Residents of rural communities around Napier and Hastings have told officials at a meeting on security after Cyclone Gabrielle that locals are scared, sleepless and armed.
Police Minister Stuart Nash, local mayors and eastern district police commander Superintendent Jeanette Park heard stories of intruders and would-be looters scoping out damaged, stickered homes.
More than 200 people turned out to a meeting at Crab Farm Winery at Bay View on Monday night to share their experiences and ask for help.
In front row seats were police minister Stuart Nash, Eastern district police commander Superintendent Jeanette Park, Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise and Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, as well as opposition MPs.
Louise Parsons of Whirinaki, who organised the meeting, said everyone had been devastated, even those like her whose houses were still standing.
"We're all feeling unsafe."
She said the meeting was not to seek an immediate response from officials, but to put the ball in their court.
Residents spoke of encountering intruders.
One man said an someone had been in the bedroom and living room in his home, and had shone a torch into the children's room at about 1am on Saturday.
Some felt unsafe over what appeared to be would-be looters scoping out their properties.
A resident was shaken to see motorcyclists videoing property outside his home, while a woman said it was disconcerting that patched gang members were walking up her street.
"Ultimately everyone's scared, no one's sleeping properly," another said.
The meeting applauded a speaker who praised frontline police for doing a "fantastic job" but there were calls for more to be done.
Residents said they had been doing most of the security work themselves, taking it in turns to sit in cars throughout the night and keep watch in vulnerable neighbourhoods with stickered homes.
Some said arming themselves was the only way they felt safe.
"A lot of people are armed, and you're dreaming if you think we're not," one man said.
They wanted a more structured, rigorous approach to safety and crime - bringing in Defence Force staff, curfews, and patrolling hard-hit areas to ensure resident-only access.
Spike in reports of suspicious activity
Superintendent Jeanette Park told Morning Report crime data was tracking the same as it was prior to the cyclone.
However, there had been a spike in reports of suspicious activity since the cyclone.
"I fully understand people are feeling so vulnerable ... they've been devastated through our communities.
"The main thing is that people report through to us what they're seeing and what they're hearing because I want them to feel safe."
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who had downplayed reports on crime after the cyclone, said his comments were made because he had been receiving out-of-date information from police.
"I would have preferred to have had more up-to-date information, but I'm absolutely confident on the advice police are giving us now,"Hipkins said on Tuesday.
Park said in the eastern district in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning police received 18 reports of suspicious activity, mostly in Hawke's Bay.
Staff were following up each report, and there have been cases where vehicles had been traced and turned out to have been people driving around just to look at the devastation.
Louise Parsons told Morning Report people were reporting crime, such as the theft of a generator from a flood-hit house while the occupant was out helping other people.
What the meeting was asking for was more protection, she said.
"They're breaking into houses where they know there's no people, there because they've had to relocate, and they're taking things."
Sending the military into the area straight away would have been a deterrent and made the community feel safe, she said. "It would have avoided a lot of heartache out here."