16 Feb 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Napier residents criticise 'total disorganisation' of flood response

3:01 pm on 16 February 2023
SH2 just south of the closed bridge between Napier and Hastings. Apples are jammed between the cables where the water level used to be.

State Highway 2, just south of the closed bridge between Napier and Hastings. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Napier residents are angry at how long it has taken to restore power, internet and cellphone reception.

Civil Defence controller Ian Macdonald acknowledged the trying time Napier has had this week.

Essential services including petrol stations, supermarkets, pharmacies and doctors had all closed their doors due to the outages. The few stores that were open had lengthy queues and limited resources available.

With no power, most people could not cook food or take a warm shower. The city had also been asked to conserve water.

For many, Macdonald's briefing would have been the first communication residents have heard from officials since Cyclone Gabrielle's impact on Monday night.

Resident Sonya Christiansen said communication from officials had been poor, and many Napier residents had had no idea what was going on.

Resident Karen said it had been stressful not knowing what was happening and not being able to contact anyone.

Civil Defence has also come under fire for its lack of preparedness.

Paul Lewis had to evacuate his home, and said he and others had to sleep in their cars in a PAK'nSAVE car park due to an evacuation centre not being open.

"There were no signs to show us where to go. It's just total disorganisation."

Christensen also knew of people sleeping in their cars due to evacuation centred being full. One, she said, would not even open its gates to new arrivals.

Christiansen was also critical of Te Awa Estate's evacuation. She said there had not been any door-knocking or alert to let residents know - only a loudspeaker announcement.

Christiansen said services such as fire and police also needed to be better at communicating with locals.

Most in Napier have also been unable to work this week. Chelsea said her company had given her the option to work from home if she could, but without power and interest she had been unable to work at all.

Caleb said he could not reach the orchard he works on.

Some residents have described the state of affairs as "worse than Covid", with even essential services unable to operate.

During the media briefing today, Macdonald said enough power was now being generated to supply 90,000 homes in Hawke's Bay. But he said it would still be at least a week before power was fully restored to the region.

Civil Defence has also said it could be two weeks before power is restored to Napier.

Meanwhile, the fuel situation is improving, with some petrol stations now having generators.

Hope State Highway 2 could be reopened soon

Waka Kotahi says State Highway 2 between Hastings and Napier may reopen as early as Thursday evening.

This follows checks on the Ngaruroro River bridge and debris being cleared.

Until then, there is no easy way through.

The route that reopened Wednesday night, State Highway 51 - nearer the coast - was busy Thursday morning, according to motorists - but then had to shut again.

Mark Owens of NZTA said this was due to the closure of Waitangi Bridge, just north of Clive.

"They've got concerns about that, so we've had to close that for safety reasons.

"We know this puts pressure on access between Napier and Hastings, so our team are absolutely focused on trying to clear the expressway of all the debris and stuff, and hopefully we will be able to open that soon."

Another agency spokesperson said the Waitangi Bridge checks may have to wait till low tide tomorrow.

Owens said another priority was restoring access to Wairoa. Wairoa mayor Craig Little earlier said it appeared the highway north to Gisborne was opening, and a couple of supermarket trucks would get through today.

But Waka Kotahi said the highway remained closed both north and south of Wairoa to Napier.

Foodstuffs got groceries through to Gisborne on Thursday on a police-escorted convoy from Ōpōtiki.

"All trucks arrived Gisborne," its supply chain team emailed RNZ earlier.

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