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LIVE UPDATES

Cyclone Gabrielle: Over 1,000 missing, four confirmed deaths

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Wednesday, February 15 – bringing you the latest news as the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle is revealed. On deck: Stewart Sowman-Lund, with support from our entire news team.

Get in touch via stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

What you need to know

Blog-feb-15.jpg

Cyclone Gabrielle: Over 1,000 missing, four confirmed deaths

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Wednesday, February 15 – bringing you the latest news as the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle is revealed. On deck: Stewart Sowman-Lund, with support from our entire news team.

Get in touch via stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

What you need to know

Feb 15 2023

‘Strong’ magnitude 6.1 earthquake hits lower North Island

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It’s exactly not what we needed, but there has been a “strong” earthquake in the lower North Island.

GeoNet has reported the quake struck off the coast of Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast at 7.38pm. It was at a depth of 48km.

Further up the country, our Dannevirke correspondent (my mum) described the quake as “small” but said it gave the dogs a fright. However, those around Wellington have taken to Twitter where some called it “pretty scary”, “strong” – or simply said “ffs”.

We’ve been told by an expert, based on the initial data, that there is no tsunami risk as the earthquake was too deep to cause any deformation of the sea floor.

It’s the strongest quake for some time – though earlier in the week, on the same day Cyclone Gabrielle arrived on our shores, a magnitude 4.4 earthquake hit near Gisborne.

Recovery effort includes ships, water drops and a barbecue for 3,000 in Wairoa

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Chris Hipkins has urged people who have been evacuated from their homes to not return until given clearance “because we want to make sure that we are preserving the energy of our emergency services.”

The prime minister has given an update on the “enormous logistical effort” that is the beginnings of recovery after Cyclone Gabrielle.

The police have confirmed four people have died so far as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle. The body of a volunteer firefighter caught in a Muriwai landslide was retrieved today. Hipkins acknowledged his family and work “protecting the community”.

The body of a child thought to have become caught in rising water was found in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay, this afternoon.

One person died in a landslip on a rural property in Matahorua Road, Putorino, northern Hawke’s Bay yesterday afternoon.

Another body was located on the shore in Bay View, Napier, last night.

The government remains in an “urgent response mode” in the Hawkes Bay region. All those who were on roofs have been rescued. Currently, 3,000 people are in civil defence centres and about 1,400 people missing, largely in the Hawkes Bay area.

Napier and Gisborne airports were able to open today and emergency supplies – including communication support and staff – were flown in today.

The army has moved a logistics support team of 100 people to Hawkes Bay. The defence force will be taking water and supplies via ship to Napier and Tairāwhiti. The rapid relief team will cook a barbecue for 3,000 people in Wairoa.

Energy minister Megan Woods updated on the lates in power outages. “This is obviously a significant event with a level of damage to our infrastructure that we have not seen since Cyclone Bola.”

Woods acknowledged the uncertainty for those waiting for power to return. “In some cases it will not be clear when exactly it will be restored.”

Minister for communications Ginny Andersen confirmed that Northland, Coromandel and Hawkes Bay have been the most impacted by telecommunications outages. There’ve been five main fibre breaks, with two restored (Coromandel, north of Taupō). In Northland, cellphone towers cannot be started up again until power returns. Tairāwhiti now has limited connectivity through interim satellite means. It’s anticipated it will be another “couple of days” before full connectivity is returned through fibre.

Four dead, 1,400 reported uncontactable after Cyclone Gabrielle – Police

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The Police have confirmed four people have died as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The body of a volunteer firefighter caught in a Muriwai landslide was retrieved today.

The body of a child thought to have become caught in rising water was found in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay, this afternoon.

One person died in a landslip on a rural property in Matahorua Road, Putorino, northern Hawke’s Bay yesterday afternoon.

Another body was located on the shore in Bay View, Napier, last night.

The Police report that as of 2.30pm today, 1,442 people had been registered as uncontactable. There were 111 reports of people now safe. The “vast majority” of the reports were from Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti, with the remainder from across the North Island.

“While we expect a large number of the reports to be the result of communication lines being down, Police can confirm there are several people missing in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti areas, for whom we have grave concerns,” said a spokesperson. “With other storm-affected districts reporting they are able to manage their response within existing resources, Police National Headquarters is now focussed on critical support for Eastern District.”

Seventy staff would be relocated over the next 48 hours. Those staff will support recovery efforts and provide community reassurance.

An SOS from Piha: ‘We need generators, fresh food and 100 sim cards’

Flood and slip damage in Piha caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Valentina Rocca

The damage, says Jenene Crossan, is “mindblowing”. “The day after the cyclone, we were all just walking around with our mouths wide open going, ‘Oh my god.’ I don’t think any of us had any appreciation of just how much damage was going to get done and how many houses were going to be destroyed and how cut off that would make us.”

Crossan, a Piha resident for the past three years, is one of the lucky ones. Her house is mostly intact. But that’s not the case for many others. The West Auckland beachside community and neighbour Muriwai are among the hardest hit by Cyclone Gabrielle, with floods and slips devastating homes and roads throughout the region.

One firefighter remains in a critical condition and another is believed to have died after a slip occurred in the middle of a rescue mission in a Muriwai home on Sunday night. “Utterly pancaked” is how one Muriwai resident – forced to flee two homes during a night of terror – described some homes in the region.

Piha
Flood and slip damage in Piha caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Valentina Rocca

Right now, Piha residents have been told to stay put. While the road out there is open, it’s “tenuous and likely to erode,” says Crossan. Temporary accommodation has been found for those displaced, and the local surf club is being used as a community hub for people to check on each other and swap food. With no power, Crossan says food in fridges and freezers will soon begin rotting. Shortages could become an issue over the next few days. Generators would help with cooking and fresh water supplies, she says.

But the biggest problem is communications. She’s talking to The Spinoff on a cellphone supplied by a group of Spanish and German tourists who arrived just before Cyclone Gabrielle hit and now find themselves stuck in one of the worst hit regions. They were using a 2Degrees prepay phone that, unlike those on Spark and Vodafone networks, is still up and running. “We’re all just using their phone,” says Crossan. “That’s the only way we can get messaging in and out.”

Even the local fire department isn’t able to communicate. “The radios are down. They can’t even get messages out,” says Crossan. “That’s how bad the comms issue is. The comms issue is appalling.  The community has no ability to talk to each other and check on each other… People shouldn’t be on the roads out on the roads, because the only way to get to each other is to go out… and get in their cars.”

This, says Crossan, is a desperate SOS from a region struggling to cope after the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle. “We need telecommunications,” she says. “We need those cell towers to have generators put onto them. I need 100 sim cards and I need them here in the community so they have some way of getting comms in and out… the key thing is we needs fresh food and we need 100 2Degrees sim cards. If we can get those out, it will leave people feeling less isolated than they do right now.”

Read more: Piha devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle: ‘Unprecedented and scary times’

‘Never seen devastation like this’: Wairoa mayor’s urgent plea for help

Extent of flooding in Wairoa surveyed from the air (Image: Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group)

Wairoa remains cut off after unprecedented flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle.

The district’s mayor, Craig Little, spoke to Today FM’s Lloyd Burr earlier today where he said the town was entirely shut off from neighbouring areas and running out of supplies.

“We need food, fuel, we need more communication to the outside world,” he said. “We’re cut off from Napier, that’s gonna be months, we’re cut off from Gisborne… We’re really in a bad way. I’ve never seen devastation like this.”

Little said Civil Defence officials had arrived now, but said defence force support would be helpful as well. He likened the district to “ground zero” and said he believed there had been unreported deaths. “I think there has been,” he said.

There was about five days of clean water supply remaining and people had been asked to conserve what they had.

On the number of properties that would have to be written off, Little said the level of flooding was truly unprecedented for the area – even when compared with Cyclone Bola. “It’s flooded areas that I’ve never seen floods before. It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I know the government is taking this seriously but we just need help.”

An engineer Little spoke to even suggested putting a barge across the bay in order to transport important supplies into Wairoa.

The full interview can be found here

Cyclone Gabrielle: Focus shifts to recovery in Auckland

A resident watches Warkworth’s flooded Mahurangi River. Photo: Getty

Auckland Civil Defence officials said the region has shifted fully into recovery mode after 24 hours of severe weather from Cyclone Gabrielle.

The west coast of the region was particularly harshly hit (we’ll have an update from Piha for you shortly) and access remains restricted in many areas due to landslips. About 20 homes were evacuated in Piha last night due to land instability, and an exclusion zone is in place in a large part of Muriwai.

“If you have been evacuated, please do not go back to your property until you are advised it is safe to do so. Please remember that the ground is saturated and there is a very real risk of further slips,” deputy controller Rachel Kelleher said.

“Anyone who lives in an area that is prone to slips, or who feels unsafe, please don’t wait for direction. Please self-evacuate to friends or family, or to a nearby Civil Defence Centre.”

There were about 200 people in Civil Defence centres and shelters overnight, including about 50 domestic and international travellers.

Twenty teams of assessors along with 20 members of the welfare team have been working in the region this morning, conducting rapid building and welfare assessments.

Meanwhile, Auckland Transport said 75 roads in the region have been fully closed, with 60 partially damaged.

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A resident watches Warkworth’s flooded Mahurangi River. Photo: Getty

Initial $4m in support for rural community clean-up

Trade and agriculture minister Damien O’Connor (Getty Images, Kai Schwoerer)

The government’s announced $4 million to help rural communities with their recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle.

It’s on top of the $11.5m package announced by the prime minister earlier in the week, which was to help with the clean-up from recent floods on top of preparation for the cyclone.

Agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said the breadth of the storm had been “unprecedented”, with milk collection disrupted, orchards inundated and livestock losses across much of the North Island. “This is a dynamic situation and we are responding accordingly to help the rural sector to respond with this initial funding of $4 million,” he said.

“This is a difficult time for many, with thousands of people’s homes and businesses affected by this large-scale adverse event – the government is here to provide support.”

More support would likely come after a “full and thorough assessment” of the overall damage, said O’Connor.

‘Many thousands’ of landslides expected from Cyclone Gabrielle

A home flattened by a slip in Muriwai. Photo: Getty

As Cyclone Gabrielle spirals away to the east, its impacts will long continue to be felt. In the landscape, the storm’s legacy will include “many thousands of slips” across the North Island, according to GNS Science. “This cyclone has caused significant damage to property and national lifeline assets, like roading and rail, and water and power services, and it’s not over yet,” GNS Science engineering geologist Chris Massey said in a statement. “GNS Science is working around the clock to provide emergency response agencies with information on where we can expect the most severe impacts from land movement to occur.”

Scientists are using modelling tools to forecast hotspots of concern, he said. “We determine landslide probability across regions by using rain forecasts and measurements to generate landslide forecasts. Then we can estimate the locations of communities and infrastructure most exposed, to help visualise the likely impacts. We provide that information to the emergency management teams and it helps them plan their response.”

Reporting of landslides is encouraged to assist the modelling, with the public encouraged to email GNS with details on landslides@gns.cri.nz with details of date, location and the size of the slip. “Landslides can be highly unpredictable and if you’re not an experienced engineering geologist or geotechnical engineer please stay a safe distance away from any existing landslides and potentially dangerous slopes,” said Massey. “Homes near hills or steep slopes are most at risk so if that’s where you live, watch out for cracks or movement that could be a warning sign, and get quickly to safety.”

Air NZ resumes all flights, including to flood-hit areas

(Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Air New Zealand’s flight network is back up and running today, with only some “minor disruptions” being reported.

The airline was forced to suspend all flights in and out of Auckland and some other North Island airports due to the wild weather caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

While some flights were able to depart yesterday morning, the domestic network was halted again in the afternoon.

In a statement, Air NZ’s chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the airline’s entire international and domestic network is back up and running today – including into the heavily impacted regions of New Plymouth, Napier and Gisborne.

“With aircraft and crew displaced around the network, our morning operations were a little bumpy. But we’re largely back in the swing of things today and are completely focused on customer recovery.”

The airline has had a total of 821 cancelled flights and 49,000 impacted customers since Cyclone Gabrielle began.

Cyclone Gabrielle: More than 10,000 now displaced, Wairoa remains cut off

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There have been 10,500 people left displaced as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle, the emergency management minister has revealed.

Of those, roughly 9,000 are in the Hawke’s Bay region, where two people died overnight.

Speaking at a press conference, Kieran McAnulty said Wairoa remained cut-off. “There are certainly isolated communities but that’s not unusual in a response,” he said.

More than 300 people were rescued in Hawke’s Bay yesterday, but there were no further calls coming in. “The rescue coordination centre have 25 remain tasks of individual or family groups that need rescuing,” he said. There were three helicopters servicing the area.

Civil Defence teams have been able to make contact with local officials in Wairoa, said McAnulty, and the focus was now on getting a “firm grasp” of the needs of impacted communities.

“My key message remains the same. Safety first,” he said. “This is a significant disaster.”

Two deaths were confirmed in Hawke’s Bay earlier this morning. McAnulty said he wouldn’t be surprised if the death toll increased, but “obviously we hope that doesn’t happen”.

McAnulty said he didn’t have one specific area of concern. “They’re all of concern but they’re of concern for different reasons,” he said.

Spark and Vodafone are choppering in equipment to Gisborne in order to try and re-establish contact.

McAnulty said he had made contact with most regional mayors in flood-hit areas, but has not been able to speak with those in Wairoa or Napier and Hastings. A message had been passed on via Civil Defence and McAnulty said the government would try and get them exactly what they needed.

“Everyone knows we have a long path ahead,” he said.

On the news that a body has been found in the search for a missing firefighter in Muriwai, McAnulty, joined by minister Andrew Little, paid condolences to the firefighter’s family and colleagues.

More than 250 defence force personnel from across the different branches have been deployed.

Body found in search for missing firefighter

A Muriwai home destroyed by a large landslide on Moututara Road. Photo: Getty

Rescue teams have found a body in the search for a missing firefighter in Muriwai.

The identity of the body has not yet been confirmed, but a statement from Fire and Emergency said it was recovered in the area where the firefighter was thought to have gone missing.

“We will provide more information later today. I acknowledge the difficult time this is for all of us, particularly for family, the Muriwai Volunteer Fire Brigade and all at Fire and Emergency New Zealand,” the statement reads.

Two firefighters were trapped in a collapsed house in Muriwai after a landslide, with one taken to hospital in a critical, but stable, condition.

Watch live: Ministers to provide next cyclone response update

The emergency management minister is set to give his next briefing from parliament in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Kieran McAnulty will be joined by defence minister Andrew Little.

You can tune in below

 

Princess Anne to meet with staff leading cyclone response

Princess Anne with King Charles in January 2023 (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

It may well have slipped you by this week owing to the national emergency, but a Royal is in town.

Princess Anne will arrive in the country today. It’s a visit that was announced well ahead of Cyclone Gabrielle’s landfall, but now takes on additional symbolism, as the Royal will meet with cyclone responders in Wellington.

Alongside prime minister Chris Hipkins, the princess, joined by her husband Vice Admiral Tim Laurence, will visit the Beehive bunker that has been up and running since the late January flooding. (As an aside, you can read more about the bunker and its role here).

Princess Anne’s trip to New Zealand has been changed due to the extreme weather. As explained by Stuff, she was due to visit the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals centenary event in Palmerston North because of her connection as a colonel in chief. However, this event has now been scaled back.

The Royal will still lay a wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial, before visiting the Riding for the Disabled in Porirua in her capacity as a patron.

On Friday, she will head to Christchurch.

Princess Anne with King Charles in January 2023 (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Wairoa still cut-off, with limited food and water supplies

A clearer picture is also emerging of the devastation caused in the area with aerial shots of Wairoa showing the extent of the flood damage. These extraordinary images from the Air Force show the lengths gone to to rescue people from rooftops. The 8000 residents of Wairoa are still cut off, with no phone service, only one day’s worth of food and enough drinking water for two days after the Wairoa River burst its banks.

Power was restored to most residents last night but as the Hawkes Bay Civil Defence team explain, a post made on its Facebook page last night was only possible via Starlink, a satellite-enabled wifi connection that is only accessible to the Emergency Operations Centre.

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New pictures reveal extent of damage and rescue efforts in Hawke’s Bay

Rooftop rescues by the Air Force in Esk Valley, Napier (Photo: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

Images shared by the Royal New Zealand Air Force show people being rescued from rooftops in Esk Valley, Napier.

Three NH90 helicopters are in action in the Hawke’s Bay area as part of a multi-agency response being led by the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand. The choppers have also been assisting in moving 60 to 100 people from Hastings and transporting medical supplies around the region.

Rooftop rescues by the Air Force in Esk Valley, Napier (Image: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

 

People wait for a rooftop rescue (Image: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

 

Forestry waste (slash) in flooded part of Hawke’s Bay (Image: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

 

The Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group has also shared pictures that show the exent of the flooding in Wairoa.

Extent of flooding in Wairoa surveyed from the air (Image: Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group)

 

Extent of flooding in Wairoa surveyed from the air (Image: Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group)

Cyclone Gabrielle: Two deaths confirmed overnight, 144,000 still without power

People wait for a rooftop rescue (Image: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

Two deaths have been confirmed overnight, though only one of these has definitively been linked to the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The emergency management minister Kieran McAnulty has just held a morning update, revealing a death due to a landslide in Hawke’s Bay along with a body that was recovered from a beach. That death has been referred to the coroner.

“Obviously the fatalities are really saddening and the missing firefighter is still of concern,” said McAnulty, confirming the search for the Muriwai firefighter was suspended at 9pm yesterday before resuming today. “We will maintain hope for that.”

The minister said he hasn’t had an update on any significant injuries from overnight.

On the power situation, the minister said about 144,000 households across the North Island were still in the dark. “That’s good improvement but it’s still a hell of a lot of people who don’t have power,” McAnulty said. Yesterday there were about 225,000 households with power outages.

“Most of Gisborne has power again which is going to make a massive difference, hopefully we’ll be able to regain communications. Power is back in Wairoa, which is great, we’ve got contact with their local Civil Defence,” McAnulty said. “But what is of concern is there are still areas that don’t have power.”

Extent of flooding in Wairoa surveyed from the air (Image: Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group)

An evacuation was currently under way in Hawke’s Bay, though details were still a little patchy. “It is an evolving situation but I have been assured they are on top of it and they are getting people out.”

Roughly 300 people were rescued from rooftops in Hawke’s Bay yesterday when the weather cleared. “The frustrating thing yesterday was that we knew they were severely impacted, [but] we didn’t have clear communications across the whole region.”

While he hadn’t heard whether everyone had been rescued, McAnulty said he had his “fingers crossed” that was the case. About 1,000 people were rescued yesterday in Hawke’s Bay but that number “was going to climb”.

The minister said those communications issues meant he had been struggling to get in touch with mayors in the most impacted areas. “I received a text this morning from the mayors of Gisborne and Napier/Hastings but I don’t know if that was sent yesterday,” he said.

Rooftop rescues by the Air Force in Esk Valley, Napier (Image: Royal New Zealand Air Force)

Fire and Emergency and Police have have told the minister they were able to meet the demand for resources in flood-hit areas. “From my perspective that’s very encouraging. Once we know what the need is that gives me faith we’ll be able to meet it.”

Prime minister Chris Hipkins made it back to Wellington last night and will today help coordinate the response from the capital. It’s expected he will visit areas hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle later in the week.

Watch the minister’s press conference

Search resumes for missing firefighter in Muriwai

A Muriwai home destroyed by a large landslide on Moututara Road. Photo: Getty

The search has resumed for the missing firefighter trapped in a collapsed house in the Auckland beach community of Muriwai.

The west coast of Auckland was battered especially hard by Cyclone Gabrielle, with areas entirely cut off due to slips and debris.

At a press conference this morning, officials confirmed the firefighter rescued on Monday night was still in hospital in a “critical but stable” condition.

However, the second firefighter had not yet been found. “The longer the search goes on, we’ve got grave concerns for the safety of our firefighter,” an official said. It was still a rescue mission and nobody had given up hope yet. “Our intention is to bring our firefighter home.”

Drones will be used to assess the stability of the land.

Meanwhile, a “medium” number of calls were received overnight by emergency services.