Northland mayors are defending the timing of the region’s state of emergency declaration, as Cyclone Gabrielle floods roads and damages properties.
Far North Kahika (Mayor) Moko Tepania said he was “definitely in support” of the declaration’s timing.
Tepania said when a state of emergency was declared it was done on the advice of a number of different agencies including police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz), Civil Defence, police, Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand, all four councils, power companies and iwi representatives.
”It’s pulling data from all of them and saying, let’s assess the situation and determine what we need to do. The decision was made, which is great, especially as we see Gabrielle travel along the coast of Northland,” Tepania said.
“The weather’s going to get worse and we’re going to have a high tide overnight. It gives emergency services extra powers should they need them, especially around evacuation,” he said.
The precautionary state of emergency was requested by Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) group controller Graeme MacDonald and signed by CDEM group chair Kelly Stratford. An emergency alert was sent out to mobile phones around 4.30pm.
MacDonald said officials did not know whether they would need to use emergency powers but made the precautionary declaration as the worst of the forecast weather was yet to come.
“This will ensure we have those extra powers available to us should we need them,” MacDonald said.
Some Northlanders earlier expressed frustration and confusion as to why a state of emergency had not been declared, despite one being issued as a precautionary step before the previous storm.
One Facebook user commented: “So when Auckland flooded 2 weeks ago and we got that little storm you declared a state of emergency. Now we are experiencing the tail end of this ex-cyclone, with the worst expected tonight and Monday, Tuesday, and we hear nothing.”
Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo said the situation was evaluated hourly as to whether an emergency declaration was needed and ultimately decided by Civil Defence.
”They weighed up everything in the process from where the cyclone’s moving, how heavy things are going to be, what MetService is saying... A whole pile of factors have gone into it. It is what it is, they’ve declared it, and that’s it.”
Cocurullo urged Northlanders not to go driving around during the cyclone to look or take photos.
”If people go out there and get stuck that ties up our emergency services. We want only people who really have to travel to be on the road.”
Kaipara Mayor Craig Jepson said he had to take the advice of the officials involved and believed they had made the declaration for good reason.
”It’s certainly at least as bad as it was last time so it’s probably a good call.”
Jepson had been driving over the Brynderwyns at the time and said there was “debris everywhere”, with gum trees along the highway looking like they were about to topple in the high winds.
Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford, who chairs the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) group, said earlier the situation was very different to the storm expected on January 31, which resulted in an early emergency declaration.
“The weather pattern that was predicted [on January 31] was one of those atmospheric rivers with a large volume of water and it was coming really fast so we didn’t have time to get resources up here and be ready,” Stratford said.
“This time, we’ve known for days ex-Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle is coming and it’s not getting worse as it comes toward us.”
The emergency services had not previously expressed a desire for the extra powers a state of emergency would give them, Stratford said.
“We’ve had time to mobilise. Everything’s ready and waiting - Fenz has extra resources, St John has extra resources, the police. We are guided by what their needs are.”