting for the worst of the weather to pass before getting out to assess the level of damage.

Fallen gum tree behind a 'beware of falling branches sign' in Mārewa, Hawke's Bay.

A fallen gum tree behind a 'beware of falling branches sign' in Mārewa, Hawke's Bay. Photo: Supplied / Paula Thomas

Coromandel farmer may have to dump milk

Coromandel has multiple road closures with access to much of the peninsula cut off.

Whitianga dairy farmer Dirk Sieling said the wind was howling last night and took down trees - with gusts of up to 120km/hr.

He said he might have to dump milk because there was no way for tankers to access his farm.

The power has been knocked out and Sieling said they were hoping it would not be out for too long, as the cows needed to be milked somehow.

"Cows are fortunately on once-a-day at the moment so we can put it off during the day and we can always ask the neighbours if they have power and we can run them through there. But yes they do need to be milked or they become very uncomfortable. We are just keeping our fingers crossed," he said.

Coromandel Federated Farmers president Rob Craw said reports were still to come in but he was anticipating significant damage on farms, given the level of damage on roads with slips, trees down and surface flooding.

A slip across the road at Sailors Grave, near Tairua, during Cyclone Gabrielle. 14/2/23

A slip across the road at Sailors Grave, near Tairua, during Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Supplied/ Leonard Powell

Call out for generators in Northland

Meanwhile, in Northland dairy farmers still without power were urgently working to source generators.

Widespread power outages means some farmers are having to walk their herds long distances to neighbouring farms to be milked.

The region's Federated Farmers president Colin Hannah said Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ were working to source generators but with widespread power outages across the North Island that was proving difficult.

"Another 62 millimetres of rain fell overnight bringing the total for the month to 416mm, so there is widespread flooding and a lot of trees down."

Todd Imeson who runs two dairy farms on the Hikurangi Swamp said he was used to his farms flooding but this was one of the worst he has experienced.

"Luckily we have power at one of our milking sheds and we have some higher areas we can keep the cows on but in order to get them to the shed they have to walk through water which is up to their bellies."

Imeson said it was still raining in Northland today but not as intensely as yesterday.

"It will take a few days for the flooding to subside, maybe five days so we will lose maize crops and some pasture.

"I think we just run on adrenaline to be honest. It won't be until the water goes away that I can kind of take a step back and assess the situation."

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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