Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced a ministerial inquiry into forestry slash, to be chaired by former National education minister and Gisborne-based MP Hekia Parata.
But his planned flight to Wairoa today to witness the damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle lasted all of 10 minutes before it had to be abandoned - with the weather at fault again. Low cloud along the east coast meant the NH90 Hipkins was travelling in had to be redirected to the Napier airport shortly after takeoff from the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds.
In Auckland, West Coast beaches including Piha, Karekara, Bethells, Muriwai, Huia and Little Huia have been closed to non-residents to allow road repairs to take place safely.
Hipkins told a media stand-up earlier today “things have to change because slash on beaches, in rivers, on farms is unacceptable” - something he said he would take steps to address in the very early days after the cyclone smashed through the North Island.
Photos of collapsed bridges with piles of slash at their bases – and anger from those in places such as Tolaga Bay – reignited calls for action on the long-standing problem of debris from commercial forestry.
Napier MP and Small Business Minister Stuart Nash said: “What this [review] will do is make recommendations about how we can get this right. What we need to get right is the management practices of forestry on these highly erodible soils.”
He said the forest sector had done a lot of work in retiring certain forests, moving slash from skip sites, but the country had still seen a lot more wood coming on to the beaches.
Nash said he wanted the forestry industry to “take responsibility” for its actions regarding slash.
”Forestry companies know they operate under a social licence, and forestry and wood processing employs a lot of people up the east coast. You’ll never see a recommendation that another tree will be planted - that won’t happen.
”Keep in mind, in some areas forestry is actually the answer,” he said, noting specific tree planting could be helpful.
The two-month ministerial inquiry will be held into land use causing woody debris, including forestry slash, and sediment-related damage in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa.
It will help address the impacts of weather events such as cyclones Hale and Gabrielle and earlier events.
It will investigate past and current land-use practices and the impact of woody debris including forestry slash and sediment on communities, livestock, buildings and the environment. It will also look at associated economic drivers and constraints.
The inquiry members are former government minister and Gisborne resident Hon Hekia Parata (chair), former regional council chief executive Bill Bayfield and forestry engineer Matthew McCloy.
“Woody debris and sediment are particular issues for these communities following storms. More than 10,000 people in Tairāwhiti have petitioned for land use to be better managed. This inquiry is responding to these very real concerns,” Forestry Minister Stuart Nash said.
The inquiry will investigate storm damage and its causes, current practices and regulatory and policy settings.
“The panel’s recommendations, expected by the end of April, will assist local and central government respond to the severe weather events we are experiencing in New Zealand,’’ Environment Minister David Parker said.
The panel will make recommendations to improve land use including changes needed to practices and regulation at central and local government levels. This can include consideration of forestry practices, Resource Management Act plans and national direction - for example, the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry and the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa District Resource Management Plans.
People in affected communities and the wider public will be invited to provide feedback to the panel.
David Parker said decisions on prosecutions are a matter for the local councils under the Resource Management Act.
In 2018 the Gisborne District Council showed it was prepared to take action, successfully prosecuting five forestry companies for poor forestry harvesting and management. Judge Dwyer at the time imposed fines ranging from $124,700 to $379,500.
Cabinet ministers met on Wednesday to discuss the terms of reference for the independent inquiry, which is expected to be completed within two months.
The inquiry will provide recommendations on how to tackle the issue in the short-term while broader land-use issues, as called for by thousands of East Coast locals in a petition, are expected to be covered as part of wider government reforms, including the Natural and Built Environments bill which will replace the Resource Management Act.
Hipkins said he was intending to be in the region “regularly” to assess damage from Gabrielle.
He said a wage subsidy wouldn’t necessarily be the best support for cyclone-affected businesses.
Hipkins is back in Hawke’s Bay today to announce the inquiry before he intended to visit Wairoa, a region which is still cut off after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Hipkins arrived in Napier this morning and was due to meet with police before taking a Defence Force NH-90 helicopter to visit marae in Wairoa which are helping those displaced by the flooding.
On his short flight, the Prime Minister was afforded a brief look over Hawke’s Bay - the chopper travelled up Napier’s marine parade where sodden suburbs were in full view.
To the east, the low cloud made it difficult to tell sea from sky while to the west, Hipkins could see a rather depressing view of Napier, pools of water still lying around houses more than a week after the cyclone hit the region.
It will surely be a disappointment for Hipkins - he has fresh gumboots all ready to go in a Countdown shopping bag. Only Hipkins and Forestry Minister Stuart Nash were given headphones, and both were fed information during the brief flight.
Unfortunately, Nash - who had announced the Government’s inquiry into slash this afternoon - was facing the wrong way to see all the driftwood that was washed up along the beach
Auckland Emergency Management briefing
Auckland Transport chief engineer Murray Burt said Auckland Transport’s focus was restoring access to roads impacted by the storm.
He said teams had visited 1300 slip sites to assess damage and next steps.
Piha, Karekara, Bethells, Muriwai, Huia and Little Huia were all closed to non-residents to allow road repairs to take place safely.
He said Piha will be closed to non-residents from Friday. “Repairs have started on the Bethells Rd and we ask non-residents to stay away”.
Only residents are allowed until repairs are completed.
Emergency Management Duty Controller Rachel Kelleher said the estimated power restoration time for several areas including Muriwai and Kumeu was a few days away. Power outage maps are available on Vector’s website.
Kelleher said the key message was to keep an eye on the forecast and note the heavy rain watch in place for tomorrow.
She also warned of the possibility of the reactivation of slips.
Auckland Council Director Regulatory Services Craig Hobbs said in just over three weeks the team has completed over 6000 assessments.
Hobbs said as of 11am today they have placarded 357 red, 1943 yellow and 3179 white.
On the Normandy tower, he said they were making good progress on removing the top area.
He said they were looking at getting residents into their homes as soon as possible, hopefully sometime after Monday.
Hobbs also emphasised only residents should enter Piha, which was under a “great deal of stress”, as well as other West Coast beaches.
Kelleher said they are working a plan for people to re-access their homes and collect belongings.
Safety and help were “top of mind” in allowing people into damaged homes to get belongings, Hobbs relayed.
Te Whatu Ora Group Manager of Community Wellbeing Jo Chiplin expressed her severe sympathies for those who lost loved ones, livelihoods or homes.
She said whatever people are feeling now it is “completely normal” and it is okay. She said people should reach out to friends or whanau members.
“If you or your whanau need additional support, there is help available.”
She told reporters plans are underway to boost mental wellbeing supports in the most impacted areas. Those with internet connections can find help on the AllSorts website.
Regions devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle last week are in the firing line for wet weather today, with heavy rain watches starting in Hawke’s Bay from 10am. The eastern portions of the North Island will have the heaviest rainfall before the weekend, although precise amounts are still uncertain.
The weather system that has caused substantial rainfall over the last two days in the central South Island was set to track up the country last night. It will impact the eastern side of the North Island in areas that have already been drenched by the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, including Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, and is likely to stay for a couple of days, forecasts MetService.
Residents in the Coromandel, all across the Waikato and down to Gisborne should expect heavy afternoon showers, with the possibility of some thunderstorms in the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. The weather system is expected to move away from everywhere apart from Gisborne overnight.
The same will happen in Napier, reports MetService. Once the showers set in during the morning, they are likely to stay off and on until the night. There are heavy rain watches in place for Gisborne from 2pm today until midnight tomorrow, Hawke’s Bay from 10am today until 10am Saturday and Wairarapa from 2am today until 2pm.
“One thing is for sure, any rain across recently flooded areas is unwanted and unwelcome, so even the less severe end of the range might result in further issues like slips and road closures in these hard-hit areas,” MetService meteorologist Angus Hines said.
Yesterday, a severe weather watch was in force for eastern regions, and it’s likely that some places will be elevated to orange severe weather warnings, MetService said.
STORY CONTINUES AFTER LIVE BLOG:
As areas hit hard by Gabrielle braced for more bad weather, the number of people still missing dropped significantly yesterday as police and USAR work tirelessly to locate those who were uncontactable after the storm. As of last night, it sat at 346, and the nationwide death toll remained at 11.
Police said on Wednesday that 19 more people were arrested and charged with 32 offences in the regions hit hard by the cyclone, primarily relating to shoplifting, assault and family harm. The arrests were in Gisborne (eight), Hastings (six), Napier (four) and Wairoa (one).
As the massive task of cleaning up the damage left along the eastern region continues, Napier City Council’s wastewater stations are pumping raw sewage straight out to sea.
Executive director of City Services, Lance Titter, said the sewer network was operating as it was designed to do in an emergency state, which is to pump out to sea to prevent raw sewerage coming up from manholes into city streets.
The sewage will be pumped to sea for some days or weeks, he said.
“Exact timeframes are not certain at this stage, but we are likely to get partial treatment of raw sewage underway in the coming days,” he said.
Massey University Lecturer of Joint Centre for Disaster Research Dr Lauren Vinnell said the threat of another event could be overwhelming for those in the affected communities.
“People who were really badly impacted might become fatalistic, so they might not see the point in preparing or might not heed warnings,” she said.
“Conversely, those who were warned about previous events but weren’t impacted too badly might not take new warnings as seriously.”
She worries that “disaster fatigue” will be prevalent. It restricts people’s ability to respond in the short term and can, in the long run, result in people leaving their community, and continuing mental health issues.
Massey University Associate Professor and clinical psychologist Dr Ian de Terte wishes to remind the first responders in the area to be kind to themselves in the face of this next wave of weather, for their own sake and or the sake of others.
“When people get tired they are more vulnerable. First responders accept that people will make all sorts of choices in extreme situations,” Terte said.
“However, that compassion isn’t always extended to themselves. Mistakes are going to happen under time pressure and first responders need to remember to be kind to themselves in those situations.”
For the wider communities, he warns people should be prepared, and organised and avoid panicking.
“If emergency management says you should evacuate an area, listen to them. Don’t be shy to check on neighbours. And don’t be afraid to ask for support if you need it,” he said.
“For example, getting essentials or picking children up. We know from the Canterbury earthquakes that you’re more likely to get through things if you have the support of other people in a similar situation.”
Meanwhile, it is forecast to be a “nasty” morning in the lower North Island according to MetService, this means windy, wet weather in Napier. Thankfully, the rain is meant to clear out of most areas in the afternoon but it will remain windy and cold.
MetService forecasts a “bright start” for the upper North Island today, however, there may be some showery weather approaching this morning and arriving in the afternoon.
From midday onwards, there is a risk of a couple of showers through Northland and Auckland. Any rain that does fall is likely to be “sparse and relatively spread out”, MetService reported.
Another thing that arrives in the afternoon is a cool wind flow that will creep up from the South. This means temperatures will climb nicely in the morning but once they reach around 24C, they are set to plateau.