22 Aug 2022

Watch: PM Jacinda Ardern surveys flood damage in Nelson - 'It is devastating'

11:45 am on 22 August 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the team assessing the flood damage in Nelson are working very quickly to try and get people safely back into their homes.

Watch PM Jacinda Ardern speaking here:

Some people in flood-torn Nelson have been told their homes are unliveable with hundreds of homes still awaiting assessments.

The city remains in a state of emergency and is facing a monumental clean-up ahead.

Ardern says having seen the extensive damage around residential and knowing there is equally extensive damage in rural areas, it's clear the mayoral relief fund will need additional money added to it.

She says Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty will be travelling to Marlborough today to talk to the mayor about the needs there.

"But we are expecting to stand up the mayoral relief fund there today as well. This is going to be a long recovery. The mayoral relief fund is just a discretionary pot of money that allows for immediate needs to be met - it will not be the quantum that is required for this recovery."

She says the government will be working with local government for some time to come, but in the immediate aftermath of the weather events there are local communities that are isolated which need to be reconnected to the roading network.

She says the team on the ground is still in the process of assessing the damage, "working very very quickly to try and get people safely back into their homes ... this is just on the cusp of response and recovery stage, and we have more weather to come".

The mayoral relief fund is used for things like getting contractors in immediately. The full cost will come over time, Ardern says, but the government will support local government.

She says of all the conversations she's had today, everyone she's spoken to has accommodation - and the government wants to ensure that remains the case.

Anyone who made the decision to leave should register with the emergency management team.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese says they're working through assessing more than 400 homes, about half of which have been completed.

"The geotechnical advice through this process is critical, we've been up today looking at properties where there's still a lot of water seeping through slip faces, and we need things to dry out more before we can get in and do further assessment."

Reese says more rain could delay things further.

Most people in the area have been accommodated by friends and family.

"It just reinforces to me why community resilience is important, and we've built those networks - everyone is looking out for their neighbours and that's a great thing, but long term we're going to have people out of their homes and that's going to be a big challenge for us."

She says it's going to be a challenge into the future to find homes for the people displaced.

"This is a region where we do have a number of holiday homes available and we may just have a discussion about whether we can bring those forward if we need accommodation for people."

She says the main water main has been out since very early in the event but assessing the damage to the pipeline is made challenging by the instability of hillsides.

"But water conservation remains a priority for us in this region."

Reese says if people can work from home and if they don't need to travel, "please don't, it's slowing down our emergency response and it's a particular concern for our ambulance service".

On the roading network, Ardern says there are particular concerns about State Highway 6.

McAnulty says the advice at the moment is that road will remain closed for a little while.

"Once it's safe to deal with, it'll get cleared pretty quick. Waka Kotahi have a pretty good track record of dealing with things in an emergency but at the moment as is the case in the surrounding hills there they're just worried about the saturation.

"Even the little bit of rain that's forecast now could well make an impact - in isolation it'd be absolutely fine, you wouldn't even blink, but because of the volume of water that's come over the last week it is a worry and they can't clear the road until they've done that seismic assessment."

McAnulty says State Highway 35 on the East Cape was recently completely washed out, and Waka Kotahi had it up and running again within four days with two lanes of traffic.

"They can do that with State Highway 6 but they need that assurance that it's safe to do so first."

Ardern says she's told the expectation is the rain forecast won't be as severe as what occurred in the past week, but slips are a concern because of the sheer amount of water that's fallen in the past week.

"You see the scale of the damage and what it's done to people's homes and it is devastating. You can't imagine coming back after being evacuated in a hurry and probably fearing for your family's safety and then coming back and seeing for the first time what's happened to your family home and all your worldly belongings.

"I am again constantly reminded of just the sense of community spirit in places like this region. Everyone looking to support one another, that is what will help get us through - but so will good, consistent information. Everyone needs to know as much as they can even when that information may change because of weather events."

There are concerns about the roading network in Marlborough too, and long-term planning will need to be done for the network, she says.

"People want to know that when they go home it's going to be okay for the future."

She says the government needs to think about what can be done to lessen the impacts of climate change, as well as prepare for how that will affect communities at a local level.

"Making sure that local government has all the data they need to make planning decisions that mean communities aren't put at risk when we build new infrastructure but as you can see here it's not just about building on high ground we also have to take into account slip risk. It's not easy work, but it is necessary."

She says Cabinet today will be talking about the possibility of additional support, through the mayoral relief funds as well as for rural communities.

"This is the worst possible time - calving, lambing - the impact is huge. We're very mindful of that but we also want to make sure we're putting support in the right place and in the right way."

"At the moment we're seeing these in quick succession - how many times have we all heard the words 'one in 100-year event'? They are becoming more frequent. And that's cause for us to plan, it's cause for us to prepare."

She says there's a willingness across central and local government as well as by insurers to work together on this.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs