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Gabrielle leaves chaos in wake

Wednesday 15 February, 2023

  • Tairāwhiti continues to have no internet or cell connection
  • Water crisis in play
  • All state highways remain closed
  • School closed until Monday

Cyclone Gabrielle looks as though she is finally moving on from Tairāwhiti.

The region has been hammered by strong winds, hundreds of millimetres of rainfall, and record-breaking river levels.

And while the region remains disconnected from the outside world with a severed optic fibre cable, and patchy power supply, the work now begins on assessment of roads, bridges, properties and residential addresses.

Tairāwhiti Civil Defence controller Ben Green says the priority is always around the safety of people. “We are still yet to get a full oversight of the impact of the event but to the best of our knowledge, there have been no flood related injuries or deaths.”

Monday night saw records tumble for river levels, with the Waipaoa River peaking at 12.8m, the highest since records began; the Waiapu at 8m, which is the highest since 1975; and the Te Arai at 4.9, the highest since 1983.

Over Sunday and Monday Cyclone Gabrielle brought 547mm to Raparapaririki (Waiapu) the highest rainfall in the district, and 500mm to Mangapoike, which is by the water supply dam.

The roading network is awash with silt and significantly damaged in some parts. Contractors have been hindered by the closure of the both SH2 and SH35 but as soon as practicable have been assessing the damage.

“We ask that people stay off the roads,” says Mr Green. “Keep the roads clear for emergency services and please don’t drive around rubbernecking.”

Some supermarkets are expected to open today (Wednesday) however this will be controlled so to ensure there is enough for all (Wednesday) and we are  working through data and power access issues. “Please only buy what you need to ensure there is enough for everyone while our retailers work to replenish their stores.” Petrol stations are also hoping to open and we will be prioritising fuel for emergency services. We are working to get roading access restored into the region.”

The Ministry of Education on the advice of Civil Defence have recommended all schools, kura, early learning services on the reticulated water supply, close due to the critical water situation. This will be reviewed on Monday.

People are being asked to check around their properties for any unusual cracks, doors or window frames that are sticking, subsidence, and new cracks or bulges on the ground. “It is sodden out there and we ask that people are vigilant. Check your properties and report any anomalies to Council.

Two properties have been red stickered, meaning they have been deemed uninhabitable due to flooding or land movement; with 14 homes being yellow stickered meaning the building may have sustained moderate damage and access is restricted. As more homes are inspected, the numbers are expected to increase. Council inspections will continue and it is expected the numbers to grow.

Chorus is traversing some extremely tough terrain to identify where the breaks are in the fibre optic cable to restore internet access to the region. At this point, it is believed there are multiple breaks in the cable and the priority is restoring the cable to the south. Until it is fixed, the region continues to have no eftpos or payWave facilities, ATMs are out of order, there is no internet, or cell phone connectivity, with some businesses unable to operate.

While there are still pockets throughout the region without power, Eastland Network has prioritised getting as many households reconnected as quickly as possible. The crews are out assessing the rest of the network to make plans for restoration. The biggest challenge for them is access on a very compromised roading network. People are cautioned to always treat lines as live.

Approximately 200 people remain in Civil Defence welfare centres around the region. Servicing the city is the House of Breakthrough in Lytton West, Ilminster Intermediate, the Salvation Army Centre, and Te Poho o Rawiri Marae. Some of these sites may be reduced however updates will be communicated to ensure people know where to go. There are also a number at marae and schools in the rural and coast areas.