Cyclone Gabrielle: National state of emergency declared
Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Monday, February 14 – bringing you the latest news on Cyclone Gabrielle as it continues south. On deck: Stewart Sowman-Lund, with support from our entire news team.
Cyclone Gabrielle: National state of emergency declared
Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Monday, February 14 – bringing you the latest news on Cyclone Gabrielle as it continues south. On deck: Stewart Sowman-Lund, with support from our entire news team.
As strong gusts at Auckland airport prompted the cancellation of all Air New Zealand domestic flights in and out of the cyclone-hit city, the prime minister has returned to Wellington on a small NZ Defence Force turboprop. The Beechcraft King Air 350 nine-seater departed from the Whenuapai air force base just before 3.30pm.
Having successfully negotiated Cyclone Gabrielle and landed in a blustery Wellington at 4.45pm, Hipkins had another thorny challenge to contend with it: making it through town and to parliament in rush hour.
Hipkins is scheduled to appear alongside the minister for emergency response, Kieran McAnulty, in a Beehive press conference at 5.30pm. (Update: now 5.45pm…)
After a tentative resumption of domestic flights from Auckland airport today, Air New Zealand has cancelled the remainder of today’s schedule, affecting around 55 flights. “The strength and direction of winds at Auckland Airport are making it challenging to service aircraft, and it would be unsafe for our people to continue to operate in these conditions,” said safety officer Captain David Morgan.
International flights continue to operate “at this stage”, given the comparatively sheltered international terminal, but conditions are being monitored. The plan is to resume flights from tomorrow, but “there will be challenges”, Air NZ warns.
It brings the total number of cyclone-disrupted flights to more than 600, with more than 35,000 customers affected across the network.
“Today’s disruptions mean tomorrow will begin without all aircraft and crew in the locations required. We can also expect ongoing weather challenges, so we’re asking customers to please bear with us -our people are doing everything they can,” said Morgan.
Auckland Domestic Airport is chaotic right now. They’ve just cancelled all domestic flights. Lots of upset people. Some very grumpy people around. I need a be kind t shirt! Thank you to the @FlyAirNZ and @AKL_Airport teams guiding folks around the terminal. pic.twitter.com/L5bwVJ0Wd0
There are almost a quarter of million people without power across the country, making it the most disruptive weather event since the 1980s.
Megan Woods, the energy minister, has reported that 225,000 households have lost electricity. “This is the largest disruption to electricity infrastructure since Cyclone Bola,” Woods said. Cyclone Bola hit the country in 1988.
While power operators are working rapidly to get lines back up as soon as possible, some have been warned it could be weeks.
In a statement, Transpower said it had declared a grid emergency in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne. There was not currently a “clear picture” of how bad the situation is, but people were told to be “prepared to be without power for days to weeks, rather than hours.”
The state-owned national power grid operator Transpower has declared a “grid emergency” for the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne regions in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. Transpower said flooding to the Redclyffe substation near Taradale had brought down the Unison and Eastland networks, which distribute electricity to Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti respectively.
“Due to the current situation, we are not able to receive comms from Redclyffe substation, but it is likely it is underwater,” it said in a statement. “We cannot currently access the site but have a helicopter on standby for further investigation when possible. Apologies to all who are affected.” It was difficult to estimate the likely length of impacts without accessing the substation, but “we are advising that the community should be prepared to be without power for days to weeks, rather than hours”.
An Auckland Emergency Management briefing from leaders of various agencies has just wound up. AEM deputy controller Rachel Kelleher warned that while the worst of the storm was over, dangerous winds would continue into the evening. She expressed sympathies for all those expected, including in the west coast communities worst affected, Muriwai, Piha and Karekare. Desley Simpson, deputy mayor, echoed those sentiments, saying, “wind is still not our friend right now, but we will get through this together.” Kelleher urged Muriwai residents not to return to homes that were subject to evacuation and an exclusion zone in Muriwai.
Steph Rotorangi from Fire and Emergency New Zealand said that one of the volunteer firefighters trapped when a landslide engulfed a Muriwai house remained within the structure. They had not yet managed to make contact with him. Another firefighter caught in the Motutara Road landslide, which struck when the firefighters were conducting an inspecting of flooding, destroying the house and smashing into a fire appliance, remained in hospital. Efforts to enter the deluged property continued to be hampered but options were being pursued including the use of drones and police.
There had been 18,000 incidents logged relating to the storm across the North Island, said Rotorangi. Much of the focus was now in Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay, where helicopters were seeking to rescue people trapped on places including roofs. Those efforts had been significantly hampered by strong winds. Attempts to restore radio and cellular contact were ongoing.
Lieutenant Colonel Melanie Childs of the NZ Defence Force said personnel from across the navy, army and air force had been deployed as part of the response, including working on evacuations and relocations of crews. The NZDF was “actively responding to requests for assistance”, she said, with units placed on a shortened notice to move.
Power outages across the Auckland region continue, with Vector reporting 44,000 homes without electricity, and Counties Energy 5,000.
And an update on bins: kerbside collection will resume tomorrow in Auckland, on the normal schedule. If you missed out on a pickup owing to cancellations today and yesterday and you can’t hang on to it till next week, drop-offs at transfer stations are free.
The national airline said it restarted domestic and international flights out of Auckland Airport from mid-morning – but had to once again pause them due to “strong gusts”.
Air New Zealand hopes that turboprop operations will resume from mid-afternoon today, however high winds may inhibit this. “Turboprop flights in and out Auckland are subject to weather considerations, and flights in and out of New Plymouth, Napier and Gisborne remain suspended due to airport closures and poor weather conditions,” a spokesperson said.
Additional flights have been added to the domestic schedule to help with recovery efforts. “Our hearts go out to these affected regions who continue to be battered by Cyclone Gabrielle. We’ll get services back up to connect these regions as soon as possible.”
To help put 2023 in context for Aucklanders, here is the Airport rain accumulation plot (red line is 2023, showing a total of 540mm).
A total of 592 flights have been impacted due to the cyclone, with around 35,000 customers disrupted across Air New Zealand’s whole network. “Urgent work is underway to rebook customers onto other flights – with around 1,500 international customers still to be rebooked.”
Flight flexibility for both domestic and international flights is on offer.
Parliament’s official reopening will be pushed back by a week due to the nationwide state of emergency and ongoing response to Cyclone Gabrielle.
MPs will meet this afternoon briefly to discuss a motion on the earthquake in Syria and Turkey, followed by a statement – and questions – on the cyclone response.
Leader of the house Grant Robertson said this has been an unprecedented storm which is affecting many people and properties across the country. “Government ministers and MPs from all political parties will be focussed on assisting their communities with the response so the Government is proposing to postpone this week’s sitting programme,” he said.
When parliament returns on February 21, it will follow the same proposed schedule as had been on the agenda for today, with an opening address from the prime minister and a debate. Question time will return the day after.
“It has been a very big night for New Zealanders,” said Chris Hipkins as he addressed media in Trusts Arena, Henderson. As he spoke, the wind could be heard battering the wall behind him, Cyclone Gabrielle still very much in action.
“We’ll be throwing everything at this,” he said. “We have the defence force on the ground now, providing logistics support… in due course helping with the clean up.” He acknowledged those who have been working around the clock since the Auckland floods a fortnight ago.
“It is a particularly tiring time, a particularly stressful time.”
When asked about past decisions to build homes in naturally unstable areas, Hipkins said there is currently legislation before the house (the Natural and Built Environments Bill) “that will place a much greater emphasis on natural hazards when it comes to things like deciding where we build. We’ve got a long history of perhaps poor past decisions in New Zealand that we’re confronting right now.
“It’s not that helpful for people who are up to their waists in water to be having that debate right at the moment but it absolutely is one that we need to have as a country and we need to look at the sustainability of some of the places we have built previously.”
Hipkins noted that in the past decade, New Zealanders had experienced an overwhelming volume of natural disasters and other traumatic events. “We’ve had everything…it is a lot. The mental health impact could be a significant one.”
A national state of emergency was declared this morning after flooding, power outages, slips and more were experiences across the North Island overnight.
Tairāwhiti is still disconnected, with reports of no water, power or cellphone reception to the city since 3am. Civil defence teams in the area continue to work out what happened early this morning and how to proceed.
Communications in and out of Tairāwhiti remain “difficult”, said Hipkins, acknowledging that forestry slash would need to be looked into as a factor in the flooding.
After speaking to the media, Hipkins spoke to staff and volunteers at the Trusts Arena, which is operating as a Civil Defence Centre. One worker told the Spinoff the volunteers had outnumbered those who arrived for support through the night but they had seen a number of Muriwai residents visit.
Mobile networks remain “largely undamaged”, but hundreds of sites have been put out of action during to power outages, according to a statement from the NZ Telecommunications Forum. The sector group activated its Telecommunications Emergency Forum yesterday and companies are working to “ensure cellsites operating on batteries are optimised for power saving”.
Two fibre lines, one in the north and the other linking Taupō to Napier, have been damaged, Chorus reports. The Telecommunications Forum advises that “this is affecting mobile coverage in the Hawke’s Bay region for all providers on top of the power situation. Teams are working to locate the fault or faults on the line but this work is hampered both by the weather and by access to the lines.”
The latest outages can be found on the Chorus site here.
The telcos report the following:
2degrees: 125 cellsites offline; Gisborne and Taupō offline for both fixed and mobile service due to fibre cuts.
Spark: 136 cellsites offline; emergency generator sent to Muriwai to assist emergency services and restore cellphone coverage there.
Vodafone: Approx. 115 cellsites offline.
Rural Connectivity Group: Approx. 96 cellsites are offline impacting all three mobile operators.
A press conference is under way at the Beehive following the declaration of a national state of emergency this morning in response to the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle. Kieran McAnulty, the minister for emergency management, said while the worst of the storm appeared over, numerous challenges remained, including slips, flooding, power outages and damage to roads. “We’re still monitoring things incredibly closely,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much rain to cause some issues.”
Roger Ball, the acting director of Civil Defence Emergency Management, said the declaration, which has been extended to encompass Tararua District, which has this morning declared its own state of emergency, would enable a better coordination of agencies. He said there was no specific event that tipped the decision to seek a national state of emergency, but instead “cumulative effects” prompted Nema to make the recommendation. McAnulty said it was “a pretty high bar” to make the declaration and he was comfortable with the timing.
The NZ Defence Force had supported response efforts in part of the country, said McAnulty, with the minister of defence approving every request he was aware of. “At no point has it been indicated to me that there’s been concern around allocation of resources to the need.”
Local groups remained “responsible for decisions in their areas” but Nema would take on “more of a coordination and supporting role”, said Ball. McAnulty said local groups “know that in making this declaration we’re not saying, ‘right, that’s it, we’re taking over’. They know that if they require additional support it’s [now] easier for us to give them that.”
Ball said they had consulted with local Civil Defence groups and there were “a range of views” about the national declaration. He said, “it would be fair to say that not everyone needed it, but certainly there were a number that did, and consulting with others here at the national coordination centre it was our overall assessment that a national state of emergency should be recommended.”
Insurance companies have paid out $23 million over the past two weeks after receiving more than 21,000 claims in relation to damage caused by Auckland’s recent floods. A spokesperson said there was likely to be many more claims to come as the country deals with the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, which has today caused a nationwide state of emergency.
“We are working our way through the flooding claims as quickly as possible, while also processing claims from those affected by Cyclone Gabrielle,” said AMI, State and NZI CEO Amanda Whiting. “Some claims will be settled quickly, if not already, but some will take time as each customer’s situation is unique … Please be assured that paying claims and getting New Zealanders back on their feet is what we are here to do.”
Of those 21,000 claims, 57% were related to damage to homes, 21% to contents, 6% to commercial and business, and 16% to motor vehicles. Whiting said a team of 316 builders were responding to claims and helping strip homes. “We are focussed on expediting the claims process and closing claims for our customers as soon as we possibly can.”
Damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle is extensive, with Piha, Muriwai, the Coromandel and Gisborne suffering some of the worst effects of the tropical cyclone overnight.
Vector has reported that 38,000 homes and businesses are without power as of 8.30am, a result of “treacherous conditions … across Vector’s network, mostly caused by wind and vegetation (eg fallen trees and slips)”. The west coast was the worst affected part of the region.
With mass power outages across Northland and all the way down the east coast to Hawke’s Bay, the total number of homes without electricity has now climbed well over 150,000. A few minutes ago a national state of emergency was declared by the government.
Vector reported: “Our crews are doing their best to work in terrible conditions, where they can do safely. Their safety, and that of local communities, is absolutely paramount to us. Our teams will need to pause work if it is too dangerous. In some cases, the continued wild weather and blocked roads by fallen trees and slips, is making the repair job unsafe or inaccessible. We would like to reassure communities that our teams are doing their best to restore your power as quickly and safely as they can.”
“We have lost cell phone coverage in Whangamatā and Tairua and many of our coastal communities north and south of Whitianga, including places like Matarangi and Hahei,” says Towler.
Residents in some areas are being asked to conserve water as Towler understands there maybe water issues in some villages.
With many roads and state highways around and in and out of the region already closed before Cyclone Gabrielle after weeks of severe weather, surface flooding, slips and fallen trees have left many roads impassable.
Thames Coromandel District Council is advising against any unnecessary travel. Crews are out this morning getting an assessment of how widespread the damage is.
“The good thing is people have heeded our warnings about being prepared. We have another high tide at 2pm and further high winds so we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Towler.
For a full list of current road closures head here.
With much of the North Island reeling from the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle, the government has declared a national state of emergency. The declaration, only the third in New Zealand’s history (the previous two were after the Christchurch earthquake and in response to Covid-19) means the National Emergency Management Agency (Nema) national controller has legal authority to assign and deploy resources across the country as part of a national level response.
The minister for emergency management, Kieran McAnulty, signed the declaration at 8.43am. The declaration applies to the six regions that have already declared a local State of Emergency: Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay.
“This is an unprecedented weather event that is having major impacts across much of the North Island,” said McAnulty. “Since Sunday, Nema have been in close contact with local Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) teams of affected areas to assess the need of a declaration of a state of national emergency. Nema has been giving advice to myself and the prime minister on the need of a national etate of Emergency based on the assessments of the local teams, and until now the advice has been that it was not necessary.”
He said: “Nema met with the affected CDEM groups. Based on feedback from the groups and Nema. I consider that the criteria have now been met and a national state of emergency would be beneficial. The local leadership, CDEM groups, and emergency responders in all of the affected areas have been doing an outstanding job, but the widespread damage caused by this cyclone means we need a national declaration to support them. This declaration will enable the government to support the affected regions, provide additional resources as they are needed, and help set the priorities across the country for the response. This declaration gives us the ability to coordination further resources for affected regions. I want to emphasise that the government has already been surging support and resources to the regions for some days.”
A media conference is scheduled for 9.15am in Wellington. The prime minister, Chris Hipkins, remains in Auckland and is expected to speak later this morning. We’ll have the latest here.
It’s been a “disruptive and difficult night” for all, said Auckland Emergency Management at this mornings 8am briefing.
Cyclone Gabrielle has battered the city overnight, though the exposed west coast was the hardest hit. In the 12 hours to 4am this morning, about 265mm of rain fell in Piha. Reports from RNZ this morning claim the beach community is almost cut off now, with large chunks of the road damaged.
Meanwhile, in Muriwai, emergency mobile alerts were sent out in the middle of the night. Impacted residents were offered shelter at the local surf-lifesaving club. Muriwai is the same area where a search and rescue for a trapped firefighter was suspended early this morning due to the treacherous conditions.
A cordon will be established around Muriwai and ongoing evacuations were possible. “I’d like to think all of the residents for responding to our alert and getting themselves to safety,” said AEM’s deputy controller Rachel Kelleher.
A police spokesperson asked that people stay away from the Muriwai area. “People going out for a look won’t be welcome,” they said.
Last night saw about 50 people evacuated in Mount Eden after an apartment building was threatened by a nearby steel tower. Kelleher said a “small number” of people were taken to a Civil Defence centre in West Auckland, with others opting to stay with friends and family. Latest reports suggest the tower is still standing, but with heavy winds battering the city this morning that evacuation order will likely stay in place.
Defence Force Colonel Mel Childs said a royal navy vessel was conducting a search and rescue operation for someone adrift at sea in a yacht. They expected to reach the yacht in about two hours time.
Mayor Wayne Brown was also at this morning’s briefing, though his remarks were kept typically brief. He extended his deepest sympathies to the Muriwai community after their “terrible night”.
“I recognise thousands of people have been impacted, I’d like to reiterate my thoughts and concerns and those associated with FENZ,” he added.
The Gisborne district was hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle overnight, with Tairāwhiti disconnected entirely as National Emergency Management understands cell towers came down in the early hours of the morning. Bay of Plenty civil defence is working to get a better understanding of what happened throughout the night.
There were a number of evacuations in the area, particularly from low-lying areas before high tide at 2am.
MetService’s Lisa Murray told RNZ’s Morning Report the heaviest rain currently is falling in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, with 400mm falling in Gisborne over the last 24 hours.
National Emergency Management Agency’s national controller, Roger Ball, told TodayFM that contact was limited with the area. “There are very widespread impacts for cell phone towers in Tairāwhiti, we were able to make contact with local civil defence this morning and FENZ colleagues using our sat phones,” he said.
“Cell phone towers are down in Tairāwhiti but we would expect the telcos to be out first thing this morning doing their best to get them up and running.”
He encouraged residents to listen to AM radio for safety and information updates in the meantime.
Ball was uncertain as to the full extent of the damage overnight (MetService was unable to record rainfall after 2am). “They definitely have some challenges at the moment from what we understand, I think that they’ve got some flooding issues on the Waipaoa river, It’s obviously still coming light at the moment and the situation is still unfolding.”
The full impact is still unknown, particularly when it comes to power. With over 100,000 outages across the rest of the North Island, it’s expected the number in Gisborne alone will be in the tens of thousands.
Over 100,000 households across the North Island have lost power due to the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle.
The total number will hopefully become more clear as more regions report outages and work to repair them. But here is how the numbers sit as of publishing.
Supplier Powerco, which services many parts of the central North Island, has reported almost 40,000 households remain without power.
As of 6am this morning, 38,089 customers are without power, with the Thames/Coromandel area hardest hit with 15,497 customers currently in the dark.
Here is the latest tally from Powerco:
Coromandel – 15,497 customers
Taranaki – 10,781 customers
South Waikato – 7,053 customers
Bay of Plenty – 3,602 customers
Manawatū – 820 customers
Wairarapa – 272
Whanganui – 64
“Most of the outages have been caused by high winds and trees bringing down lines, and reconnection efforts were hampered on Monday by the ongoing severe weather conditions as well as access issues meaning crews were unable to reach fault sites,” a statement on the Powerco website reads.
Meanwhile, in Auckland, Vector has reported 15,000 to 20,000 houses remain without power. The outage map can be found here, though we are still waiting on a full statement from the power supplier this morning.
Across Northland, there are about 44,000 households without power. Top Energy – which services the tip of the country – said there had been “widespread damage” across the entire region. In their statement, Top Energy said 14,000 customers were without power, while Northpower had also sustained “extensive damage” with about 30,000 customers impacted. “It is very likely that power will not be restored to the majority of our network today,” the statement said. “Please be prepared for extended periods without power.”
Further outages across the network are likely. In the Gisborne region, which is largely cut of and disconnected today, the number of outages is likely to be in the thousands.
A firefighter assisting with flooding in the Muriwai area of Auckland remains missing today after a landslide caused a house to collapse.
A crew of volunteer fire fighters were above the property when the landslide occurred. Two firefighters were trapped inside. One was rescued in the early hours of this morning and remains in a critical condition in hospital.
However, the search for the second volunteer was suspended at about 3am due to treacherous conditions.
At a press conference this morning, FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said he had “grave concerns” for the safety of the missing firefighter. “The hills were moving… It was too dangerous to be in the vicinity.”
A geotechnical evaluation will be carried out “as soon as possible” today to determine if the search can resume.
Gregory said his thoughts were with this firefighters, their families and the wider brigade.
While Vector hasn’t released a new statement overnight, here’s the state of the outage map.
It appears thousands remain without power, particularly in the areas surrounding the central city. We’ll bring you the latest numbers from Vector once they’re released.
In Counties, around 2,500 properties are reported to be without power along with “significant numbers” of individual outages. Damage extends across the entire region, Counties Energy has said in a statement. “We’re facing a really dangerous situation with many lines down… please be careful and treat all lines as live.”
Evacuations have been ordered for two roads at Muriwai after two houses collapsed, one with residents inside. RNZ reports that there is a rescue operation underway to reach those affected, while Auckland Emergency Management issued an emergency alert after 1am due to “the heightened risk of landslide in Murawai”. Two streets of the Auckland West Coast beach community have been singled out, with “Moututara Road and Domain Crescent advised to evacuate now”.
Elsewhere across Auckland the Mt Eden shot tower is reported to remain standing, but the exclusion zone which forced an evacuation overnight remains in force due to fears the heritage-listed structure might still collapse. Auckland Transport is advising against all travel due to fallen trees, debris and surface flooding, and all ferry services are cancelled for the day. It has 260 crew on duty, with only SH1 near Warkworth closed, but expects more closures to be announced as the extent of damage becomes clear with dawn. Civil Defence has reported widespread and severe damage to the electricity network in Counties, with 2,500 homes without power.
The epicentre of Cyclone Gabrielle is currently heading toward the East Cape and camped just off the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, close to Whitianga which is expected to have been further inundated by the high tide just before 2am. There are multiple road closures, with beach towns at Matarangi and Kūaotunu essentially cut off from both sides due to multiple closures on the roads from Coromandel township and Whitianga. Footage on social media shows lake-like flooding across the lowlying plains in the area, with vast areas underwater in the vicinity of Tairua.
The middle of the North Island is now bearing the brunt of strong winds and heavy rain which has seen multiple rivers burst their banks. 500 residents of Ōpōtiki have been evacuated and are yet to have a timetable for their return, while an emergency alert has been issued to residents of the Esk Valley in the Hawke’s Bay. Gisbourne’s main water supply appears to have been severed, and residents have been asked to urgently conserve water, while the break is located and repaired, with industry to be cut off from supply this morning.