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Water and data issues

14 February 2023

People are being asked to stay off the roads as heavy machinery is being brought in to clear woody debris from the city’s two bridges which are both critical transport routes and also carry vital utilities for the region.

It’s been a hectic 24 hours for Tairāwhiti with extensive flooding, evacuations, the loss of the city water supply and breaks in the fibre optic cable that delivers cell phone, Eftpos and payWave services and landline communications.

Residents are being asked to urgently conserve water, and use it only for drinking and hygiene. There are multiple breaks in the pipe between the dams and the Waingake treatment plant.

The city has limited capacity from Waipaoa but it takes some time for that to come online.

Council staff were out at first light to survey the pipe from the air to assess the damage.

Tairāwhiti Civil Defence controller Ben Green says it is a crucial time for the region. “The water problem is significant and everyone must play their part to conserve water,” he says. “This won’t be a quick fix. We need everyone to be cautious with their water use.

“We understand people are keen to tidy up but given the damage, this is not the time to start cleaning your properties.”

The loss of the fibre optic cable means people can only use cash to purchase goods and services, with ATM machines also out of action. Mr Green cautions that there is no need to panic buy. “Use what you have at home. Come together with neighbours and support one another.”

Both the Gladstone Road and William Petty (Rutene Road) Bridges will be shut from 11am to clear the woody debris building up to a dangerous level. It is expected to take at least three hours, but possibly a lot longer.

To ensure the community is safe, emergency services will be based on both sides of the river.

Cyclone Gabrielle hasn’t finished with Tairāwhiti with more rain forecast for today, and running through tomorrow. “Stay at home,” says Mr Green. “This is no time to be out and about rubbernecking. It’s dangerous for everyone.”

The region remains completely cut off with SH2 shut to both Napier and Opotiki, and SH35 from Okitu to Opotiki.

Power is also out for the wider region with Eastland Network working closely with Transpower to restore it as quickly as possible and caution people to treat all lines as live.