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Live: Child among four dead in cyclone destruction; 1442 people 'uncontactable'- 'grave fears' for some; 160,000 without power

Raphael Franks, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Feb 2023, 7:04am

Live: Child among four dead in cyclone destruction; 1442 people 'uncontactable'- 'grave fears' for some; 160,000 without power

Raphael Franks, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Feb 2023, 7:04am

Four people - including a young child - have been confirmed dead following Cyclone Gabrielle’s path of destruction - and police say they have “grave fears” for at least several others. Police said today that 1442 people had been listed as uncontactable - while they expect this list to drop dramatically, there are fears for some missing people in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.

Police said the body of a young person was located in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay, shortly before 2pm today. The child is believed to have been caught in rising water yesterday. The age of the child has not been released.

This fourth confirmed death follows the recovery this afternoon of the body of a volunteer firefighter from a landslide in Muriwai early this afternoon. Two other people have died in Hawke’s Bay - a woman was killed in a landslip on a rural property in Matahorua Rd, Putorino, yesterday and a body was located on the shore in Bay View, Napier, last night.

“Police extend their condolences to the families of those who have died and continue to make enquiries into the circumstances,” police said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

Police said 1442 people had been registered via the 105 online reporting form as “uncontactable”. There are 111 reports of people now safe.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said State Highway 51, a crucial road between Napier, Clive and Hastings, reopened at 8pm following an assessment by engineers.

The state highway is one of two vital links that connect Napier and Hastings, Waka Kotahi journey manager for Hawke’s Bay Andre Taylor said.

”The cyclone had left a lot of surface flooding and debris along the road. Our contractors have worked tirelessly to ensure the road is cleared of debris and safe to travel on.

 “While the road is open, it’s really important that road users use it only for essential travel for the time being, and drive to the conditions. Much of the road will be under a 30 km/h temporary speed limit and there will be stop/go traffic management in place between the Clive River Bridge and Farndon Road, just north of the bridge.”

State Highway 50, the Napier-Hastings Expressway, remains closed but Taylor said contractors would likely be in a position to start clearing debris from tomorrow morning.

 “The vast majority of reports are from Eastern District (Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti) alone, with the remainder from across the North Island,” said police. “The numbers include duplicate reports of the same person reported uncontactable by different people. While we expect a large number of the reports to be the result of communication lines being down, police can confirm there are several people missing in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti areas, for whom we have grave concerns.”

Community fears are growing of multiple deaths in one of the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Gabrielle - with coastal residents of Napier’s Bay View claiming they saw several bodies washed away by raging flood waters.

As search crews in Hawke’s Bay continue to try and get to people stranded by the floodwaters created by Cyclone Gabrielle, residents of Bay View and nearby Esk Valley - which had areas decimated and parts of it remaining underwater - spoke of their fears of more fatalities. One man said a relative had seen multiple bodies floating in water near Bay View. Another - who lives in a property on the Bay View shoreline – said other locals had told him they had seen the same thing.

Police are now pouring more officers and staff into Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.

“With other storm-affected districts reporting they are able to manage their response within existing resources, Police National Headquarters is now focused on critical support for Eastern District,” said the police statement. “We are redeploying more than 70 staff from Bay of Plenty, Central, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury and Southern districts, as well as the Royal New Zealand Police College, to Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti over the next 48 hours.”

Police yesterday deployed 12 Search and Rescue specialist staff to assist with recovery efforts in the district. The additional staff would support recovery efforts and provide community reassurance.

“We are aware that many of our staff in the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne areas have themselves been affected by the storm, but they have continued to work hard to support rescue efforts, manage road closures, and make contact with isolated people,” said police. “Communications into and out of the area continue to be challenging, however, as telecommunication services start to come back online, police anticipate an increase in the number of reports of missing people, found people, damage to property, and demand for basic resources such as food, water, and fuel.”

In Auckland and Northland, police said, the focus continued to be supporting the ongoing recovery. “Police are continuing to carry out reassurance patrolling throughout the regions and in affected areas. Police urge anyone concerned about friends and family to try their usual methods of communication first, whether that’s a phone number, email, social media or a pre-planned emergency meeting place. When all means of contact have been exhausted, anyone with genuine concerns for a person’s safety is asked to provide as much information as possible via the 105 online form.

“We continue to urge those who can to call 111 if they are in immediate danger.”

Meanwhile, dozens of residents of a Northland town are being urged to evacuate amid fears of rising rivers and floodwaters whipped up by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Dargaville is bracing for a fresh surge of floodwater which emergency services have been told will likely breach the sea wall protecting the town.

Fire and Emergency NZ Northland district manager Wipari Henwood said expert hydrologist advice was that a surge of water was coming down Wairoa River from Tangowahine, arriving as the high tide was beginning to build.

Henwood said the surge was estimated to be 5.6 metres which would breach the sea wall. He said residents alongside the river were being evacuated and town centre businesses had been asked to sandbag their shops and leave.

Henwood said a second surge was also expected overnight from the Mangakahia River although estimates were less precise in that case

Kaipara District Council said residents of the Mangawhare area along River Rd, Victoria St, Logan St and side streets, as well as Finlayson Park Avenue, are being strongly advised to evacuate on Wednesday afternoon.

“The latest hydrology report we have just received gives us new information on expected peak river flows into Dargaville area, with a risk of flooding starting from 6pm tonight and again around 8am tomorrow. Council staff and emergency services are in the area door-knocking and assisting with the evacuation. If you need to go to an evacuation centre, we are set up at Holy Trinity Anglican Church 58 Hokianga Road.”

At least 10,500 people are already displaced from their homes across the North Island, including 9000 across Hawke’s Bay and 3000 people are sheltering in Civil Defence centres. People are struggling today to come to terms with the incredible loss of life, property, animals, roads and crops. More than 300 residents have been rescued from rooftops and waters since floods inundated the region, cutting off roads, bridges and isolating communities.



‘A toll beyond property and livelihoods’

Speaking today, prime minister Chris Hipkins said a better picture of the damage and devastation from Cyclone Gabrielle is now emerging.

“What is clear is the devastation is widespread and has taken a toll beyond property and livelihoods,” Hipkins said.

Energy Minister Megan Woods said was a widespread impact on electricity - since yesterday 60,000 households had power restored but 160,000 homes are still without power.

“There are still high winds in some places with blocked roads making restoration unsafe at this point.”

Woods said a range of issues took down the local networks - such as flooding of substations and high winds bringing down poles.

Woods said there were still 60,000 in Hawke’s Bay without power, but recent access to the Redcliffe substation could help that.

Woods said there were efforts to get crews up to Northland to restore electricity, and she had asked retailers if they could help with engineers and technicians to get power restored.

“This is significant even with a level of damage to infrastructure that we have not seen since Cyclone Bola.”

She said it could be frustrating and upsetting for people, and did not know how long it would take.

Woods said 564 households in Auckland were accessing emergency accommodation, elsewhere it was not yet known how many would be long-term displaced.

She said it would be more than after the Christchurch earthquake: “and that was not insignificant.”

She said the number using emergency accommodation was the best measure of that. “We are not underestimating the challenge.” She said that in Christchurch temporary accommodation was built to house people while their houses were rebuilt.

Photo shows horse stranded on roof

One staggering aerial photograph of a horse stranded on a building in flooded Hawke’s Bay sparked a desperate bid by animal lovers across New Zealand to rescue the stricken animal. The photograph, shared by the New Zealand Equestrian Scene Facebook page, shows the animal on the roof of a building on Dartmoor Road in Puketapu, beside the Tutaekuri River.

Sadly about 2pm, New Zealand Equestrian Scene announced “with profound sadness” the horse on the roof had died.

“I can’t stop crying,” one woman wrote on seeing the image, which also shows another horse on a bank beside the flooded paddock that has consumed the building.

Aerial images show horse trapped on a roof after flooding in Hawke's Bay

Aerial images show horse trapped on a roof after flooding in Hawke's Bay

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazelhurst said families across the country are growing frustrated and upset over a lack of information surrounding the condition of their lost loved ones. “We’re telling people, just give us a chance and we will get to everybody,” she said.

Power is still out across the region, a main transformer in Napier is completely submerged by water and telecommunications are down. Spark is urgently sending satellite units to reconnect the region.

Coromandel locals are still largely cut off from the rest of the country - with land instability compromising its entire roading network.

Civil Defence confirmed a number of houses on the coast have already been red-stickered, power is still out in most of the region and the New Zealand Defence Force is surveying the district.

Domestic flights resumed across the country as of 6.30am, but airline scheduling disruptions are still likely.

The Defence Force has released incredible images of residents being plucked from their rooftops in Esk Valley, near Napier. Homes and properties were completely swamped in the area. The Defence Force said three NH90 helicopters were used to rescue people from their homes.

Aerial photographs released by Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence show Wairoa has been completely isolated, with homes underwater. There are fears the town has supplies for only one more day - authorities are striving urgently to build communication and transport channels with the town.

Wairoa’s river burst its banks, inundating 10-15 per cent of the town which is home to around half of the town’s 8000 population. With no power or phones, the only communication is via satellite phone. Wairoa council used Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites to make contact. The area faces “severe challenges”, it said.

On Auckland’s west coast, people were told to stay away from the devastated settlement of Muriwai where the volunteer firefighter went missing after a slip fell on a flooded house being assessed late Monday night.

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