Cyclone Gabrielle: Why many in Muriwai can't move on

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 22 March 2023

A month on from Cyclone Gabrielle, many residents in Muriwai are still living in limbo, unable to return to their homes.

One of the land slips that has forced evacuations and red or yellow stickered homes at Muriwai.

One of the land slips that has forced evacuations and red or yellow stickered homes at Muriwai. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

"I can't look back because it's too sad. I can't look forward because it is too daunting."

Kat Corbett's Muriwai home remains out-of-bounds more than a month after the deadly impact of Cyclone Gabrielle.

"It's being so grateful for today," she says.

Some residents are being allowed to return home to live, or for restricted access, after Auckland Council last week downgraded the dangers of their stickered properties from red, to yellow or white.

But Corbett is among the 83 homeowners in the Auckland west coast community facing an uncertain future, because their properties remain red stickered, meaning they are prohibited from entering them.

Some of the properties are damaged beyond repair and their owners will eventually get an insurance payout, if they are insured. But they don't know if the payout will be enough to cover the cost of a new home in Muriwai.

"The uncertainty is enormous," says Corbett. "Everyone's situation is different. People who are mortgage-free who have worked their whole lives for their home - certainly insurance won't be able to replace what they've got and they're sitting in their 50s, 60s. It's very difficult."

Kat Corbett (left) and Jeremy Jones (right) standing together, outside.

Kat Corbett and Jeremy Jones Photo: The Detail/Sharon Brettkelly

But it's the owners of the undamaged red-stickered homes who fare worse. 

"I'm in limbo," says one owner, who doesn't want to be named. "Most of our life savings were in that property."

Life savings he may never get back - his insurer has told him there's no claim because there's no damage.

He's emotional as he sits outside his red-stickered home on Motutara Road.

"It makes me think of the past and the future. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's not," he says.

He takes The Detail into the exclusion zone to see his home from the street. There's no sign of damage, but council assessments have deemed it too risky to enter, due to three large slips nearby that wiped out neighbouring properties on the night of February 13.

He says it's too painful to talk about the night that claimed the lives of two of his fellow Muriwai Volunteer Firefighters, Craig Stevens and Dave van Zwanenberg.

"I hope the government can work with the industry to fill this hole that we didn't know about.

"We thought we'd get at least something, what we've insured our house for, but it seems this is a hole that is going to affect probably most of the 83 red-stickered homes. Most of them are undamaged."

The new natural hazards insurance law, to come into force next year, aims to address that "hole", but it may not be soon enough for the red-stickered residents of Muriwai and other parts of the country.

Another resident, Jeremy Jones, takes The Detail behind the residents-only cordon that stops visitors from coming into Muriwai.

"We're still a community that's grieving," says Jones, who has been allowed to return to his home with his family. "We're still a community that's been badly affected by this and we ask for some level of understanding of that."

Jones has been involved in setting up the Muriwai Community Emergency Group, which posts updates on its Facebook page, including details of fundraisers and meetings with the council, as well as mental health sessions to help residents cope.

"I really want to say that we have been really well supported by the local community, by our schools and organisations in the area but also the wider community of Auckland. I want to extend a huge debt of gratitude to all those people that have helped us and that are still helping us and we needed that help."

Hear more about the experiences of Muriwai residents in the full podcast episode.

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