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Kaipara working together in aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle




27 Feb, 2023


thumbnail 4 MF-DargfloodingB-608Forewarned to be the worst storm since Cyclone Bola in 1988, there is no doubt Cyclone Gabrielle lived up to the grave threat, unleashing a vortex of power and fury across the North Island and leaving behind land and lives dramatically transformed in its turbulent, twisted wake.

Widely recognised as ground-zero of the weather disaster, Hawkes Bay bore the brunt of the storm’s ferocity, with [at time of print] the tragic loss of 11 locals and around 400 still unaccounted for, as well as massive devastation to property and roading networks. The west coast settlement of Muriwai also suffered with landslides burying homes and sadly taking the lives of two of their own honourable volunteer firefighters.

As reported online by the Focus, Kaipara west communities were also hit hard by the maelstrom. Dargaville residents in the Mangawhare area were forced to flee from their houses in the early morning of February 14 due to the flood threat when Awakino River’s rising waters merged with high tides and breached its banks, with up to 400 households potentially affected. Ruawai township was also on full alert as fields flooded, locals self-evacuating as roads and schools became a sea of water.

A nationwide state of emergency was announced the same day, the second for Northland in only two weeks following the significant deluge over the region’s Anniversary Weekend which left the district deeply sodden and caused extensive flooding in Auckland.

A ‘huge combined coordinated effort’ – involving police, Fire & Emergency NZ, Red Cross, Civil Defence’s NZ Response Teams (some from as far away as Canterbury), NZ Defence Force, Northland volunteer surf lifeguards as well as Kaipara District Council [KDC] staff, local iwi and community members – provided assistance and support to Kaipara west residents. Emergency teams have been alerting and helping people to evacuate, organising and managing the three Civil Defence-supported evacuation centres, and reaching out to isolated and stranded communities such as Pouto, Oruawharo, Batley, Whakapirau and Tinopai, pushing through flood waters and barricaded roads with Unimogs loaded with essential supplies such as food, water, fuel, generators and satellite phones.

As the flood waters receded, residents were able to return to their homes from February 15, however, to date 20 homes in the Dargaville area have been red-stickered and two receiving a yellow marker, although this number is likely to change as houses are reassessed, KDC building services manager Alistair Dunlop says.

“Most of the stickers have been issued after a rapid building assessment as an immediate precautionary measure to keep residents, whanau and the public safe… some houses may also be downgraded following an initial assessment,” he says.

“The red, yellow or white sticker issued is a legal instruction, not just advice, it must not be removed or changed without a reclassification from council staff. We know this can be a stressful time for residents whose homes have been affected.”

Dunlop also advises people with a stickered home to get in touch with their insurer and remain aware of the ongoing risk of landslips and subsidence.

“If you see any signs that land or houses around you may be unstable and there is a risk to life, the message from us is loud and clear: Get out, warn your neighbours, call 111. Remember that your life is more important that your property.”

The financial ripple-effect is too soon to be known and Kaipara district mayor Craig Jepson, who accompanied the NZ Defence Force and Red Cross on February 21 to visit isolated locals, says along with other New Zealand regions, Northland is reeling in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“I met with farmers who showed us their ruined pasture and maize crops. Their cows have developed mastitis after being unable to be milked for a number of days and they are needing to dry off their stock, which is their main source of income. It is heart-breaking to see the impact this has on them and their families,” he says.

“Though mostly passable now, many roads have slumps and slips and it will take some sorting to restore to two lanes and make them stable. We will need to have some tough conversations about how we fund them. The devastation suffered will be long-lasting, but council are continuing to do all we can to get Kaipara back on its feet. We’re very grateful to have had the support of so many people. We don’t know who you all are, but thank you.”



A council welfare line is set up for those who are affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and need support. Kaipara District residents can call (09) 439 1111 to speak to staff.

To book a building assessment, homeowners can contact the building team at buildingcompliance@kaipara.govt.nz or call KDC customer services centre on 0800 727 059.

“The devastation suffered will be long-lasting, but council are continuing to do all we can to get Kaipara back on its feet. We’re very grateful to have had the support of so many people.”

- Craig Jepson, Kaipara mayor

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A, B, C: The flooded fields, road and school of Ruawai.
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D: Under water; flooded Te Hauhanga Marae looking to Kaihu River.
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E: Rapid Response teams have been conducting welfare checks in isolated and hard-to-reach communities, many of which are still without power.
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F: NZ Defence Force Unimogs laden with essential supplies for isolated west Kaipara locals cut-off from their community without power, internet and access to town.


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