I’ve lived through and reported on two major flooding events: the Napier flooding in November 2020 and the Auckland flooding in January 2023. The response from mayors and public service agencies could not have been more different.
In 2020 as the rain came thick and fast during the evening there were frequent updates and advice from Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise and Hawke’s Bay Emergency Management. There were updates on rainfall figures, warnings not to drive, road closures, advice about water use, weather information, and health and safety advice.
After frequent updates, a state of emergency was declared later that night. A joint press conference with the mayor, MP, Fire and Emergency, Civil Defence, police, and District Health Board officials came the following day. The press conference began with the mayor saying officials would answer any questions journalists may have. The mayor shared video updates on social media in the days following.
Given the difficult emergency circumstances, I felt it was fairly easy for the media to access officials for information to convey to the public.
There was a co-ordinated and informative response. I for one felt updated, and like the unprecedented situation was being dealt with, which brought some comfort during a scary time.
It was a different story in Auckland on Friday night. The rain again came thick and fast, flooding many parts of Auckland. It’s a much larger city than Napier, and the flooding was more widespread, so I have no doubt management comes with more challenges, but there is also a larger team of people.
It felt difficult to get adequate information from official agencies. Updates on the Auckland Emergency Management social media pages were few and far between in comparison to during the Napier flooding. Waka Kotahi seemingly ceased roading updates in the evening before the Transport Minister tweeted that he had instructed the Agency to re-open their channels urgently, at which point updates restarted after 10.30pm.
There was nothing on the Auckland Council Facebook page until the mayor declared a state of local emergency. That post has been met with angry reactions and comments have been limited. There were calls on social media and emails from the mayor’s own councillors to make that call. Unlike in Auckland, the Napier mayor did not have to be urged by the leader of the opposition, and members of the public, to declare a state of emergency.
A late-night press conference fronted by the mayor was welcome news and brought much-needed information. But with many concerned about the prior absence, he fielded questions about whether he’d acted soon enough and if communication to the public was robust.
On Saturday morning in a media interview about the weather event the mayor did not know whether the water was safe to drink.
Full credit is due to the Auckland Councillors and politicians across the board who did work throughout the night to keep their communities updated, as well as the local churches, marae, and community organisations that rallied to provide emergency centres for people to vacate to, advice, compassion, and other assistance. It goes to show what real leadership is.
* Shannon Johnstone is a Newstalk ZB reporter based in Auckland who previously worked at Hawke’s Bay Today.