Residents have been evacuated from Mangatuna, with people living at Anaura Bay becoming the biggest concern, as the rain gets heavier in the Gisborne region on Wednesday night.
“Houses have flooded there, and the hill looks like it’s going to slip, meaning people will be isolated,” deputy civil defence chief and school principal Nori Parata said.
Tairāwhiti residents, already battered by a day of heavy rain and flooding, were warned Wednesday night to prepare for more rain, and stay home if they can.
Parata’s phone has rung regularly with people from across the district checking in, reporting damage, seeking advice.
“The people are ready. It’s just the severity we don’t know about,” she said.
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MetService extended its heavy rain warning for the region until 10am on Thursday, forecasting heavy rain and thunder for Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki to arrive late Wednesday afternoon.
Some areas were told to expect an extra 150 millimetres to 200mm. Gisborne had already received between 250-300mm of rain in the 24 hours until 6pm.
Parata and a small team are manning the fort at the Tolaga Bay Area School, a hub for anyone wanting a cup of tea and succour as the rain intensifies – but they do not expect a rush of locals.
The veteran of 20 years in civil defence said the last five had been the busiest, with storms and earthquakes occurring with increasing regularity.
“It’s meant our people have got very good at developing plans for events like this,” she said. “They tend to know what to do and where to go. Anyone worried about where they are will move in with whānau.”
Covid-19 added a new dimension. What do you do with elderly people who have Covid and are somewhere they may get cut off? “These are exactly the things we’re grappling with,” she said.
Parata was here for Cyclone Bola, and remembers the deaths at Mangatuna, the very spot where road workers had to be rescued from rising floodwater on Wednesday.
“Bola was terrible, but I’ve never heard thunder like we had on Tuesday night. It was unrelenting. Buildings were shaking, and the rain was torrential,” she said.
A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday morning, and Tairāwhiti Civil Defence group controller David Wilson urged people to be prepared, and stay home. “There are a number of roads closed due to slips and flooding, and we ask that everyone restrict their travel until assessments can be made,” Wilson said.
“Flooding to date has been concentrated around Te Puia, Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, however we know there are areas affected all across the region.”
Civil Defence had ordered the evacuation of residents in the area north of Gisborne at 2am, and residents fled their homes in Mangatuna, Anaura Bay and Tokomaru Bay.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency national journey manager Helen Harris said SH35, which closed overnight, would be reassessed in the morning with a view to open it at 10am Thursday.
Grocery stores began to run out of basics on Wednesday afternoon, as people rushed to fill their cupboards. Owner of the Hikurangi Foodmarket Four Square in Ruatōria, Vina Carroll, said they’d had more than 100 people through their door that morning, had sold out of bread, milk and eggs, and toilet paper supplies were dwindling.
Eastland Network, the electricity distribution business for Gisborne, Wairoa and the East Coast, posted an update on its Facebook page at 8.45pm, saying a fault near Wairoa meant a further 210 customers had lost power. “We know where the fault is but our crews won’t be able to get in until the morning to assess the damage properly.”
Earlier updates suggested that by 9pm on Wednesday, about 350 homes remained without power.
An urupā at Hinetamatea Marae in Anaura Bay came under “serious threat” after floodwaters carved out sections of land.
Marae secretary Elaine Tamatea said it was “devastating” for whānau watching on. “Our worry is if we get much more rain like we’re supposed to tonight.”
She estimated there were at least 50 graves in the urupā and likely more that were unmarked. There was little that could be done.
Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers president Toby Williams said although residents were “pretty resilient”, the main road washing out was concerning. “We are isolated as is, especially with the pandemic.”
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Williams said farmers around the region had been hit by Covid-19, making it hard to get stock off farms and into the meatworks. Roads damaged by flooding would exacerbate this issue. “The logging guys and livestock trucks will have a problem.”
Early warning from forecasters had allowed farmers to move stock to higher ground. While it would impact parts of the viticulture and cropping sector, he felt much of the horticulture industry had escaped the worst of it.
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