It might have been deja vu for the floods of a fortnight ago – but this week’s weather event looked very different by the light of day
After a night of powerful wind and rain, the luckiest of Aucklanders are waking up to the most unromantic of Valentine’s Days – streets strewn with turfed tree branches and continuing strong gusts.
The less lucky – like those down the country in more flooded regions – are dealing with ramifications from Cyclone Gabrielle that will take weeks if not months to remedy.
Slips in Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast have seen hundreds evacuated, while one firefighter is injured and another is missing after a house collapse on Motutara Road.
This morning, police were controlling access to the the normally idyllic coastal retreat, as locals packed their cars and left for the city, passing by Kumeū Fire Station where the alarm was blaring out across the battered city.
An emergency alert at 1.28am this morning asked people living on both Motutara Road and Domain Crescent to make their way down to Sand Dunz Cafe, where emergency services would assist.
Meanwhile, down the coast in Piha, a 100m stretch of cliff collapsed through a house in the night. Other slips have prevented access to coastal villages like Piha and Karekare.
Many of the evacuees were ferried in by Auckland Emergency Management to the Trusts Arena in Henderson, where Auckland Council and local community groups stood up a Civil Defence centre last night.
Henderson-Massey local board deputy chair Brooke Loader had seen dozens of people coming through there and at Westgate’s Te Manawa, where people were seeking GP services and photocopiers for storm-damaged essential documents as well as food and electricity.
She had been out and about doing a survey of her community since 6.30am, and said the impact of this weather event was quite different to the flooding of the Auckland anniversary weekend.
“Unlike the last floods, the flooding hasn’t been the huge issue this time. The real damage has been the slips and the trees coming down and affecting the power lines,” she said. “It seems to be in isolated pockets you could say, the pockets of flooding.”
Some of these isolated disasters included trees falling on top of the front fence of Babies & Buddies Early Childhood Centre on Universal Drive. They had tree removal specialists at the site clearing the way by lunchtime.
But elsewhere in the west, the impact could have been worse than it was two weeks ago.
“We had different pockets that weren’t affected last time,” Loader said. “For example at the back of Glendene on James Laurie Street, it didn’t receive flooding last time but it had it now.”
Loader was heartened to see how quickly council workers were out clearing drains and seeing to trees left in precarious positions by the wind.
“I’ve also seen a lot of council staff on the ground … doing all the work picking up branches and cleaning gutters which is pretty hopeful to see,” she said, adding that clearer communication from leadership compared to the event two weeks ago also helped make sure people were ready to spring into action.
Volunteers at the Trusts Arena Civil Defence centre were keen to keep media away from the evacuees themselves, who were presumably still drying out after a harrowing night in which they may have lost all of their possessions.
However, the volunteers said there was plenty of support on offer at the site for anybody who needed it.
“If you need help we are here,” one volunteer said. “Every single person has been affected in some way in our city.”
But while there’s goodwill to spare at Trusts Arena, it was a tragic night for the community of Muriwai and Fire & Emergency New Zealand.
Volunteer firefighter Dave van Zwananberg is missing after being caught in a slip that took out two homes in Muriwai.
He and a fellow firefighter were inspecting the safety of a flooded home at around 11pm last night when the earth gave way.
The other firefighter has been taken to hospital in a critical condition.
Around 20 Auckland Council building inspectors have been out at Muriwai to assess the safety of buildings, although work was put off due to unstable ground preventing assessors from entering many.
Auckland Council regulatory services director Craig Hobbes said after a review of the area it was determined the danger was too great to continue while slips were still a risk.
Police said people had been returning to dangerous properties in the area.
“That is of extreme concern to us,” Hobbes said.
White, yellow and red stickers will come back into play once council assessment of properties gets fully under way.
Meanwhile, widespread power outages continue across the region, with much of the northern and western edges of the region without electricity.
Electricity provider Vector assured customers it is working as quickly as possible to get the lights back on, but warned that continuing gale-force winds and access issues could make for untimely delays.
In particular, the Warkworth, Wellsford, and Snells Beach areas could have to wait for some time due to multiple faults, access difficulties, crew safety concerns and closures to the road through Dome Valley.