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Live: Cyclone Gabrielle death toll rises to 11; 3000 'uncontactable' people now found; criminals take advantage of floods

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Feb 2023, 9:28AM

Live: Cyclone Gabrielle death toll rises to 11; 3000 'uncontactable' people now found; criminals take advantage of floods

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Feb 2023, 9:28AM

Cyclone Gabrielle’s heartbreaking human toll has risen to 11, with police holding “grave concerns” for up to the same number five days after the monster weather system unleashed across large swathes of the North Island.

Search teams have been scouring Whirinaki Beach, near the mouth of the Esk River, in the search for victims.

This afternoon Eastern District Commander Superintendent, Jeanette Park said more than 3000 people have been found from the 6000 reports of people who could not be contacted.

“Having been up and looked via a helicopter, the devastation is phenomenal across the district.”

A person had been lost and a body located near a river, she said.

She asked criminals who were taking advantage of the floods and stealing to put themselves in the shoes of people who had been devastated by the floods.

“It’s cruel, people shouldn’t be doing that.”

The two most recent deaths were announced by police this morning - after a body was found in a home in Onekawa, Napier and another in Crownthorpe, Hastings.

There are 5608 registered uncontactable people and 1196 reports from people registering that they are safe. Police are particularly concerned for around 10 of them, deputy police commissioner Glenn Dunbier said in a Beehive briefing.

“We triage the reports of people that are missing, and clearly those we have heightened concerns for will come to the top. It’s a small number that fluctuates day to day as we find people.”

Police are also continuing to investigate a potential 10th person who could have died as a result of the cyclone.

Search teams scour the beach at Whirinaki, near the mouth of the Esk River. Photo / Warren Buckland

Search teams scour the beach at Whirinaki, near the mouth of the Esk River. Photo / Warren Buckland

There was a strict coronial process relating to identification when a body was found, but Dunbier dismissed “rumours rife through the community” that some deaths hadn’t been made public. “As of now, everybody that has been found has been notified [to the public].”

This included 2-year-old Ivy Collins, swept off her mother’s shoulders as a young family of four tried to escape the torrent of water that swept down Esk Valley early Tuesday, and Marie Greene, 59, whose body was found in the roof cavity of her Puketapu home.

At least four others died in slips, including George Luke - father of former Kiwi forward Isaac Luke - and Muriwai volunteer firefighters Craig Stevens and Dave van Zwanenberg.

In a notice of rāhui for Hawke’s Bay: “Due to the recent Cyclone Gabrielle and the disturbance to our whenua, tangata whenua are still recovering tūpāpaku from the ‘still missing list’ from Tangaroa. We also believe kōiwi from flooded urupā have been carried through the floods to sea.

“Notice is hereby given that the Mana Ahuriri Trust has placed a Rāhui – a ban on fishing and kaimoana gathering on Te Whanga a Ruawharo - Hawke’s Bay, at least for the next 10 days.”

The notice was supported by other hapū within Te Whanga a Ruawharo.

“We ask that you respect our wishes and hereby set this Rāhui. A notice of removal will be posted in the coming days. Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council support this rāhui.”

A dedicated police team of 100 were matching up the names of those registered as safe with those on the uncontactable list. “We would encourage anyone who has not yet reported themselves as safe to go online if they’re able, to the police website, to fill out the … ‘I’m alive’ form.”

Those who’d registered missing friends and family since contacted should go back to the police website and update their earlier report, Dunbier said.

He also sounded a warning to any opportunistic criminals, with a “hard-line” promised on anyone taking advantage of the state of emergency.

“We will arrest and prosecute anyone we find doing that”, he said, noting opportunistic crime was “overwhelmingly” in the minority.

Residents of the flood-ravaged community of Puketapu fear their neighbours will start carrying weapons after recent looting. Since yesterday, several roadblocks have been in place to block access to the village.

And Vodafone boss Jason Paris said that generators are being stolen from mobile sites, cutting connectivity soon after it had been restored.

“The police are patrolling the sites & most of our @vodafoneNZ generators are GPS tracked, so we know who the perpetrators are. Times are tough, but don’t be a d***,” Paris tweeted.

Five days after the cyclone-fuelled rain and winds swept most devastatingly across the eastern North Island emergency teams were still rushing urgent food and water supplies to isolated communities.

Tairāwhiti civil defence had reached 90 per cent of their communities and planned to reach 100 per cent by the end of today, National Emergency Management Agency acting director Roger Ball said.

Gisborne’s water crisis had been fixed, with the town’s water plant back on yesterday morning after equipment from the New Zealand Defence Force arrived. In Te Puia, a health officer with supplies was being flown in.

Six hundred members of the defence force are helping with the emergency response, supported by four aircraft, seven helicopters, trucks and ships.

Eight search and rescue workers have already arrived from Australia, with another 17 expected yesterday.

Cyclone Gabrielle flooding damage in the Esk Valley, Hawke's Bay.  Herald Photo / Neil Reid

Cyclone Gabrielle flooding damage in the Esk Valley, Hawke's Bay. Herald Photo / Neil Reid

He didn’t know how many isolated communities still needed to be reached in Hawke’s Bay, but all rapid assessments would have been completed in Wairoa by the end of yesterday, Ball said.

Getting fuel to Wairoa was a priority, with BP aiming to get fuel there by road yesterday.

Cell towers were also a priority, and 90 per cent were operating in Hawke’s Bay,

80 per cent in Northland and 30 per cent in Gisborne. In Tairāwhiti Chorus was working to restore broadband over the weekend.

About 62,000 households nationally remained without power after the cyclone, 39,000 in Hawke’s Bay.

Other parts of the island are now in clean-up mode, including Northland and Coromandel, but land instability in Auckland’s West Coast communities continues to cause concern.

The risk of landslides remains high in Piha and Muriwai, Civil Defence said, with 20 home evacuated in Piha Friday night and an exclusion zone in place for a large part of Muriwai.

Money donations remained the best way for the country to show support, Ball said.

As of yesterday, generous Kiwis had donated more than $2 million to a joint Red Cross-NZME [NZ Herald parent company] disaster relief fund.

Donations can be made at redcross.org.nz/nz-disaster-fund

And yesterday, miraculous stories of survival continued to emerge, among them 81-year-old Pam Yarnold, who crocheted for comfort as her caravan floated away in the Esk Valley floodwaters.

“It was like, if I was to go I wanted to be doing something that bought me joy.”

Apple bins and downed cables saved her life, stopping and then keeping the caravan upright, Yarnold said.

“It felt like I was in this quiet pool and from what I have been told the river was just raging either side of me.”

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