Cyclone Gabrielle: PM Hipkins visits Gisborne

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Thursday, February 16 – bringing you the latest news on the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle and more. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

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What you need to know

  • The death toll from Cyclone Gabrielle has risen to five – and it could climb even higher.
  • As of yesterday afternoon, 1,400 people remained unaccounted for.
  • A ‘strong’ magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit the lower North Island last night. There are no reports of damage.
  • Prime minister Chris Hipkins has spent the day meeting with locals in Gisborne.
  • The first images from the isolated community of Wairoa have been released.

Cyclone Gabrielle: PM Hipkins visits Gisborne

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for Thursday, February 16 – bringing you the latest news on the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle and more. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

Get in touch via

What you need to know

  • The death toll from Cyclone Gabrielle has risen to five – and it could climb even higher.
  • As of yesterday afternoon, 1,400 people remained unaccounted for.
  • A ‘strong’ magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit the lower North Island last night. There are no reports of damage.
  • Prime minister Chris Hipkins has spent the day meeting with locals in Gisborne.
  • The first images from the isolated community of Wairoa have been released.
Feb 16 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: 3,500 people still unaccounted for, 102,000 without power

View of the sea side on February 14, 2023 in Gisborne (Photo by Phil Yeo/Getty Images)

There are still 3,544 people uncontactable after Cyclone Gabrielle, according to the police.

That’s as of 2pm today and most of these are from the harshest hit areas of Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti.

There are also over 3,100 people displaced across the North Island.

“We know many people are concerned about family members and friends in the region, and Police have a dedicated team working through reports submitted via the Police 105 online reporting form,” a statement reads.

“Police are focused on locating those unaccounted for and reaching anyone who may have been isolated by flood waters.”

The official death toll from the extreme weather event remains at five but there have been unconfirmed reports of bodies being recovered.

Speaking at a press conference this evening, prime minister Chris Hipkins said 102,000 households were still without power in the upper North Island. That’s substantially down on the almost 225,000 who were in the dark on Tuesday, but areas like Napier have been warned they could remain without power for up to two weeks.

Hipkins said officials were “working as fast as we can to get telecommunications connected” to hard-hit regions.

View of the sea side on February 14, 2023 in Gisborne(Photo by Phil Yeo/Getty Images)

The prime minister spent the day in Gisborne, which he described as “a moving morning”. He said the extent of the damage was clear even before he had stepped off the plane. “Going and visiting people’s homes, evacuation centres – it was clear there are some pretty big challenges.”

In his initial remarks, Hipkins added: “I’ve just returned from Gisborne where the damage is extensive and people are in a state of shock. There’s no doubt communities are under enormous pressure.”

An initial $2 million of support has been directed to the wider east coast region. “Cyclone Gabrielle has caused widespread damage across the east coast and this contribution will make sure financial support can be given to affected communities as quickly as possible,” emergency management minister Kieran McAnulty said.

“The government is making an initial contribution of $1 million to each of the Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay disaster relief funds.”

The minister was anticipating further requests for assistance, he said. “We’re meeting requests as they come through.”

Health NZ said it has delivered urgent medical supplies to Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay, with shipments delivered yesterday and today.

The essential supplies, which include medical oxygen and other gases, chemotherapy medication, pharmaceuticals, medical nutritional supplies and blood products, are enabling hospitals to provide critical care and support primary and community health providers.

Hipkins said he had been told the healthcare system was functioning well, but there was some “access issues” for people trying to get to hospitals.

Five Starlink satellite communication have been delivered to both Wairoa, with more five more on the way. Hipkins said he did not believe there were supply issues, when asked about a tweet from National MP Shane Reti.

Water was “clearly” going to be an issue, said Hipkins. “Navy ship the Manawanui is off the coast of Tolaga Bay and Te Mana is being readied to sail to Hawke’s Bay with the supplies requested. The Defence Force is continuing to bring in supplies through every means at their disposal.”

Tomorrow, Hipkins will head to Hawke’s Bay for the first time since the cyclone. He will once again visit impacted locals and volunteers on the ground, before returning to Wellington.

Next cash rate hike should be delayed, says KiwiBank

Always useful when you have a new baby.

A trio of economists have called for the Reserve Bank to pause any official cash rate hikes while the country remains in a national state of emergency.

A 50 basis point – or even a 75 basis point rise – had been widely predicted as the country continues to grapple with high inflation.

But KiwiBank’s economists said hikes should be sidelined until the country was through the current weather-related crisis. “We think the RBNZ should pause next week. Current circumstances warrant caution. But what we think they should do is not what they will likely do. We expect to see a hike, but the discussion should be around zero or 25 basis points, not 50 or 75 basis points.”

They continued: “A pause from the RBNZ next week would be welcomed by most Kiwi, and highlight that officials are cognisant of the economic damage being inflicted.”

PM to take ‘very good look’ at infrastructure resilience in wake of cyclone

PM Chris Hipkins and deputy PM Carmel Sepuloni in Auckland (Photo: Getty Images)

Prime minister Chris Hipkins has spent the day with locals and volunteers in Gisborne, one of the areas worst hit by Cyclone Gabrielle.

It’s the town where another weather-related death was confirmed this morning, and an area largely cut-off to the rest of the country.

Speaking to media, Hipkins was asked about the difficulty establishing communications with the most isolated regions. While he wouldn’t commit to a review, he said the government will be having a “very good look” at the resilience of all infrastructure in preparation for future disasters.

“I think we need to make sure we’ve got basic levels of connectivity as quickly as we can after a natural disaster,” he said. “I think what people would expect is that we’ve got good back up in place.”

The prime minister wouldn’t get into the “politics” of three waters, but confirmed that local communities won’t be forced to pay the entire bill for the clean-up. “Any natural disaster you wouldn’t expect local government to carry the can on their own, central government must play a role,” he said.

At the time of last night’s magnitude six earthquake, Hipkins said he was at an event in Wellington. “I’m not going to repeat my initial words when the earthquake happened,” he joked.

PM Chris Hipkins and deputy PM Carmel Sepuloni in Auckland earlier this week (Photo: Getty Images)

Horrific images emerge from cut-off Wairoa


New photos from the isolated town of Wairoa have been released this morning by a team from Stuff that are on the ground.

The images look like something out of a movie. The town is blanketed in mud and silt from the devastating floods, while lengthy queues have formed outside a welfare station as people seek food and medical supplies. The impact on the Hawke’s Bay has been both unprecedented and unthinkable.

According to reports, at least 60 people remain out of their homes in a nearby evacuation centre. The New World supermarket has reopened, though mayor Craig Little reissued his urgent plea for help from the outside world.

Fuel, communications and food are what is needed most, while the water supply should last for a few days.

Yesterday, the government announced it would be sending in food, water and a barbecue that would help provide for families.

The photos can be found within the Stuff live blog, here

Australia to help with cyclone recovery effort

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

Our government has asked Australia to help with the ongoing recovery following Cyclone Gabrielle.

According to TVNZ’s Australia correspondent, Andrew Macfarlane, the call across the Tasman was received this morning.

Elizabeth Peak, from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, said that a national management coordination function was established “to be able to respond very quickly when the request came through, and, and we will certainly do that”.

Earlier this week, Australia’s emergency management minister said the country was ready and waiting to answer New Zealand’s call. “My heart goes out to those impacted… Australia stands ready to help our friends across the ditch [and] talks are already underway,” said senator Murray Watt in a tweet.

Stuff fundraising drive pulls $100k in two hours

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

With the clean-up under way in the worst hit parts of the country, it’s time to take a step back and consider how the wider public could help.

We’ll have a fuller piece up on the ways you can donate later on – but for now, Stuff has just reported that its fundraising drive has pulled in an incredible $100,000 in roughly two hours.

It’s a testament to the nationwide empathy for what has happened over the past week.

If you want to support, click here.

Government books show preparedness for Gabrielle response – Robertson

Grant Robertson (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The government has opened up its accounts for the six months ending December, with finance minister Grant Robertson saying they’re looking in good shape.

The technical sounding “Operating Balance before Gains and Losses” – or OBEGAL – recorded a deficit of $2.8 billion, which Robertson said was $39 million above what had been forecast in the half yearly update in December 2022 and $5.2 billion lower than for the same period a year ago.

According to Robertson, it shows the government will be well prepared for the clean-up after Cyclone Gabrielle – but the full cost of the recovery won’t be known for some time.

“The extreme weather that New Zealand has experienced recently is putting families and businesses under even more pressure, with some losing their homes and livelihoods. We are committed to continuing to support them through these difficult times,” he said.

“New Zealand is in a strong financial position to do so thanks to the government’s careful and prudent management of the books. The impacts of flooding in Auckland in late January and now Cyclone Gabrielle have yet to be fully known and the Treasury is currently accessing the economic and fiscal impact.”

Net debt was 21.6% of GDP, higher than the forecast of 21.3%.

Napier expected to be without power for two weeks

Near Napier, the Waiohiki bridge and surrounds are  inundated by the Tutaekuri River. Photo: Getty

As officials work to restore power and communications to the worst hit regions, Napier locals have been warned they will likely be without electricity for another fortnight.

The city’s council has posted to Facebook, saying that emergency power has been provided for Wellesley Road Medical Centre, Countdown and the Caltex. However, wider power restoration could take two weeks.

“We are thinking of you all and hope that you’ve managed to have some sleep. The impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle continue to be felt, as emergency services, councils, responders and volunteers work together through difficult conditions to restore access and core services in parts of the region,” the post said. “Thank you to you all.”

The council has connected generators to drinking water supplies, however residents have been urged to conserve water while this temporary fix is in place.

Hawke’s Bay warned of ‘severe’ thunderstorms


A “severe” thunderstorm watch has been issued for Hawke’s Bay.

MetService has warned of “localised downpours” of between 25 to 40mm between 3pm and 10pm today. “This could bring further surface or flash flooding and make driving conditions hazardous.”

The region has been one of the worst hit by Cyclone Gabrielle, with many roads impassable and power expected to be out in some parts for days or even weeks.

Chris Hipkins to visit flood-hit Gisborne

Hipkins speaks to staff and volunteers at the Trusts Arena, which is operating as a Civil Defence Centre during Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: Toby Manhire.

The prime minister will travel to Gisborne today for a chance to meet with locals and first responders on the ground in one of the worst hit regions in the country.

Chris Hipkins will head to Tairāwhiti on a Defence Force aircraft this morning. He will spend several hours in the community, observing damage, meeting with Civil Defence officials and speaking to communities impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

It’s been a massive three weeks for the prime minister, who has had to oversee the response to both the cyclone and the recent Auckland flooding. Hipkins travelled to Wellington on Tuesday after initially being stuck in Auckland during the first 24 hours of the cyclone.

Speaking to RNZ this morning, cabinet minister Michael Wood said there were ongoing rescue operations in the flood-affected regions. “One of the challenges of the current situation is communication has been badly cut off,” he said. “That is one of the key tasks of today: making sure we are accounting for everyone.”

With reports of possible further deaths, Wood said he would not speculate at this stage.

The Bulletin: Viagogo trial starts in High Court

“Viagogo admits that over 90% of tickets that are sold in New Zealand are from scalpers; people selling tickets in commercial quantities,” said Andy Luck, acting on behalf of the Commerce Commission in a trial that stared at Auckland’s High Court yesterday. The Commerce Commission is seeking a declaration that Viagogo misled consumers by claiming to be an “official” seller of “guaranteed” tickets to events. Viagogo is a ticket reseller.

The Spinoff’s Chris Schulz looked into how it operated in 2021. The court heard yesterday that the commission has received 1300 complaints or communications about Viagogo.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

Nicola Sturgeon has nothing left in the tank

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on May 07, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Following the resignation of Jacinda Ardern, it’s become acceptable (and after the last three years, probably true) to offer “nothing left in the tank” as a reason for resigning. In a speech that was longer than Ardern’s but contained clanging similarities, first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has tendered her resignation.

Sturgeon was blunter than Ardern, saying “the nature and form of modern political discourse means there is a much greater intensity – dare I say it, brutality – to life as a politician than in years gone by.” Media have been quick to draw comparisons. Rumours of Sturgeon stepping down have been circulating for a while.

The Guardian’s Martin Kettle writes it could be a watershed moment for Scottish independence, while UK Labour party officials think it might open up an opportunity for Labour in Scotland, potentially paving the way for the election of Labour government at Westminster.

Cyclone Gabrielle: Death toll rises to five

Redcliffe Bridge is closed off as debris piles up along the Tutaekuri River in the suburb of Taradale, February 15, 2023. . Photo: Getty Images

A fifth death linked to Cyclone Gabrielle has been reported this morning.

Police said they were investigating the death in the Gisborne region. The person is believed to have died after being caught in flood water.

Last night police confirmed the death toll had risen to four after the body of a child was found in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay.

A volunteer firefighter in Muriwai was also confirmed dead, along with a person caught in a landslip in Putorino, northern Hawke’s Bay yesterday afternoon.

Police reported that as of 2.30pm today, 1,442 people had been registered as uncontactable.

The country remains in a national state of emergency.