New Zealand – Police Say Over 6,000 People Still Uncontactable After Cyclone Gabrielle Floods

Police in New Zealand report that over 6,000 people are still reported as uncontactable following the devastation left by floods, strong winds and high waves brought by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Floods in Wairoa New Zealand, 14 February 2023. Photo: Wairoa Civil Defence

New Zealand Police said search and rescue teams are working to determine which homes have not yet been assessed and who is still cut off in remote areas of the East Coast. In a huge operation, Eastern District Police are conducting over 2,000 reassurance patrols in Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti (Gisborne) regions to help keep people and property safe.

As of 19 February, there have been 6,431 reports of uncontactable people registered and 3,216 reports from people registering that they are okay. Police have set up a specialist team to reconcile reports of uncontactable people with those who have reported themselves safe. People who have now been in touch with someone previously reported uncontactable are urged to update their status so police can prioritise those who need the most urgent checks.

One of the worst storms in New Zealand’s history

Head of MetService New Zealand Weather Communications Lisa Murray, gave a summary of the storm in a statement on 19 February.

Between 12 and 14 February, parts of New Zealand recorded rainfall amounts of 300-400mm, wind gusts of 130-140km/h and waves as high as 11 metres along some coasts.

“It is no wonder that the North Island experienced the devastating impacts that have been seen from Cyclone Gabrielle.

“Gabrielle is one of the worst storms to hit Aotearoa New Zealand in living history. Like Cyclone Bola in 1988, Giselle that caused the Wahine disaster in 1968 and the unnamed cyclone of 1936, Gabrielle caused shocking impacts to the North Island.

“The difference between this cyclone and others is the track Gabrielle took, along with warmer sea surface temperatures and an atmospheric environment that encouraged tropical cyclone growth,” Lisa Murray said.

Death Toll

The number of people who lost their lives in Cyclone Gabrielle has now increased to nine.

On 15 February, police reported 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 and later died in hospital.

By 18 February, police had confirmed three more fatalities; one in Waiohiki, one in Gisborne, and another in Puketapu. On 19 February, Police said they were investigating a death in Crownthorpe, Hastings. “The person is believed to have died in circumstances related to Cyclone Gabrielle,” Police said in a statement.

An “utterly devastating event”

Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster visited affected areas in Eastern District on 18 February, connecting with police staff who have been responding since the earliest hours of the cyclone.

Commissioner Coster said “Many of our staff have also been deeply affected by the devastation, and I’m incredibly proud that they continue to work hard to help the community many of whom have suffered their own significant losses.

“Our staff are human and have families and friends who are affected by natural disasters like these. Some of our people will have their own homes damaged in floodwaters, and come to work to help others in that time.

“This has been an utterly devastating event for these communities and our hearts go out to all those who have been affected.”

An NH90 helicopter and crew recover people from the rooftops of their homes in Esk Valley, Napier, 14 February 2023. Photo: NZDF