Cyclone Pam: 'Never seen anything like it'

By Heather McCracken, Nikki Papatsoumas, Belinda Feek, Gisborne Herald staff

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The Gisborne district appears to have been spared significant damage from large seas and high winds as former tropical Cyclone Pam passed by this afternoon.

Civil Defence said the rainfall was manageable. Heavy easterly swells, estimated at 5-6m north of Tolaga Bay and 3-4m north of Gisborne, were expected to drop in size by midday tomorrow.

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At Tokomaru Bay, seawater reached up the seawall along the road to Waima and this afternoon Civil Defence considered evacuations for people living in low-lying areas at Waima.

Reports from Anaura Bay indicated waves of 5-6m and witnesses said they had "never seen anything like it before".

"Several campers who were still in freedom camping areas yesterday morning moved out after 'strong encouragement' from Gisborne police," said area police commander Inspector Sam Aberahama.

Read more:
Cyclone Pam live updates
Cyclone Pam: 40 evacuated in Gisborne

Civil Defence had reports of horizontal rain in parts of the Gisborne district today.

The worst of ex-tropical Cyclone Pam was expected to have passed over the area by 4pm today, but strong winds and light rain continue.

There was a report earlier today from Civil Defence that the Hikuwai River had gone over stopbanks at Mangatuna, north of Tolaga Bay.

"Reports of a river level more than 14m were incorrect due to faulty equipment," said Civil Defence controller Peter Higgs.

"State Highway 35 remained open at Mangatuna north of Tolaga, where the Hikuwai River got to 8m. All other rivers were well below alert levels."

Power lines came down in Hicks Bay, a house roof lifted and there were trees down at Ruatoria.

Faultmen were kept busy responding to call-outs through the day.

"Our staff restored power to 200 customers on the Mahia Peninsula and at many other isolated outages across the Gisborne/East Coast region," said Eastland Network's general manager Brent Stewart.

"We still have isolated pockets of customers in rural and coastal areas without power, but we have identified all faults and will make repairs as soon as possible.

"They are all isolated individual faults, mainly caused by falling trees."

There were no postal deliveries in Gisborne or around the region today.

People watch as huge waves crash against the historic wharf at Tolaga Bay north of Gisborne this afternoon. Photo / Alan Gibson
People watch as huge waves crash against the historic wharf at Tolaga Bay north of Gisborne this afternoon. Photo / Alan Gibson

Many shops and businesses remained closed today, perhaps as many as 60-70 per cent, because of the bad weather. All schools in the district were closed for the day.

Gisborne resident Jenny Hindmarch was one of many who donned a raincoat and braved the weather to check the state of Wainui beach.

Ms Hindmarch, who has lived just metres from the beach for 11 years said the surf wasn't too bad, and regarded it as "a typical storm".

In previous years she'd seen the sea reach the main road, SH35, but today at high tide it didn't reach over the two to three metre embankment.

She credited the council's dune restoration work which had helped keep the sea at bay.

Nori Parata, Tologa Bay civil defence spokesperson and school principal, told the New Zealand Herald this evening the rain had dissipated while the wind still had a sting in its tail.

She said 32 people were evacuated from their homes at Anaura Bay due to the risk of flooding.

All went to stay with relatives in the area.

Ms Parata said the surf did break through the dunes late this afternoon leaving debris in its wake, but the damage was not expected to be serious.

She had advised local residents not to return to their homes until advised by authorities, as there was still the surge expected by the next high tide about 3am.

The only damage in the area had been a few demolished fences and trees uprooted, which she was relatively pleased with.

"If fences down is the only damage that Pam has caused then we will get away quite lucky."

Mount Maunganui charter fisherman Russ Hawkins of Fat Boys Charters said spectacular seas were visible in the western Bay of Plenty this afternoon.

"The surf is really big...It's really huge, lots and lots of people looking out, observing Mother Nature at work," Mr Hawkins said from Marine Parade shortly before 2pm.

"It's the biggest I've seen for a long time."

Cyclone Pam caused a maximum wave height with an incoming tide to reach a monstrous 9.2m.

That would be probably be the biggest since Mr Hawkins arrived in the region in 1970.

Mr Hawkins said winds were blowing offshore now.

He said local boaties and fishermen all stayed home but he expected people to return to the water on Wednesday, when swells were expected to fall to 0.9m.

The effects of cyclone Pam on the Tolaga Bay wharf. Photo / Alan Gibson
The effects of cyclone Pam on the Tolaga Bay wharf. Photo / Alan Gibson

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence said Tauranga City Council closed the base track at Mauao (Mt Maunganui) and blocked access to Moturiki Island due to safety concerns as wild winds whipped up seas in the area.

A state of local emergency has been declared for the Chatham Islands due to the combined impact of Cyclone Pam and rural fires.

Wind gusts reached 144km/h on Great Barrier Island as Pam brushed past Auckland.

Auckland and Northland are now through the worst of the storm, which left trees toppled and thousands without power.

Auckland Civil Defence controller Clive Manley said most of the 2000 power outages had been fixed and "only a handful" of households remained without electricity.

The impact was "not as severe" as previously thought, with waves half the expected height and less rainfall.

Northland Civil Defence spokesman Tony Phipps said as of 7.15am today there were no reports of serious damage or injury following the arrival of the cyclone yesterday afternoon.

The highest rainfall between yesterday afternoon and early this morning, was 67.5mm at Glenbervie, just east of Whangarei, while the maximum wind gust recorded at Cape Reinga yesterday was 118.5km/h, Mr Phipps said.

Track Cyclone Pam in real-time here

- NZME.

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