Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke's Bay Civil Defence gives media briefing

12:14 pm on 16 February 2023

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence says its priority for Thursday is establishing contact with communities that have been isolated since Cyclone Gabrielle hit the region.

Police eastern district commander Jeanette Park passed on condolences to the whānau of the four people who have died in the region.

"It's such a big tragedy for the communities right across the eastern districts. It's just unbelievable the devastation and if you've been on the ground, myself, and when you see it, it's just hard to comprehend but we are working through it and we are working really hard.

"I've had messages nationally through to us ... I see the pain in their eyes and when you're walking through the community you see the pain in people's eyes and the heartache but we will box on, we will work through this, we are with you."

Police staff have come in from Christchurch, Tasman, and Wellington to help with the response. There are 70 staff who have flown into Gisborne and 40 into Hawke's Bay.

Civil Defence controller Ian Macdonald said the last couple of days had been extremely trying for the community and for those who have had to respond.

"I just want to assure everybody that we are pulling together the command and control and the situational awareness and starting to make some progress on a lot of the things that are causing problems for our communities."

The group coordination centre is operating 24/7 on two shifts of 12 hours each, mostly with people from the community and a few who have come from central government.

Macdonald said there were about 1900 people sheltering in Civil Defence centres overnight.

Helicopters had been working in the Hawke's Bay region from dawn until dusk on Tuesday and Wednesday, but today was quieter and the main focus would be on establishing contact with isolated communities, he said.

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said there was widespread damage to the region and Hastings specifically.

"We know that there are still people who are isolated in our rural communities and we are doing everything we can to reach them.

"We have to respect that power will be resumed to everyone in time, and please look out for each other. If you don't need to be on the roads we have still a lot of flooding, a lot of widespread damage with trees down - we're getting to these things but it's going to take time so we just ask for your patience. We ask for your love and passion to be able to help each other and be able to care for each other.

"This is about our communities standing up, standing together, and we will get through this."

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chair Hinewai Ormsby said about 160 people had been sheltering at Waiohiki marae Wednesday night after already being evacuated.

At a ground level, there had been a lack of communication and many people have been unable to get help but rescue crews have been working hard to help people, Ormsby said.

She had declared a regional state of emergency early on Tuesday morning immediately before evacuating her own house.

"My message really to Hawke's Bay is kia kaha, be strong, we will take it a day at a time for a very long recovery period but we will get there together. And also a message to the rest of Aotearoa is all the help that you can provide to us will be absolutely appreciated."

Medical care

Elective surgeries, endoscopy services, and outpatient appointments in some places are cancelled in Hawke's Bay for Thursday and Friday.

Te Whatu Ora says affected patients are being contacted and offered a telehealth appointment or rebooked as soon as possible.

Outpatient appointments in Napier, Hastings, Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay are cancelled.

Three acute theatres and radiology are operating at Hawke's Bay Hospital in Hastings, and urgent clinics are open in Napier and Hastings.

Te Whatu Ora understands people are worried about the whereabouts of loved ones, however, people should not to come into the Hawke's Bay Emergency Department unless seeking urgent medical care.

Te Whatu Ora interim national medical director Pete Watson told Morning Report they were having to reduce non-urgent care and prioritise urgent care because not all staff could be at the hospital due to the weather-related problems, such as transportation.

They were working with agencies to ensure they continued receiving the required supplies, such as oxygen supply, blood supply and medical supplies, he said.

Some primary care services have also been impacted by the weather, but if people in those areas need medical care, they can make their way to evacuation centres where they will be supported to go to a medical centre or the hospital.

St John operations manager Brendon Hutchinson said the ambulance crews went above and beyond and were able to get to everyone they needed to apart from some who had to wait until morning.

"We're fully resourced... some areas are hard to get to and we just need people to - if they need an ambulance - please ring 111. We will get to you. It might be by various means but we'll work alongside FENZ, Defence Force and police."

He said they had 70 crews on the ground at the moment and would be relieved by more crews coming on this afternoon.

Roads and transport

There is significant damage to the roading infrastructure. Waka Kotahi is working to restore access as quickly as possible. Priorities are the expressway and access to the Whirinaki township north of Napier.

State Highway 51 - Napier-Hastings through Clive - is open to the public. Waka Kotahi has also confirmed the expressway (SH50) will open from Pakowhai north towards Napier within the next 24 hours.

Fernhill Bridge is still closed. At least 15 bridges are closed.

"We have six bridges across the region that are devastated. So in terms of our connectivity and connection between the region is absolutely critical and it is wonderful to have the Napier-Hastings connection up and running," Hazlehurst said.

The Waitangi Bridge at Awatoto in the Hawke's Bay is open to regular traffic, but emergency vehicles and supply trucks will be prioritised.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council says delays in crossing the bridge are likely due to it being the only open Napier to Hastings connection.

It says people are expected to travel into Hastings because it has at least six petrol stations open, while access to fuel is limited in Napier. Fuel supplies in Napier are expected to be restocked in the next two days and more petrol stations will be connected to generators.

The rail corridor between Palmerston North and Napier and Napier to Wairoa is down "and will be out for quite some considerable time, particularly north of Napier".

Macdonald told Morning Report a flight over Wairoa on Wednesday had determined that a large amount of work would be needed before it could be connected to Napier from the south and there were also issues with access from the north due to road damage in the Tairāwhiti region.

Wairoa and supplies

Civil Defence controller Ian Macdonald said Wairoa was a real area of concern. Teams were up there yesterday and have gone in today to establish communications. NEMA is coordinating the delivery of supplies into Wairoa.

"Some good news there also - we understand from Foodstuffs that they have adequate food in Wairoa and that they are able to deliver food by Gisborne within the next 12 to 24 hours."

Supplies are being delivered to isolated communities from Wednesday and this will ramp up over time.

"We are actually in the process of establishing a warehouse system whereby we can have food come in, the food can be packaged and then the food can be delivered. We're working on that as we speak and we've identified a facility and that's starting to happen now," Macdonald said.

He said it was relief at a macro-scale rather than micro-scale so food and water would be delivered at a community level.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said: "For the Napier community I know that food supplies are starting to run low - thankfully we have got State Highway 51 open and we know that supplies are on their way. Supermarkets have either got generators in place already or we are getting generators for those that need them.

She encourages people to go buy supplies if they need to, but only get enough for a couple of days so there is enough for everyone.

"Also head along to our centennial hall evacuation centre if you need assistance there."

She said she travelled on the recently reopened SH51 to reach the media briefing this morning, but asked anyone who did not need to be travelling the road to avoid it.

Water situation

The wastewater treatment plant in Hastings is operating, however Napier is still compromised.

"Please continue to conserve water where possible," Macdonald said.

Wise said water should be conserved. Drinking water is safe but "in terms of everything else, don't flush the toilet unless it's absolutely necessary, no showers please or just very quick ones or a sponge bath ideally".

Power and communication outage and fuel supplies

Officials are planning to get an 0800 number set up but with the problems with connectivity at the moment it is not the highest priority.

Power is still out across much of Hawke's Bay due to the flooding of the Red Cliff substation. As of 9am, enough power was being generated to supply 90,000 homes and this was being supplied to homes and businesses where possible.

Macdonald said it would still be up to a week before power can be fully restored across the region.

"Please be patient as crews work hard in really difficult situations to restore power."

It could be days before power was restored in Napier, so people should reach out to neighbours if they need a way to cook food, for example on barbecues, Wise said.

Napier port has reported minimal damage to its infrastructure. Shipping will resume on Friday following safety assessments.

The fuel situation is improving, and generators have been given to some fuel stations. One at the BP distribution point means the fuel at that facility can be distributed to fuel stations, which is happening now.

"We also expect tankers to be able to arrive into Hawke's Bay via the port over the next day or so."

LPG gas is in good supply and home deliveries are starting to recommence as roads are cleared.

'Large number of people unaccounted for'

Hundreds of people have been saved since the region was flooded on Monday, but Fire and Emergency received more than 180 more calls for help on Wednesday.

Police commander Park said there had been 3000 reports nationally of people who were unable to be contacted, 200 of whom have been located.

"We've got a team working on this, there's a lot of multiple reports in this - people who have rung several times ... so what we ask please is that if you have reported this through we are aware of it and we are working through that.

"If you have through your own enquiries [found them] ... can you please advise police. So, you can report that online... the 105 number, or police stations."

Wise said there was very limited communication channels for Napier - internet and cellphones - and if people were unable to get hold of their loved ones it was more than likely because the communication networks were down.

FENZ acting district manager Glen Vercoe said Fire and Emergency were working in extreme conditions and their own health and safety was at risk when the cyclone first hit.

"Of prime importance for them was to try and save the lives of the community that were requesting help ... we had a lot of calls and a lot of people we couldn't access which put that extra strain on our staff. We've called in extra support."

Napier-based urban search and rescue (USAR) specialist Ken Cooper has led national and international missions, and says people are still being rescued from their properties.

He told Morning Report he was going door to door yestereday and discovered people who had been stuck.

"We're finding people have moved to the roof voids of their properties, so we are still, at this moment, rescuing people from their properties and there are a large number of people unaccounted for.

"We'll split Hawke's Bay up into sectors so we're going back into Bay View, Esk View this morning. I want to prioritise myself that I have visited every single property to ensure that if there is people still needing rescue we will effect that today."

He said they had 60 specialist urban search and rescuers from all over the country. Those who had been in Auckland and Tairāwhiti had been redeployed to Hawke's Bay because the immediate threat to life in those areas had now passed.

"They had significant damage ... however, the life risk in terms of what urban search and rescue are specialists for, there's no requirement for us to be now in Tairāwhiti, however fire and emergency is continuing to support that district."

He said Hawke's Bay was facing several challenges.

"There's no internet connection, there's no cellphone coverage or very limited cellphone coverage, very limited power and very regular power cuts and power to main services such as lifelines, such as fuel, supermarkets.

"The community is really being tested for its resilience and certainly for us that's why we at Fire and Emergency we've brought in a really significant number of assets, urban search and rescue, to get to work and really bring this event, give it the attention it needs."

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.
  • 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.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • If you don't need to evacuate, support those who do by staying home, staying off roads and staying safe.
  • If you are not able to contact your whānau in the heavily affected areas go to Police 105 website and complete the inquiry form or phone 105 and remember to update if you reconnect through other means.
  • Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater as it is often contaminated and can make you sick.
  • If you are without power eat the food from your fridge first, then your freezer. Then eat the food in the cupboard or your emergency kit.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services.
  • A National State of Emergency is in place for an initial period of seven days and applies to regions that have declared a local State of Emergency.

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