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The road north out of Gisborne ended in a mangled metallic plunge along State Highway 35 that had not only cut off transport for thousands of residents but also severed all lines of communication.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to rebuild the bridge here,” a road worker said, looking at what had once been a massive concrete-reinforced pass over the Hikuwai River.
He was standing at the now much larger river chasm near Anaura Bay, the banks of which had collapsed in the flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle.
“It’s f***ing beyond belief,” said Shaun Ferguson - the helicopter pilot who had flown a team of Chorus electricians from Auckland this morning to attempt to reattach the fiber optic cable along the highway.
“There could be more but this is a significant one [downed line]. There’s another point where the whole road has gone for several hundred metres. You can’t imagine a fix for it. It’s like a little gorge and the whole road has just slipped down.”
The muddy torn earth along each side of the subsided river was littered with shredded logs and tree stumps for kilometre upon kilometre.
The Chorus electrical team was still diligently working propped up on power poles and cursing in frustration as of 5pm today.
They were doing so for the benefit of Gisborne residents, among many others further up into Hawkes Bay, who still have no phone or internet coverage at all since Monday night.
This morning, police announced they were investigating the death in the Gisborne region of a person who had died after being caught in floodwater.
In Gisborne town centre locals line up for hours outside supermarkets that each have a limited supply of hand-held ATM pay machines connected to the internet by Starlink satellite internet connection - operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
A police officer supervises the line of people cordoned at the entrance of the Wainui Road Four Square supermarket.
The line only gets longer throughout the day in the drizzly afternoon.
“The line is for people who want to use Eftpos. So if you don’t have cash you have to line up to use Eftpos inside the store.
The officer said they can’t allow the line to grow too much inside the store “because it becomes a risk for the staff” as the shop becomes clogged with shoppers.
“For safety and security it’s easier.
“It’s the same that’s happening at Pak’nSave … the queues there have been up to four hours long. They’ve been panic buying. They have full trolleys.”
In the streets, people ask about where you can buy a satellite phone, and are told to their disappointment that “this one came from Auckland”.
A group of people mills outside the local police station, wandering in and out, and most of the pubs in town are closed.
However, this is a brightness among the desolation. It appears there are more kids in parks playing basketball in large groups, riding bikes and congregating at the skate park than you would usually see.
Back along State Highway 35 there is a substantial clean-up job underway.
Past Tolaga Bay the road is for the most part covered in a light brown layer of mud.
It is also at this point that most motorists are turned away by roadblocks.
There is various heavy machinery including diggers, trucks and tractors attempting to clear it.
Large piles of mud create a shallow trench along the entire highway in this area as farm animals graze in the now only slightly flooded fields.
“At this point we’re just clearing the silt off the road, [getting] access to the bridge that’s been washed out because we’re assuming someone’s going to come and fix our bridge,” said a local road worker.
Up near the downed bridge at Hikuwai River, the road worker, who doesn’t believe a new pass can be built in the same place, provides an estimation of what will happen next in the rebuild stage.
“We just cleared all this up silt up to here, and we’re going to put a [new] road in around here,” the worker says while motioning further out into the field,” he said.
“Yep [we’ll have to build another bridge]. The brains trust will come up with some idea. It won’t be an easy fix. The whole thing’s gone.”
This morning, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited Gisborne where he described people as being in a “state of shock” at the utter devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.
He returned to Wellington after a few hours in Gisborne and is expected to visit Hawke’s Bay in the coming days, where rescues of stranded people were still being carried out today.
The number of fatalities stands at five, Hipkins said, but “we do need to prepare for the likelihood there will be more fatalities.”
SH2, a vital supply line on the East Coast, has been opened on a limited basis to Gisborne for emergency supplies. Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay had also been accessed by road today.
“It is clear there are some really big challenges facing that community at the moment,” Hipkins said of Gisborne.
However, he said he did not know how long it would take to get fresh water, power and communications back up and running in the worst-hit areas.
Hipkins said the level of destruction and response required was as bad as the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
A major issue, the Prime Minister told reporters this afternoon, was people being unable to contact each other and the Government was working as fast as possible to fix this. Two fibre cables into the region had been damaged. Ten more Starlink units were on the way. Five had been delivered to Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay.