Towns repeatedly hit by extreme weather may have to move - PM

By Angela Gregory

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New Zealand settlements being repeatedly hit by adverse weather conditions may have to consider moving, the Prime Minister has said.

A state of civil emergency was declared in the Far North yesterday after torrential rain and violent winds caused flooding and slips, before moving south and battering Auckland and Coromandel.

Speaking in the town of Kaeo, which has been submerged under water for the second time this year, Helen Clark said such repeated severe weather events were a concern.

Miss Clark had flown from Auckland over the Kaipara Harbour to the Far North to inspect damage from the storm that has cut power and caused flooding and slips in the country's north.

When asked by the Herald whether towns like Kaeo might have to shift to safer areas, Miss Clark said there would come a point where that would have to be considered.

She said the problem was that many settlements had been established on the basis of old weather patterns, which had changed in the erratic world climate.

Miss Clark said local people would need to talk through such issues with their councils.

She said the government would provide a support package for the storm-hit region, which was expected to be bigger than the March package because the impact of the latest storm was more widespread.

The Prime Minister, accompanied by Far North mayor Yvonne Sharp and Civil Defence Minister Rick Barker, had dropped off supply packages at the Waikare Marae, near Kawakawa, on her way to Kaeo.

Slips have isolated the marae and locals have gathered there because of anticipated flooding in the area.

The parcels included items like disposable nappies, long-life milk, bananas and sweets for the children.

Road warnings

Torrential rain and winds up to 150km/h hit Auckland, the Coromandel and parts of the Waikato overnight while at Tiritiri Matangi, off the Whangaparaoa peninsula, a wind gust of 180km/h was recorded.

MetService downgraded its weather warnings this morning but wind and rain continued to lash Northland, with gale-force south easterlies in Whangarei and high winds in the Coromandel.

The army has been called into the Far North where about 50 people remain homeless and hundreds shelter in marae.

People have been urged to stay off the roads in Northland for a second day as a mammoth clean-up gets under way, with Transit, firefighters and council staff struggling to cope.

Civil Defence said many roads were unpassable because of flooding, slips and downed trees and contractors had been unable to reach many areas to signpost dangers.

Four Army Unimog trucks and a P3-K Orioin aircraft have been dispatched to help Civil Defence efforts.

Dargaville warning

Dargaville residents are being warned of possible flooding.

The town on the west coast of Northland has until now escaped the worst of the damage caused by heavy rain and strong winds yesterday and today in the region.

But a rise in the level of the Mangakahia River has brought Northland Regional Council to predict flooding when water from the river arrives in Dargaville during high tides about 9pm tonight and 9am tomorrow.

Hydrologist Dale Hansen said the river was 13.95m above normal at the Titoki Bridge early this morning.

"That's approximately a metre higher than floodwaters reached during Cyclone Bola," Mr Hansen said.

"There is also a large volume of water coming from the adjacent Wairua River system, which has coincided with the Mangakahia River peak just upstream of Tangiteroria Bridge on State Highway 14."

Information is available on Residents have been advised to listen for information on local radio or call Kaipara District Council on 0800 727059 or the regional council on 0800 002004.

Power cuts

Powerco has warned the 20,000 people without power on the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains that it could be up to three days before they are reconnected.

Operations manager Ross Dixon said veteran linemen described the conditions they were encountering as some of the worst they had seen.

Vector spokesman Keith Fitzpatrick said crews were trying to restore power to the Auckland region as soon as they could, but the outage was widespread, with some 40,000 homes affected.

Mr Fitzpatrick said most people were expected to get their electricity back late this afternoon, but some areas could be without power for another 24 hours.

A number of businesses were broken into last night as thieves took advantage of the power black out that hit 140,000 homes and companies.

Inspector Les Paterson, area commander for Takapuna on Auckland's North Shore, said seven businesses there were targeted. He did not believe they would have been the victim of break-ins in normal circumstances.

"Business owners need to think about camping out if the power has failed," Mr Paterson said.

He said there would be extra police on the streets tonight but that business owners had to take responsibility for their property.

Homes in Northland could be without power until the weekend.

Northpower network services manager Calvin Whaley said a main line on the East coast near Tutukaka was out and the full extent of damage would not be known until it had been fixed.

"It's not looking good. We've had between 10 and 11,000 customers off the supply throughout the area last night.

"Yesterday even our muscly guys couldn't put a ladder up a pole, let alone get up one," Mr Whaley said.

People in Waipu and Langs Beach, south of Whangarei, have been urged to conserve water.

The supply was running critically low as power cuts meant pumps could run to replenish the reservoir.

An estimated 1800 Top Energy customers in the Far North District are also still without power but they are expected to have it restored by the end of the day.

Telecom is using helicopters to fly generators to cell phone sites left without power by bad weather.

The storm put about 25 sites across the upper North Island out of service.

The company said helicopters would fly the generators and additional batteries to cell phone towers in Northland and Coromandel, weather permitting.

Telecom this afternoon said flooding and poor road access was making it difficult to get to some areas.

About 25,000 fixed line customers were still waiting to be reconnected.

Overseas telecommunications were also affected by the high winds in Northland, when one of two satellite dishes at the Warkworth earth station was pushed out of alignment.

Services stopped overnight included those to Niue and Tokelau and the Chatham Islands. Other islands in the South Pacific, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, Samoa, Tokelau and Solomon Islands, were able to connect to NZ through the second dish, which was still working, a Telecom spokeswoman said.

The dish was re-aligned in daylight, she said.

Medical call-outs

Doctors in flooded parts of Northland have managed to still attend to some of their patients despite electricity outages, and roads blocked by water or fallen trees.

One patient arrived at the Whangaroa Health Centre by row boat after being stranded in his vehicle for about four hours, Kaeo GP Colin Tourelle told NZ Doctor magazine.

Dr Tourelle's home has not had electricity for two days but the health centre has been relying on a generator.

"It's been pretty rough," Whangarei GP Shane Reti told the NZ Doctor.

Dr Reti said many parts of Whangarei closed down early yesterday because of power cuts and surges.

Sergeant Patrick Davis of Kawakawa police said an elderly woman on a ventilator had to be taken to hospital so she could be looked after without the threat of power cuts.

Kaitaia Health Centre had a busy night with evacuations from the local rest home and pensioner flats, practice nurse Jeanette Rupapera said.

"There's water everywhere," she said.

On the Coromandel Peninsula, GP Sandra Flooks said many people had not been able to leave their homes because of trees blocking driveways: she was 30 minutes late to work this morning because a chainsaw was needed to cut up a tree blocking her driveway.

Also on the Coromandel, ambulance crews were praised for rescuing a man from his Coromandel home after it was damaged in the storm, cutting off the power supply to his oxygen machine.

St John Ambulance officers were called to the Thames Coast Road home about 8.30pm on Tuesday, where a man had a home oxygen machine at his Tapu home for a medical condition.

The power was cut off after a tree fell on his house and ripped the roof open.

St John officers took the patient from his home to Thames Hospital, but trees blocked the road and he had to be hauled over them in a stretcher -- with the help of members of the public -- to another ambulance waiting on the other side.


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