Police in New Zealand report that 4 people have lost their lives in flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rain brought by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Police also reported over 1,000 people “uncontactable” with grave concerns about some feared missing. Hundreds of people have been rescued, many by helicopter including some who had to take refuge on the roofs of buildings.
In a statement of 15 February, New Zealand Police said one person died in a landslide in Putorino and another in flood waters in Napier, both in Hawke’s Bay Region. Police also reported the body of a young person was located in Eskdale, a rural settlement in the Hastings District of Hawke’s Bay Region. The child is believed to have been caught in rising water on 14 February.
In Auckland Region, the body of a volunteer firefighter was recovered from a landslide in Muriwai on 15 February. The firefighter had been missing after a house collapsed following a landslide. A second firefighter involved was critically injured.
Police extend their condolences to the families of those who have died and continue to make enquiries into the circumstances.
“Grave Concerns” for Missing
Police also say they have received 1,442 reports of people uncontactable across the North Island in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.
The vast majority of reports are from Eastern District (Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti / Gisborne) alone, with the remainder from across the North Island.
Police stressed that the numbers include duplicate reports of the same person reported uncontactable by different people. However, there are some reports of missing people.
“While we expect a large number of the reports to be the result of communication lines being down, police can confirm there are several people missing in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti areas, for whom we have grave concerns,” police said in a statement.
Twelve police Search and Rescue specialist staff have been deployed to assist with recovery efforts in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.
Damaged or blocked roads are causing problems accessing affected communities, many of which are still seeing interrupting in power, water and telecommunications. Gisborne Civil Defence said all state highways are still closed in the region. The connecting local roads, Tiniroto, Wharekopae and Waimata Valley are also closed at various locations making access to pockets of our community impossible.
Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Management Group reported SH51, SH2, SH35, and SH50 were all closed in some locations and requested residents to “avoid all unnecessary travel at the moment and if it is absolutely essential for you to drive in the areas which remain open, drive to the conditions.” Bridge engineers and roading crews are continuing to assess these road closures and in many cases waiting for floodwaters to recede.
Police said that, as services start to come back online, they anticipate an increase in the number of reports of missing people, found people, damage to property, and demand for basic resources such as food, water, and fuel.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has deployed more than 700 personnel to assist in rescue and relief efforts. The response includes aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.
“Our main priority is to support the Government, specifically the National Emergency Management Agency, to save New Zealanders from immediate and serious threats to life or limb. We are also assisting in gaining situational awareness of the challenges and environmental conditions to help inform planning and tasking of capabilities,” NZDF said.
Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence said at least 300 people have been rescued in the region through a multi-agency response supported by St John, Police, NZ Defence Force and Fire and Emergency. Helicopter support has also been provided by local companies. Civil Defence added that there were 25 active requests for assistance around Hawke’s Bay including people trapped in houses and on roofs.
Evacuations continue, and assuring the welfare of people displaced from their homes, getting supplies to people who are isolated and assessing the extent of damage and effects in the more rural parts of the region is a priority, Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence said.
Seventeen emergency centres have been set up in Napier, Hasting, Flaxmere, Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa to house people displaced from their homes or unable to return home. There are also widespread school closures across the region.