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An evacuation centre in Hastings as people are reunited. (Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver)
An evacuation centre in Hastings as people are reunited. (Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver)

The BulletinFebruary 16, 2023

Conditions obscuring the true toll of Cyclone Gabrielle

An evacuation centre in Hastings as people are reunited. (Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver)
An evacuation centre in Hastings as people are reunited. (Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver)

Formerly a picturesque part of the country’s ‘fruit bowl’, Napier’s Esk Valley is now an area of great concern and a further death has been reported in Gisborne. The full picture still remains unclear, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Death toll rises 

Until Cyclone Gabrielle hit, Napier’s Esk Valley was known to most as a picturesque and productive part of New Zealand’s “fruitbowl” where grapevines and apples grow and great wine is produced. The vines were completely submerged as 7 metres of water swept through when Gabrielle hit. That water raged at times, moving quickly, and it’s now an area causing enormous amounts of concern as horrific stories emerge of more potential loss of life. This morning, the death toll linked to Gabrielle now stands at five, as police investigate a death in Gisborne.

1400 people reported as uncontactable

More than 1400 people have been reported as uncontactable, mostly in Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. Police expect a lot of this to be due to lines of communications being down but have said there are “grave concerns” for several people missing in those areas. A live cross on Breakfast this morning featured people just trying to get on camera to tell their families they were alive. There are currently 12 Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers in the Hawke’s Bay unaccounted for. Transport minister Michael Wood said this morning that authorities believed they may have made their own way to various evacuation sites around the area – and that it would be a priority today to find them.

Worst hit areas now clearly identified

While details of the full extent of the cyclone’s impact remain murky, hampered by still dangerous conditions, isolation and a lack of connectivity, it’s now very clear that Northland, Coromandel, Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti and areas on the West coast of Auckland have been worst affected. The Coromandel is now into its fifth day without power. Residents of Muriwai and Piha in Auckland are in a state of shock and are calling for help. Two Navy ships have been dispatched to Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay and the prime minister will travel to Gisborne and Tairāwhiti today. Roads in Northland are significantly damaged. Thankfully, the surge of water which threatened Dargaville this morning came at low tide during the night and was contained by the town’s sea wall.

Recent events land on a country already grappling with interlinked crises

Finally, while the roaring (and correct) consensus is that it is far too early for calculating costs, especially with so many people in very real states of precarity and risk, minds are beginning to turn to the knock-on impacts, as a way of preparing us for what we must grapple with. Duncan Greive writes this morning that “Auckland’s floods and Cyclone Gabrielle did not land on a country which was running smoothly. They dropped into one which was suffering through that debilitating modern phenomenon known as the polycrisis: interlinked crises covering inflation, housing, infrastructure, health and more, all operating against and influenced by the climate crisis.” BusinessDesk’s Pattrick Smellie has outlined similar thinking (paywalled) from four economists. All agree it will be highly disruptive.

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