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Cyclone Gabrielle: Death Toll and Missing Persons

Flood waters reaching the ceiling in Eskdale. (Photo RNZ)

Dr Malini Yugendran

Auckland, February 20, 2023

The devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle is becoming more apparent with every passing day.

Death Toll and Missing Persons

According to Eastern District Commander Superintendent of Police, Jeanette Park, the death toll from the cyclone has now risen to 11.  She added that of the 6,000 people identified as uncontactable, half of those cases have now been addressed, with 3,000 people found. The real number of unaccounted-for people, however, is unknown because some reports are duplicates of the same person. The police are continuing to work on finding those who have not yet been located.

Floodwaters swept into Hawke’s Bay, not only damaging homes but also killing a two-year-old girl. RNZ reported that the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has defended its decision not to evacuate Esk Valley, arguing that the information supplied was insufficient to warrant a widespread or official evacuation.

Seven of the 10 sites monitoring river flows and rainfall in the Esk Valley had gone offline, leaving the council unable to acquire more data. The council has acknowledged that questions must be answered and weekly reviews must be conducted.

Many Aucklanders are still unable to return to their houses in Muriwai and Piha. According to Auckland Emergency Management (AEM), the majority of building evaluations in Muriwai, Piha, and Karekare had been completed, but the instability of the terrain around evacuated streets remained a significant safety risk. Access to certain sections of Muriwai was restricted to those with AEM authorisation.

The Muriwai water treatment plant remained out of service, and an alternative water supply plan is being developed.

Other impacts

RNZ reported that the storm has left approximately 28,000 houses without electricity and severely disrupted telecommunications, fresh water, and supply chains. Crop damage has been significant, with many crops completely destroyed.

The Gisborne primary water treatment plant is finally operational; however, water usage limitations remain in place.

Wairoa’s cellular service has been restored, and the water supply is operational, albeit a boil water advisory remains in effect.

As part of the recovery efforts, the police are sending an additional 25 officers to Hawke’s Bay and Tairwhiti, joining the 120 already on the ground.

On Tuesday, the navy is expected to arrive in Napier, carrying five Bailey Bridges and 20 generators.

The New Zealand government has accepted assistance from Australia and Fiji, while the US has provided critical satellite imagery of the impacted areas.

According to NZ Police, looting has been an issue in several locations. 42 persons have been detained in Hawke’s Bay and 17 in Tairwhiti since Tuesday on looting and dishonesty allegations.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that the country has to reprioritise and refocus its efforts and resources to build back better and become more resilient than before. Mr Hipkins noted that for far too long, the country has underinvested in infrastructure and that this must change.

Other information

For road closures and public transport impacts in the region, visit AT website for updates.

Rapid Building Assessment team assessing affected properties, contact 0800 22 22 00.

Civil Defence Centres, Shelters, and Community Support Hubs, call 0800 22 22 00.

Five regional parks closed for safety, including Waitākere Ranges and Muriwai. Domain Crescent and Motutara Road closed, entry with authorisation only.

Rayner Rd is restricted to foot traffic.

Water infrastructure in Muriwai impacted, tanker providing emergency water at Sand Dunz Cafe and community water sites available in Waitākere and Piha.

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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