The Government in New Zealand has declared a National State of Emergency in response to Cyclone Gabrielle. The declaration will apply to the regions of Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti (Gisborne), Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Tararua District.
Cyclone Gabrielle brought strong winds with gusts of up to 127 km/h, rough seas, storm surge and heavy rain from 12 February 2023. Raparapaririki in Gisborne recorded 568 mm of rain in 48 hours to 14 February.
The Minister for Emergency Management, Kieran McAnulty, said, “This is an unprecedented weather event that is having major impacts across much of the North Island.
“The emergency order enables the government to streamline its response to the disaster. It has been applied to the Northland, Auckland, Tairawhiti, Tararua, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke’s Bay regions.”
New Zealand has only previously declared a national state of emergency on two other occasions – during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Areas of the North Island are still recovering from devastating flooding following record heavy rainfall in late January.
James Shaw, New Zealand’s Minister of Climate Change, said, “This is climate change. The impacts will get worse unless we act NOW to cut emissions quickly and adapt communities for the effects already here.”
Cyclone Gabrielle Damage
Strong winds downed trees and power lines, leaving over 200,000 without electricity. Some areas of the Gisborne region were also without internet and telecommunications. Air New Zealand cancelled hundreds of domestic and international flights.
Storm surge, high tides and high waves caused coastal flooding in areas around the east coast and far north of the North Island.
Torrential rain triggered floods and landslides across several regions including Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Northland, Waikato and Auckland. Officials in Gisborne Region said rivers jumped to record levels in several locations. An estimated 2,500 people have been displaced.
A firefighter is missing after a landslide in Muriwai in West Auckland.
Hawke’s Bay Region
As many as 366 storm-related incidents in the Hawke’s Bay Region were reported, including a number of rescues and evacuations. Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence said on 14 February that the region is still reeling from the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle. The situation remains dynamic with new information still coming in and emergency services still undertaking foot patrols and rescues.
The Wairoa River burst its banks, affecting around 4,000 people in the town of Wairoa. Power and telecommunications lines have been cut and the only communication is via satellite phone. There are very limited supplies of food and water with no drinking water supply due to the flooding, Civil Defence said. Damage to a bridge and several roads has left 8,000 residents isolated.
In Central Hawke’s Bay District, the Waipawa and Tukituki Rivers both broke their banks, with fears the river embankment could fail if the rain continues. The water supply has been cut and the community is relying on emergency supplies.
The Ngaruroro River overtopped its banks, resulting in the evacuation of the village of Ōmahu. Earlier in the day residents in Taradale and parts of Meeanee were evacuated given the level of the Tutaekuri River but were later allowed to return home.
Civil Defence said one person remains trapped in a home in Putorino following a landslip.
Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Controller Iain Maxwell said the impact of this cyclone was yet to be fully understood and it is going to take some for all of the impacts to be remedied.
“Our focus continues to be on people and safety and making sure those who have lost their homes have somewhere warm to be, food and water. The rest of us need to be resilient; looking after ourselves, our families and our neighbours.
“We do need people to understand that there will be a long recovery time – we’re talking weeks and months – following what is an unprecedented natural disaster.”
At the peak of the storm, the Gisborne Region was cut off by road and air, and power and communications networks were out to most of the region. Residents were also asked to conserve water after flooding damaged drinking water infrastructure.
Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) Regional Civil Defence residents in the Ormond township near the Mahunga Stream should evacuate if safe to do so after the rapid rise of the Waipaoa River.
Residents in areas near the Waimata river in the city of Gisborne also evacuated their homes after river levels rose.
Bay of Plenty Region
Coastal floods caused by high tides and storm surge in the Bay of Plenty Region prompted evacuations in Little Waihi and Ōpōtiki on 13 February. Power outages and landslips were also reported in the region.
In a statement on 13 February, Bay of Plenty Civil Defence said, “We have now made it past the peak of impacts in the Bay of Plenty which we were expecting just before 2 am. The high tide has passed and the swell appears to be dropping. We have had no reports of significant inundation but we are aware there are impacts across the region with power outages, trees down and landslips. We will be able to get a fuller picture with the sunrise but until then stay safe and be vigilant.”
Civil Defence in Waikato said flooding, slips, storm surges and significant storm debris have been reported in multiple districts, with more information still coming in. Response teams are on the ground to assess the full impact.
“Overnight, thousands experienced power and telecommunication outages – some will still be waiting for these outages to be resolved. There is a long list of closed roads due to damage and debris blockages. Several communities were evacuating through the night into the early hours of this morning,” Civil Defence said on 14 February.
Areas of the Thames Coromandel District were without power. Roads were damaged by landslides, downed trees and flooding. Areas of the town of Thames were flooded after the Kauaeranga River broke its banks.
In Northland Region, several residents in central Whangārei were evacuated due to the threat of landslides.
Other evacuations were carried out in Dargaville due to the threat of flooding from high tides and high river levels.
Civil Defence in Auckland reported significant surface flooding affecting roads across the region. High winds have caused fallen powerlines.
A firefighter remains missing after being caught in a landslide in Muriwai, west of Auckland. A second firefighter involved was critically injured.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand, said “a crew from one of our volunteer fire brigades were investigating flooding in a house on Motutara Road in Muriwai. While they were at the property, a landslide occurred and a house above them slipped onto another house. One of our firefighters was trapped and another is missing. One was rescued early this morning and is in hospital.
“The search for our second firefighter was suspended in the early hours of the morning due to the instability of the land. It was too dangerous to continue. Our crews remain on the scene. We have had a drone crew assessing if it is safe to recommence search and rescue activities. We haven’t located the missing firefighter yet. We are awaiting geotechnical specialist advice as to when it will be safe for our people to start searching again at the location. For privacy reasons and out of respect for the families we will not be confirming any names.”
To help put 2023 in context for Aucklanders, here is the Airport rain accumulation plot (red line is 2023, showing a total of 540mm).
The Airport has seen about half (48%) of its annual rainfall in just 45 days. Drier weather for the coming days, https://t.co/tks2Q488UD ^GG pic.twitter.com/vyA1UOmNE7
— MetService (@MetService) February 14, 2023
💧 #CycloneGabrielle total rainfall from @NiwaWeather & @FireEmergencyNZ stations…
-Whangārei had its wettest Feb day on record
-Napier had its 2nd wettest Feb day on record
-Auckland has had over 55% of its annual normal rainfall in 45 days! pic.twitter.com/ifzW3adnt2
— NIWA Weather (@NiwaWeather) February 13, 2023
💨 Here’s the top-5 wind gusts observed on our network during #CycloneGabrielle…
Even stronger gusts would have occurred in coastal areas & offshore islands. pic.twitter.com/EvGJpgJDhD
— NIWA Weather (@NiwaWeather) February 13, 2023