Five people have died – including a child – and police have received more than 1400 reports of people who can’t be contacted in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has arrived on the ground in Gisborne and is speaking to media after visiting residents and local officials dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.
It was his first in-person look at the scale of destruction from the cyclone, before flying back to Wellington.
New Zealand is accepting offers of international assistance, he told media in a briefing on Thursday afternoon, and he expects to talk about in another update later in the day.
It could be some time before broadband was restored in the region and some of the focus at this point was getting access to Starlink in some areas and using that for hotspots, he said.
Land connection was restored in part and there was a convoy of trucks coming in each day, but they were aiming to keep usage of the roads relatively limited to keep it available and usable, he said.
Five people have been confirmed killed in the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle. In Hawke’s Bay, a child was caught in rising water in the settlement of Eskdale, a woman died in a landslide, a body was found on the shore at Bay View, and a body believed to be caught in flood waters was found in Gisborne.
The body of volunteer firefighter Dave van Zwanenberg, who had been missing in Muriwai, near Auckland, since Monday night was recovered yesterday.
Police are investigating a death in the Gisborne region, with the person believed to have died after being caught in flood water.
There are also several people missing in Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti, for whom police have “grave concerns”.
In a press conference at 5.30pm on Wednesday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it is clear the devastation from Cyclone Gabrielle is widespread.
“It has taken a toll beyond property and livelihoods, to people.”
His widow Amy on Thursday released a statement expressing how devastated the family was by the death of the cornerstone in their lives.
“Dave will be remembered for his good humour, his authentic care, his astronomic intelligence and supreme competence at pretty much anything he turned his hand to.”
Hawkes Bay remains in “urgent response” mode with 9000 people displaced across the region, many of whom are staying with friends or family, and 3000 in Civil Defence centres.
As of 2.30pm on Wednesday, 1442 people had been registered as uncontactable with the vast majority in the Eastern District.
Hipkins said 111 people have been reported found and it’s expected there is crossover with the huge number reported uncontactable.
Police also noted some of those reported uncontactable were duplications where multiple people had registered the same missing person, and a large number may be due to telecommunications being down in many parts of the country.
In Hawkes Bay all local bridges between Napier and Hastings are out but access to both towns has been re-established for emergency services and lifeline supplies via State Highway 51.
Hipkins said Napier and Gisborne airports had reopened on Wednesday and communication support, emergency supplies and operational staff have been flown into Gisborne.
There are now 700 NZDF personnel involved in the aftermath of the cyclone, in addition there are four aircrafts, seven helicopters, two ships and 58 trucks being used.
One of the ships will have supplies in Tairāwhiti by first light on Thursday and the other will sail for Napier with supplies for cut-off Wairoa.
A member of the national emergency agency has arrived in Wairoa to help coordinate and an NH90 helicopter has dropped a search and rescue team into Wairoa to help with relief efforts.
That includes dropping bottled water to 3000 people in Wairoa on Wednesday evening and a barbecue is being set up in the township to feed 3000 people through the night. Up to 500 food packages will also be delivered on Thursday morning.
To help with safe drinking water, a water treatment facility will be moved into Wairoa on Thursday morning, Hipkins said.
Minister for Energy Megan Woods told reporters 160,000 households remained without power as of 2.30pm.
The NZDF is assisting with getting lines crew and equipment into Northland and bypasses are being worked on to get more power supply to affected parts of the country.
State Highway 2 in Napier is now open for lifeline services, including mini fuel tankers, and the Whangārei Harbour is open and expecting fuel ships to arrive on Thursday morning.
In terms of telecommunications, both the Coromandel and north of Taupō have now been reconnected.
Hipkins warned that more rain is forecast in affected regions and emergency services were preparing for the possibility of more rescues and evacuations.
More than 10,000 people are displaced across Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti as the extent of the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle becomes clearer.
Civil Defence and the New Zealand Defence Force still had seven rescues left to complete in Hawkes Bay by 5.30pm on Wednesday night, none were considered to be critical and those involved were safe.
There are 1500 people displaced in Tairāwhiti bringing the total number forced from their homes as a result of Cyclone Gabrielle to 10,500.
The missing firefighter who became trapped in a landslide late on Monday night in Muriwai, who has now been identified, hit hard for Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty.
Having volunteered for the fire service previously, McAnulty said it was something that would stay with him for a long time.
Hipkins also acknowledged the firefighter saying, “he lost his life protecting others in his community and our thoughts are with his loved ones”.
McAnulty told media on Wednesday morning he was concerned there could be further fatalities as emergency services continue to gain access to cut-off and isolated communities.
In terms of the severity of the damage in Hawkes Bay, McAnulty said nobody – not even the local Civil Defence – expected the rainfall to be as heavy and destructive as it was.
McAnulty told reporters the Hawkes Bay Civil Defence is a well-prepared and resourced unit and on Monday night was reporting that it was well-equipped to deal with what was coming.
The sheer amount of rainfall exceeded all expectations, and the damage will take years to fix.