How many billions will it cost to protect New Zealand against future weather disasters? The government is allocating extra science funding to find out.
Research, Science and Innovation Minister Ayesha Verrall was in cyclone-devastated Hawke's Bay today to announce a $10.8 million fund tagged for "urgent research", and to see the work already underway.
Good science can tell us where roads need to go, where it is safe to live, Verrall said: "Decisions about where we rebuild or where people move are complex".
"What we can do in the science system is making sure people have the best information for making those decisions, and that's part of my role."
Of the $10.8m, more than half was allocated to projects nine research institutes were taking part in. And almost $2m was ring-fenced to enable Māori communities to access science services to support decision-making.
The Harris family from Esk Valley were among hundreds of people affected by recent storms who were still waiting in limbo for decisions about where people could live.
They lost everything but their lives and the sodden clothes on their backs when a wave of water 2m high slammed into their home during Cyclone Gabrielle.
Three years of working seven days a week to build their kennel and dog boarding business was swept away in one night, Katrina Harris said.
"We go back now and we look at it and it's just total destruction and we think, how the hell did we survive this? But we did, and there were others who weren't so fortunate."
The house had been "red stickered" but it was deemed too dangerous for council staff to actually get close enough to put a physical sticker on it. It was full of tonnes of silt, had slid off its foundation and was slated to be bulldozed.
The family still did not know if they would be allowed to rebuild or whether their property would be "red-zoned".
"But insurers have also told us that if we did build there again then they wouldn't insure us for floods. So we really don't know," Harris said.
"Like a lot of other people, it's just a waiting game to see what they're going to do."
NIWA natural hazards and hydrodynamics scientist Graeme Smart said scientists could provide the data, but then it was up to councils and government to decide what to do about it.
"Unless you have a dictatorial political system you can't just bulldoze people out of the way. It's a long process. So in the short term, we have to look at getting good advice on where the threats are," Smart said.
"Secondly, how do we make people safer?"
That was going to involve early warning systems and then tough long-term decisions, including managed retreat or building higher, he said.
Hawke's Bay regional councillor Hinewai Ormsby said the council's own scientists had great support from crown research institutes in the immediate response to Cyclone Gabrielle.
"Now leading into the recovery, it's a different stage. But we still need that data to make good long-term decisions for the region, particularly in that environmental space."
The state's natural disaster insurer Toka Tū Ake EQC also welcomed the extra research funding.
However, EQC Chief Resilience and Research Officer Dr Jo Horrocks warned that houses were still being built on flood plains, close to cliff edges, at sea level, or on highly liquefiable land.
"Councils are faced with so many different competing priorities: pressure from some quarters, from developers and indeed other government priorities around housing supply - which we know is needed in this country. But it's forcing councils often into allowing development in some less than awesome places."
While the damage from the cyclone and floods were "front of mind" for people at the moment, they would forget, she said.
"Legislative change" was needed to ban building in high-risk areas and take the political heat off councils, in her view.