By Mitchell Hageman, Doug Laing, James Pocock, Gary Hamilton-Irvine, Rachel Wise, Leanne Warr
People have been rescued, hundreds of homes have been evacuated, thousands could be without power for at least several days and major highways and bridges have been closed in Hawke’s Bay in the fury of Cyclone Gabrielle.
Hitting much harder in the region than had ever been predicted, and rivalling the impact of Cyclone Bola in 1988, the storm struck mainly overnight on Monday-Tuesday, with heavy and consistent rain and high winds.
Amid what was expended from a twin-cities state of emergency, to a regional state of emergency to a nationwide declaration, Transpower’s Redcliffe sub-station was inundated, leaving major questions about how supply could be restored, and there was a major evacuation of Taradale after the bursting of the banks of the Tutaekuri River, many hitting the road for the higher ground of Poraiti and Puketitiri Rd.
State Highway 5′s Mohaka Bridge was damaged, a central span of the one-way Brookfields Bridge between Pakowhai and Meeanee was knocked-out and a bridge over the Waikare River between Napier and Wairoa was also reported destroyed – all also reminders Cyclone Bola, which knocked-out the State Highway 2 bridge in Wairoa.
In a late afternoon statement, the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Management Group said Napier and Hastings had become isolated from each other as a result of road and bridge closures.
Flood-prone Esk Valley sank in the deluge, with at least one home being almost completely submerged, as tales emerged of people being rescued from rooftops throughout the region, including Fernhill and Omahu, and Central Hawke’s Bay, with help arriving late in the afternoon in the form of a fleet of Unimog all-terrain vehicles from the New Zealand Army’s Camp Linton.
In CHB, the Waipawa and Tukituki Rivers had topped their banks, and there was a high probability of the stop bank failing with continued rainfall, the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Management Group said. The town water supply has failed due to flooding and the community are relying on their emergency supplies.
In Wairoa, the Wairoa River had 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 was via satellite phone. There were very limited supplies of food and water with no drinking water supply due to the flooding.
Unison Networks customer relations manager Danny Gough reaffirmed that a major power cut, involving a major Transpower grid issue was still affecting more than 16,000 consumer sites, and it could last several days, if not weeks.
At the central Napier Pak ‘n Save supermarket, there were major queues as shoppers stocked up non-perishables.
The Civil Defence statement said the region was still reeling from the impacts, as Civil Defence and lifeline services “grapple to gain a full understanding of the situation with the failure of cellphone towers severely limiting information flows.”
“The situation remains dynamic with new information still coming in and emergency services still undertaking foot patrols and rescues,” it said.
Esk Valley has been particularly hard hit by the cyclone, with extensive damage. In addition to evacuation orders and self-evacuations, a number of rescues had been undertaken by emergency services, and one person remained trapped in their home in Putorino following a slip.
HB Civil Defence had requested support from the National Emergency Management Agency, with the scale of damage to infrastructure beyond the capacity of the region to manage.
Controller Iain Maxwell said the impact of the cyclone was yet to be fully understood and it is going to take some for all of the impacts to be remedied.
“Our focus continues to be on people and safety, and making sure those who have lost their homes have somewhere warm to be, food and water,” he said. “The rest of us need to be resilient, looking after ourselves, our families and our neighbours.”
“We do need people to understand that there will be a long recovery time - we’re talking weeks and months - following what is an unprecedented natural disaster.”
Taradale residents Paul Bailey and Helen Kerridge’s house backs onto EIT and was one of the worst flooded houses in the area.
“We’d heard that the riverbank was getting higher and then all of a sudden you could see water come up all of EIT’s guttering,” Bailey said.
They started trying to sweep, but then decided it was no use and made an attempt to salvage all the most important things they.
The two didn’t’ get any civil defence alert due to phone outages, much like many other residents in the immediate area.
Kerridge’s studio and art was damaged, but they managed to save their cat and chickens.
Marcia Wilmhurst and her family were some of the many waiting at the higher points of Puketitiri Rd for the emergency to end.
Hundreds of cars were lined up to as they waited to hear more news. “YaYa” sat with her grandkids London (5) Malachi (6) and Loki (3) and their parents as they waited for more information. It had been an eventful morning for Wilmhurst.
“I got a phone call from my daughter at 6am in Waiohiki, and she was really stressed because the water was coming in through her house,” she said.
“Thankfully her neighbour and landlord came and got her and evacuated them to higher ground,” Wilmurst said.
She said she waited until daylight because she knew her family was safe, and after checking on her grandchildren headed to the other side of Links Rd where the river had already burst.
She said there were people already there stuck, and boats were being used in rescues.
“I pulled out all my clothes to try and keep them warm,” she said. “There was a 74 year old lady who had lost her mokopuna, but they had managed to get to a house where the lady there got them changed and they were up on the roof.”
Ben Koorey, James Lowry and Alex Truman, all aged 17, thought it would be fun to bring surfboards to the flooded EIT. After a couple of falls and successful attempts, they left and were quickly talked to by Police. The boys said they were “checking out the carnage” and thought they would make the most of a “classic summers day in Taradale.”
The Hastings District Council, which has an area including the city of Hastings and rural areas surrounding Napier and extending northwest on State Highway 5 towards Taupo and north on SH2 towards Wairoa, announced two other bridges between Napier and Hastings, on SH50, have also been closed to traffic.
They are the Waiohiki Bridge, near Taradale and also over the Tutaekuri River, and the Fernhill Bridge, over the Ngaruroro River.
Also closed is the SH2 Esk River Bridge north of Bay View, a bridge which, like the Fernhill Bridge, has had some restrictions in the last year as the Council and contractors establish the safety of the structures.
A bridge about halfway between Napier and Wairoa on SH2 has been destroyed in wild floodwaters, as the full extent of damage to Hawke’s Bay roads is slowly being realised.
The bridge near Putorino collapsed and washed away on Tuesday morning and a resident nearby said she saw the damage about 11am on Tuesday, but it likely happened much earlier in the morning.
Central Hawke’s Bay
Police were clearing bystanders from the Waipawa River bridge on SH2 as floodwaters breached the town’s stopbanks and poured down Harker St, while the nearby BP petrol station faces queues of motorists getting fuel and emergency supplies - most of them evacuees from the river-side “lower Waipawa” streets which were being inundated with floodwaters.
Civil Defence, CHB District Council and Emergency Services were going door to door and streams of traffic were leaving the low-lying areas.
Several were on foot leading small ponies from lifestyle blocks along the river’s edge.
One woman leading a small wet pony tearfully said “I had to leave my other pets - my rabbits, my chooks. My place was flooding and I wasn’t allowed to go back in for them.”
Lew Woods and Pauline Stephenson had just minutes to grab what they could and leave their Waipukurau home on Tuesday morning.
“I looked out at 5am and it was bone dry” says Pauline, “so I went back to bed.”
An hour later she woke to a banging on the door.
“It was a firefighter. He said ‘don’t open the door, open a window’.
“The water was bubbling up through the bathroom, we chucked what we could in bags - I couldn’t even tell you what I’ve packed. We took the dog and the cats, we had to leave our car it was under water.
“I don’t know what we’re going home to.”
Woods and Stephenson were taken to the Waipukurau evacuation centre at the Centralines Stadium, where ragdoll kittens Mollie and Coco sat cuddled on Woods’ lap oblivious to the drama, and Benji the dog sat at his feet, wet from an early morning swim in nearly a metre of floodwater.
Stephenson said “The firefighters were amazing. Honestly, they deserve a medal.” (edited)
The Napier CBD should have been busy with hundreds of early arrivals for the annual Art Deco Festival, which is scheduled to start on Thursday and end on Sunday. on Tuesday, the streets were empty, with almost every shop closed, mainly because staff were unable to get to work. There was no sign of any flooding of any sort in the main precinct of Emerson St, which has been flooded in the past, notably in the Napier Flood on November 9, 2020.
All non-essential travel should be avoided – roads are dangerous due to flooding, fallen trees, power lines and slips. Go here for Council road closures see https://www.hastingsdc.govt.nz/services/roads-and-streets/road-works/ For state highway road information visit the NZTA website. https://www.nzta.govt.nz/
Water should be used for drinking and personal washing only. Do not use dishwashers or washing machines, and avoid showering if possible.
If your life is in danger, call 111 for help.