Fierce opposition from residents in the cyclone-battered coastal community of Muriwai has led Auckland Council to backtrack on a decision to lift cordons, which would have exposed red-stickered houses to potential looters.
Many Muriwai residents were distraught at the decision to lift hard street cordons in Muriwai this Monday, March 13, and allow street access to the general public to more than 100 red-stickered and still deserted houses.
Muriwai was one of the worst-hit suburbs in the Auckland region from Cyclone Gabrielle’s onslaught. A landslide in the early hours of Monday, February 13, killed two volunteer firefighters there.
All major roads into the community had been blocked with cordons since then, but yesterday at 5pm Auckland Council announced several roads would abruptly be reopened on March 13.
The opposition to the move, and the lack of forewarning, from local residents online has been intense.
“This is an appalling decision that has zero empathy for those whose lives are in turmoil,” one resident wrote.
“There is a need to support businesses affected but the cost to cover their profits would be trivial compared to the 128 rate payers who are red stickered.
“Unfortunately the only way I see to change this decision is for us to setup a community checkpoint/protest in place of the waitea checkpoint that makes the news headlines that will force the politicians to scramble like they did in the Hawkes bay. I am happy to organise if there is enough support from others? This is a community we are not a theme park … ”
Another resident complained of the fraught situation owners of red-stickered homes would be faced with: “Good one Auckland Council- with protections gone you are now going to be encouraging residents to enter their homes despite the safety risk to get their valuables before the looters do.”
One resident expressed a lack of trust in council: “I’m beyond disappointed in this. Some members of the council have been so incredibly helpful and thoughtful over the past month and then a stupid decision like this undoes the fragile trust we’ve been trying to build. In my view it’s dangerous, stupid and puts our community at risk. I want our businesses to survive but I don’t believe this is the answer.”
Updates on the situation on the Muriwai Community Emergency Network Group over the past 24 hours have generated more than a hundred upset comments.
An announcement on the Auckland Emergency Management website stated that from Monday, March, 13 the cordons at the intersection of Motutara and Muriwai Rds, and Waitea and Oaia Rds, were to be disestablished. Signage would direct non-residents to stay away.
“For health and safety reasons, the ‘hard’ cordons will remain in place near 177 Motutara Road, 351 Motutara Road and the bottom of Domain Crescent. There will be security in place around these cordons. Police will continue to have a visible presence and will be undertaking regular patrols,” the update explained.
However, following the Herald’s questions to Auckland Council this morning about the community objection to the cordons being lifted, the decision was reversed.
Auckland Emergency Management deputy response manager, Mace Ward, told the Herald they have acknowledged the community objection to the planned cordon liftings.
“We have heard the community’s concerns and confirm that the cordons will remain in place at the Muriwai/Motutara and Oaia/Waitea intersections while we work through a more robust timeline for ongoing cordon management,” Ward said.
“Police are committed to an ongoing reassurance presence at Muriwai and remain working alongside us on the cordons for the time being. We are grateful for their assistance and presence ... Muriwai residents are experiencing unprecedented upheaval, impact on their lives and livelihoods, and uncertainty. There are also a range of circumstances and needs that need to be met within the community itself.
“We all have more difficult decisions ahead of us and we are committed to working with the community on its recovery.”
Ward also noted that Muriwai Regional Park remains closed to visitors, there are no toilets available in the park, and the only access to Muriwai Beach is for 4WD permit holders.
“Work to return people to placarded properties continues. We have recently shared updates on ongoing geotechnical analysis and this weekend have a small team on the ground validating the data analysis we have carried out,” Ward said.
A subsequent post on the Muriwai Community Emergency Network Group before midday today announced they had been informally advised the cordons will not be lifted early as per Friday’s announcement.
“Just to reassure the community I have been urgently advocating - along with other community leaders - on Muriwai’s behalf, for a reversal of the decision to remove the cordons early,” the Facebook group admin posted.
“We’ve just been informally told that the cordons are staying! Amazing work everyone.”
Dozens of people have been arrested for looting cyclone-damaged homes in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne since February 13, and the fear of looting persists in many highly red-stickered residential areas. A red sticker means the property is unsafe to enter and residents are required to vacate the property immediately.
“Anyone who is trying to take an opportunistic approach to potential offending should be aware that the police are still out there doing their jobs,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on February 20.
“Offenders will be apprehended and will face the consequences of their actions.
“If anyone takes advantage of other people’s misery during this crisis, our officers will investigate. Targeting people in a crisis is abhorrent and we’re not tolerating it.”