15 May 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Karekare residents call for clarity on recovery works

5:55 pm on 15 May 2023
Slips, house damage in Karekare in West Auckland caused by Cyclone Gabrielle

Many Karekare residents have left their homes, 13 of which remain red-stickered in the Auckland west coast settlement. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

More than three months on since Cyclone Gabrielle, residents in a West Auckland settlement are calling on officials to provide clarity on recovery works.

Earlier this year, Karekare was badly battered by the cyclone, which destroyed houses and restricted access to many of the coastal communities.

For a time, supplies were dropped into area by helicopter, as residents cleaned slips on blocked roads throughout the valley.

Now, many residents have left their homes, 13 of which remain red-stickered by council.

Among them is a bach owned by Rick Starr, who said the community had been remarkably resilient in the face of disaster.

"We have faced things with houses sliding down the hill, near loss of life, a road that has virtually disappeared," Starr said.

Central government's categorisation of cyclone-affected houses was good for the community in the long run, but the execution was lacking, he said.

"It will save money, and it will save lives over the long term, but in the meantime, at the execution level, we are seeing some shortfalls."

The government wanted a coordinated approach to recovery when many of the existing systems were not set up that way, he said.

For example, the government's housing categorisation marked properties from one to three in terms of the extent of damage and habitability, with three being uninhabitable.

However, this was different from Auckland Council's rapid building assessment placarding system, which stickers houses white, yellow, and red in terms of damage.

Slips, house damage in Karekare in West Auckland caused by Cyclone Gabrielle

One resident says they hope for an outline about which agency is expected to be responsible for what part of the recovery. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

Starr said the community was lacking guidance from officials when it came to recovery work.

"This is going to have to be some shared responsibility including property owners, the council, central government, EQC, and insurers, and suddenly, when you have at least five parties involved, who is responsible for what gets to be a difficult question."

In a statement to RNZ, a spokesperson for Auckland Minister Michael Wood said they were working to provide assurance and certainty to residents.

"We know it is stressful for residents waiting to hear about the future of their properties and I want to assure people we are doing all we can to move through this process as quickly and effectively as we can."

Another Karekare resident, who RNZ agreed not to name, said council timelines on recovery work had been unreliable, and coordination errors resulted in a major issue for them and their property.

Their house was initially white-stickered, and incorrectly loaded on council files as yellow, before being corrected back to white.

"We received a yellow sticker notification through email, that meant we kicked in support mechanisms available to us, including insurance and getting assistance in moving to another house outside of the area," they said.

Slips, house damage in Karekare in West Auckland caused by Cyclone Gabrielle

A Karekare resident says they want to hear from council on potential rezoning. Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

The error had left them in "limbo-land", the resident said.

They wanted to hear from council on potential rezoning for residents, saying they felt the issue was "being kicked down the road".

Auckland Council said the significant level of work being done in the region ensured robust data was being collected to inform future decisions.

In a statement to RNZ, group recovery manager Mat Tucker described the weather's impact on the city as unlike anything Auckland had ever experienced.

"We recognise that the scale of the impacts around the region has meant that some residents in Piha, Karekare and Muriwai are frustrated at the time it is taking to fully restore their communities to how they were before the cyclone."

The council had set up case managers for homeowners dealing with storm damage, and, where possible, were using recovery powers to speed up processes, Tucker said.

They expected to engage with those affected about risk assessments next month, alongside central government agencies, he said.

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