The storm which battered Hawke's Bay yesterday causing flash flooding, evacuations, and road closures has been labelled "worse than Cyclone Bola", just after its 30th anniversary.

The worst of the weather which hit the region seems to be over. MetService forecasts rain, heavy and possibly thundery falls but easing to occasional showers this afternoon.

Yesterday it was a different story – a severe weather warning was issued as rivers and streams around the region rose rapidly, rainfall reached peak intensities of 30mm an hour, and surface flooding and slips caused hazardous driving conditions.

Read more: Napier flooding: Stranded Tangoio residents rescued by boat
Napier flooding: Residents near Esk River warned to stay alert


While rain lashed the region flooding roads and properties, the worst hit areas appeared to be the rural communities of Eskdale and Rissington.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Manager/Controller Ian Macdonald said the weather event was "pretty small scale but concentrated".

"It was quite intense for about four to five hours, but then it died down again".

Flash flooding in the area north of Napier was a result of heavy rain overnight in the Eskdale river catchment. Half of the total 300mm of rain fell in just three hours causing the river to rise to its highest levels since 2010.

With the river a "short and steep" watercourse the river broke its banks from about 9am.

Flash flooding also swept through Rissington, with two trunks converging in the river system.

Heavy rain continued during the morning, while concern was also raised for properties in the Tutaekuri catchment, where some properties around the Mangaone River flooded.

Police and the New Zealand Transport Agency began closing a number of roads around Hawke's Bay as the severe weather continued. These included two state highways out of Napier.

The closure of State Highway 5 left about 100 motorists stuck waiting out the storm at Tarawera Café, known as the halfway point between Napier and Taupo.

Yesterday owner Jim Andrew said people spent several hours at his establishment, looking into alternative ways to travel with both ends of the road closed.

"There's some anxious people … there's not a lot you can do, you've just got to sit and wait it out."

Given their location, he said: "We're pretty much prepared for this all the time, whether its snow, wind, or rain. We just carry on as per normal."

Other major roads were closed due to slips and surface flooding. Most had reopened last night.

Mr Macdonald said river levels stayed high until about lunchtime, when it was "getting to the point where we were looking at evacuating people".

However, things began to ease, and by 3pm the river level dropped 2.5m. Residents who had self-evacuated were told they could return home, but were advised to remain prepared to leave again.

Fire services spent the morning in Eskdale, Rissington, and Pakota assisting with evacuations, clearing any damage, and monitoring traffic, Napier Fire Station senior station officer Mark McGill said.

Yesterday had been a good example of local communities banding together, he said. It had been a big job, made easier once the water levels began dropping as quickly as they had risen.

A Unison Networks spokeswoman said they had around 130 customers without power at the height of the storm, mainly in rural areas around Patoka, Crownthorpe, Te Pohue and Rissington.

Most had their power restored in several hours, with only eight remaining powerless by yesterday afternoon.

Although only 50mm to 60mm of rain was expected overnight, Civil Defence worked with emergency services to put plans in place should anything happen.

Hastings District Council staff and welfare officers would be visiting affected properties today, with the scale of the damage more likely to be known.

The impact of yesterday's deluge on Hawke's Bay's wine industry is unknown, with picking season about to begin.

Yesterday Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Association representative Xan Harding said they weren't too concerned at this stage. It was expected to be cold overnight, which could take some pressure off wineries.

"There's been a little bit of picking this week before the rain arrived, but a lot of the crops aren't there yet. They can show some resilience during this [weather].

"The Pinot Gris is starting to be picked, but the Chardonnay isn't quite ready so we were quite happy to hold that through."

- People whose homes had floodwater through them were advised to call Hastings District Council regarding building inspections on 06 871 5000.