26 Nov 2023

Flooding in Tai Rāwhiti, Wairoa: infrastructure and welfare checks underway

2:47 pm on 26 November 2023
Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz (front) says two major bridges in Gisborne are being checked thoroughly for damage, and roads will need to be closed so flood debris can be cleared from them.

Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz (front) says roads will have to be closed as heavy machinery is needed to clear the debris from around Gisborne city's two main bridges, as residents hope to see the waters recede. Photo: Supplied/ Gisborne District Council

Water levels are now dropping and bridges and roads are being inspected in Tai Rāwhiti and northern Hawke's Bay, where flooding has followed three days of heavy rain, and people are being asked to stay off the roads.

More than 300mm of rain fell between Friday and Sunday in some parts of areas of the Wairoa area: "isolating rural communities and closing more than 20 roads, the Wairoa District Council said.

"River and surface flooding have impacted the township and immediate surrounding areas," welfare checks were being carried out, and the council urged anyone who felt unsafe to call 111.

In the East Coast-Tai Rāwhiti region, rain gauges recorded between 100 and 150 millimetres of rain in some places.

Numerous roads were closed in both Tai Rāwhiti and northern Hawke's Bay due to slips and flooding, and Waka Kotahi earlier asked motorists to avoid unnecessary travel and warned people not to drive through surface flooding.

Part of State Highway 2 was closed between Napier and Wairoa, with motorists asked to use Awamete Road, following a fatal crash. One person died and another was seriously injured after colliding with a slip on the highway, police said.

Work was underway to partially clear the slip so that one lane could reopen.

Both regions were already saturated before this rain set in, due to significant downpours just two weeks ago.

Gisborne-Tai Rāwhiti

In Tai Rāwhiti, among the infrastructure inspections being carried out, were checks on two major bridges in Gisborne city, the William Pettie and Gladstone Road bridges.

"While the integrity of both bridges is solid, the bigger concern is to mitigate any upstream flooding of low lying dwellings," Gisborne District Council posted in an update. It hoped to do most of the work on Sunday, but said some work and road closures could carry over into Monday.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said flood debris had built up around the two bridges' supports, which would have to be cleared from the high river.

"It is a huge piece of work, we will have to have massive traffic management in place as you can imagine - that's our two main bridges. So we're also asking people - please, it is a good day to stay home," Stoltz said.

At about 6am on Sunday Tai Rāwhiti Civil Defence said the Waipaoa River level was creeping up to 7m. And anyone in a low lying area or anyone who felt unsafe should evacuate, taking their whānau with them as well as pets and pet food supplies. Everyone else in the area should be prepared to evacuate if the river level reaches 7.5m.

But just after midday on Sunday, a Gisborne District Council live feed of the Waipaoa River at Kanakanaia Bridge at Te Karaka showed the water level had almost fallen to 5m.

Flooding on Saturday in Gisborne city.

Flooding on Saturday in Gisborne city. Photo: Supplied/ Gisborne District Council

"There's good news and bad ... river levels across the region are dropping, which is great news, and the rain is abating,"

Tai Rāwhiti Civil Defence said in a midday update.

"However, Tairāwhiti is fragile. There is risk of land movement with the likelihood of slips and drop outs on the roading network.

"There is lots of surface water around. Don't try to walk, play, swim or drive in floodwater - it is often contaminated so steer clear of it. Stay safe out there - we aren't quite out of the woods yet."

They asked people to keep an eye out for any movement around their homes and report any concerns to Gisborne District Council on: 0800 653 800.

The Waipaoa River level at Kanakanaia Bridge at 7.45am on Sunday 26 November.

The Waipaoa River's level at Kanakanaia Bridge at 7.45am on Sunday 26 November. Photo: Supplied/ Screengrab from Gisborne District Council live feed

Te Karaka Area School was opened during the morning for anyone needing somewhere to go and as the headquarters for iwi response team Mahaki Tiaki Tangata.

"Tairāwhiti Emergency Management and Māhaki Tiaki Tangata are closely watching the levels. We will update people as the situation changes," Tai Rāwhiti Civil Defence said.

More than 300 people were without power in the Gisborne District on Sunday morning, including north of Hicks Bay, Tauwhareparae, Tiniroto, Ruakituri, Te Reinga and Gisborne city. Power company Firstlight Network said crews would be out making repairs through Sunday.

Gisborne District Council said some flooded roads had "culverts blocked and roadside drains full", and also reiterated the call to stay home - including a plea for "no rubbernecking"

Wairoa flooding

In Hawke's Bay, flooding was affecting parts of the Wairoa area after heavy rain overnight and an emergency response had been activated, Wairoa District Council said early on Sunday.

Well-being checks were being carried out in areas affected by the flooding, including in the North Clyde area, by a Wairoa Civil Defence recovery team.

An evacuation centre had been opened at the War Memorial Hall on Queen Street for anyone who need shelter.

On Sunday morning, Wairoa District Council said the Wairoa River had flooded in some areas, and surface flooding was affecting other areas. About twenty roads were closed mid-morning Sunday.

"This substantial rainfall has resulted in higher river levels in the Mangapoike Stream, which has reached the 20-year return period levels. This water is now coming into the Wairoa River. Levels at Marumaru appear to have levelled off in the past couple of hours.

"There is some surface flooding on SH2 between Wairoa and Nuhaka near the Latter Day Saints Chapel at Nuhaka and across the road at Whakaki."

A boil water notice was also in place for Wairoa's Mahanga and Tuai areas.

Heavy rain warning was extended to late Sunday morning

Earlier on Sunday, a MetService heavy rain warning was extended until late in the morning for Tai Rāwhiti-Gisborne and the Wairoa District of Hawke's Bay, with forecasters warning it might ease then intensify. But the warning had lapsed by early afternoon on Sunday.

"Further rain is still likely to fall today, but it is not expected to have any additional significant impacts on the district." Wairoa District council said on about midday.

The heavy rain began on Friday, up to 180mm had been forecast to fall until early Sunday morning for some areas, and another 40mm of rain was then forecast in the extended warning period.

Where to find out more

If you are unsafe, call 111.

Anyone in Tai Rāwhiti can sign up here for text message civil defence warnings from the region's Emergency Management office.