Residents in cyclone-battered areas are being encouraged to leave, with more wild weather including heavy rain expected today. Authorities say they are also planning for the precautionary evacuation this afternoon of the severely hit Esk Valley area in Hawke’s Bay.
North Island regions still battered and soaked by Cyclone Gabrielle are facing fresh warnings of heavy rain, prompting concerns for vulnerable communities which are yet to recover.
Niwa says Auckland and Coromandel can expect thunderstorms and “narrow corridors of intense rain with the possibility for some flooding”.
And with more deluges also expected for hard-hit Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay from today, authorities aren’t taking any chances - warning residents to prepare for all eventualities.
MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said people in cyclone-affected areas such as Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne - where there are current weather warnings in place for heavy rain - should prepare as best they can. ”If you need to get out of there - it’s wise to do so,” she told TVNZ.
Hawke’s Bay emergency controller Ian Macdonald said this morning officials were planning for the precautionary evacuation of Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay this afternoon.
Meanwhile Hawke’s Bay police say 23 people remain “uncontactable” after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Three people, including a Mongrel Mob member, were arrested last night after an attempt to smash their way through a Napier property’s gates. Two men were arrested at the scene and $17,000 in cash was found. Police then raided an address and seized illegal firearms, cannabis and cash.
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Macdonald said some Esk Valley residents had moved back after the cyclone while others were at their properties cleaning up. The decision to evacuate would be made later this morning, taking into account the updated rainfall predictions and advice from the Regional Council’s hydrologists.
”We will give people plenty of notice so they can leave in good time while the roads are not likely to be affected by surface flooding,” Macdonald said. “People do not need to wait for an official order to leave. If they feel unsafe at home, they should move early.”
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz told AM this morning that it was “absolutely bucketing down” and was pouring overnight. She told the Herald she was worried about the weather causing more flooding and slips on an already fragile roading network. “We don’t need this.”
Last night, Tairāwhiti Civil Defence evacuated residents in Tokomaru Bay, north of Gisborne, as rainfall risked leading to the failure of a debris dam upstream of the township.
Stoltz said the teams were keeping a close eye on the weather conditions across the region. “Tokomaru Bay was evacuated safely yesterday. No issues have been reported overnight regarding the debris dam. We are asking residents to be prepared. Let us know about flooding or any other issues the council needs to be aware of.
“There are no further evacuations planned. We are just waiting for this weather to pass.”
MetService said it had grave concerns for the cyclone-saturated regions, with a slew of weather watches and warnings in place for Auckland and the North Island’s east coast.
Hawke’s Bay Emergency Management (HBEM) yesterday began planning for the possibility it would have to trigger further evacuations should the 48-hour deluge raise rivers and streams. Up to 200mm of rain is expected in parts of Hawke’s Bay, including the ravaged Esk Valley and Wairoa District. MetService expects the heaviest downpours about 3pm today.
An orange heavy rain warning is in place there until 10am tomorrow and heavy rain watches have been issued for Auckland until this evening; Wairarapa until 8pm today; and Gisborne until 2am tomorrow.
Gisborne was also under a severe thunderstorm watch until 2am tomorrow which could also see rainfall amounts increase.
MetService meteorologist Amy Rossiter said the forecaster was “concerned for vulnerable areas like Esk Valley and the Wairoa District, given that [rain] in those areas could have significant impacts given slash and silt through the area.
“Additional heavy rain in these already saturated regions will be significant, and further flooding and slips may occur. We continue to brief those emergency services and lifelines working in recovery in the affected regions,” she said.
People in Hawke’s Bay have been told to pack a grab bag, keep up to date with forecasts and official advice, but HBEM also warned people not to wait for advice if safety was at risk.
“Don’t take chances. Act quickly if you see rising water,” HBEM said as it warned the rain could see rivers and streams rise rapidly, with surface flooding and further slips. “We are discussing triggers for evacuations and will issue an emergency mobile alert to any areas that may need to be evacuated.
“We will also publicise any evacuation orders over radio and all broadcast and online media.”
Civil Defence shelters remained open for any evacuees who couldn’t stay with friends or family and the Emergency Co-ordination Centre was “fully operational” as the impacts of the next two day’s rain became evident.
“Hydrologists have said they are comfortable that the major rivers will remain within their existing channels. But we are not taking any chances. Emergency repairs to the stopbanks damaged last week are underway or are complete”
Regarding the evacuation of 64 homes in Tokomaru Bay last night, Tairāwhiti Civil Defence controller Ben Green said the incoming rain amplified the risk given the ground was “very” unstable following Gabrielle.
“Our Civil Defence team on the ground in Tokomaru Bay went door to door this afternoon. The safety of our people is paramount. We are bringing in experts to assess the dam site and provide options that might alleviate the risk.”
The new tranche of warnings and vigilance came as a fresh cyclone threat loomed in the Pacific - which forecasters said they were keeping a close watch of.
It was too early to understand any potential impact it could have on New Zealand but there was a heightened risk of a cyclone forming next week, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) meteorologist Ben Noll said.
In Auckland, meanwhile, the region’s Emergency Management controller Rachel Kelleher asked people there to also watch the forecast as the city still grappled with the recovery from Gabrielle and last month’s flooding.
About 30 roads were still closed in the region and access to the city’s west coast beaches was still cut, with more slips possible there.
Repairs have started on a number of roads, but Auckland Transport’s chief engineer Murray Burt said it could take “some time” to reopen some - maybe months.
Access to Karekare, Piha, Te Henga-Bethells Beach, Muriwai, Anawhata, Huia, Little Huia and Whatipu had been compromised by Gabrielle, he said, and people should still stay away.
As part of the wider North Island’s recovery from Gabrielle, the Government yesterday announced a new visa for specialist workers responding to the crisis.
Applications for the new Recovery Visa would be fast-tracked, Minister of Immigration Michael Wood said, and application fees would be waived for successful applicants.
“The Government is moving as quickly as we can to support New Zealanders and businesses to bring in the workers needed to recover from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods,” Wood said.
“In the short term, we are likely to need experts such as insurance assessors, infrastructure and utilities engineers and technicians, heavy machinery operators and debris removal workers to support the experts we’ve already got in the country.”