A local state of emergency has been declared for Tairāwhiti and all major roads out of the region are now partly closed by slips and flooding.
Tairāwhiti Civil Defence said a local state of emergency was declared at 4.45pm because of the severe weather.
At least 130 residents have either been evacuated or have self-evacuated, many of those are from the small town of Te Karaka, authorities have told the Herald.
MetService this afternoon upgraded the East Coast’s warning to its most serious - a red heavy rain alert.
Flooding has closed multiple roads, including State Highway 2 from Napier to Wairoa and from Matawai to Ormon, SH5 from Taupō to Eskdale and SH35 from Okitu to Ruatōria, almost completely isolating Gisborne.
Tairāwhiti emergency management manager Ben Green told the Herald that 130 residents had either been evacuated or had self-evacuated.
Due to the “high level of anxiety” in the region, many of those evacuations happened before the state of emergency was declared or before MetService upgraded the warning, Green said.
The majority of the evacuations have been in Te Karaka, where people have either gone to Te Karaka Area School or are staying with friends and family.
In Te Karaka and other areas, evacuees were made up of those who self-evacuated as a precaution and those who became trapped when slips and flood waters blocked the roads.
Green said areas near a river or near any river catchment are currently first priority for further evacuations, which may occur as the weather ramps up again tomorrow evening.
At present, Green said, the weather in Tairāwhiti is “easing slightly” and the river levels are stabilising. Overnight. Civil Defence will be monitoring river catchments, rainfall and river levels.
Some 153 homes are without power across the district. No schools have announced they will be closed tomorrow.
And 61 roads are closed or seriously obstructed because of numerous landslides.
Te Karaka was one of the regions worst hit by Cyclone Gabrielle in February this year, causing much anxiety among residents around the community with this fresh blow.
John Coates, 64, died in the floodwaters that engulfed his Te Karaka home during the storm.
Coates’ house was near the Waipaoa River, 500 metres from the Puha Bridge, a local told the Herald. The Puha Bridge flooded again this afternoon.
Residents in Te Karaka and surrounding regions of Gisborne are fearful of what the 9pm high tide might bring.
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said residents said police and Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) have been evacuating residents in Te Karaka for the past two hours.
As of 7pm today, the Waipaoa River level in Te Karaka was at 8.565 metres - the council website says it burst its banks at 8.2m.
Stoltz said the soils are “absolutely saturated” and it is “pouring in the region”, with more heavy rain looming over the next three days.
The residents are emotionally drained after this year’s weather, Stoltz said, as they are hit with another onslaught of rain.
“We are working tirelessly to try and reconnect our community, to get our roading network up to speed, to rebuild the infrastructure that was ripped apart by two cyclones this year and we are just not getting a break,” Stoltz said.
“Our community is emotionally exhausted.”
Officials are working tirelessly to evacuate at-risk residents during the shortest day of the year, with only about an hour of sunlight left, Stoltz said this afternoon.
She asked residents to “please stay vigilant and alert” and to keep up to date with MetService and the Civil Defence Facebook pages.
MetService’s head of weather communication Lisa Murray said the worst of the rain has only just begun.
MetService reported the rain will ease overnight, a pattern that will continue tomorrow morning, but locals should not be complacent as the weather will be “reinvigorated” on Friday evening.
“Just because you see an easing trend in the rain, don’t take any risks,” Murray said.
“There is more rain coming Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s not worth taking a risk with a rising river or stream or potentially isolating yourself by relying on that going down so you can cross them.”
Next week, there may be a few days of reprieve from the wet weather, Murray said, but MetService is keeping a close eye on another low-pressure system that may affect Gisborne in the middle of next week.
A red heavy rain warning is in place until noon on Sunday.
Between 60mm and 90mm of rain is anticipated from midnight to 6pm on Friday, according to MetService. And 200-300mm is predicted for north of Uawa from tomorrow through Sunday midday, with widespread heavy rain expected over the entire region. Peak intensities may be as high as 15-25mm an hour.
Parts of Tairāwhiti have already recorded more than 100mm in the past 24 hours.
Thunderstorms are also possible.
At 1pm, the Gisborne District Council texted residents warning them of the water level, with the river at 7.3m.
“The evacuation level for Te Karaka is 7.5m,” it said.
Waikohu Civil Defence has urged residents who were in doubt to “self-evacuate”.
Up to 75 hours of non-stop rain is set to inundate North Island’s East Coast as continuous heavy downpours threaten to bring more flooding and slips to the region.
This morning watches and warnings were lifted for Northland and north of Auckland.
The Coromandel Peninsula, the Bay of Plenty west of Te Puke and Tairāwhiti have been placed under orange heavy rain warnings.
Coromandel and Bay of Plenty could get more than a day of downpours and the regions are under a 30-hour warning until 3pm tomorrow.
Tokomaru Bay residents are being told by the local Civil Defence teams to be prepared with enough food and water for four days in case the town gets cut off by severe weather.
The stretch of SH2 from Matawai to Te Karaka remains closed because of flooding.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is advising motorists to avoid the area or delay their journey if possible.
The Thames-Coromandel District Council this morning warned motorists travelling on the region’s roads to watch for flooding and debris.
Waka Kotahi is advising road users to drive with caution.
Earlier, Tairāwhiti Civil Defence said streams and rivers could rise rapidly, and slips and flooding were possible.
Gisborne’s SH35 was badly affected by extreme weather this year, and flooded yesterday on the Mangatuna side of a new bridge.
By 4pm yesterday, 55mm of rain had been recorded in the Raukumara Range in northern Tairāwhiti , most of it since noon, according to MetService.
Rachel Maher is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. She has worked for the Herald since 2022.