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HomeNew ZealandCountdown to Chaos: As Aucklanders were desperately seeking safety, officials were silent

Countdown to Chaos: As Aucklanders were desperately seeking safety, officials were silent

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What is a state of emergency and who can call it?

Auckland civil defence texts not sent

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How the timeline played out

Thursday, 26 January

A heavy rain warning was issued for Auckland from 6am Friday until 10pm. Meanwhile Auckland Transport told Elton John concert goers to plan to drive to the concert. It later walked this back.

Friday, January 27

2.40pm Auckland Transport said limited buses were travelling to the Elton John concert, and “trains aren’t available”​. It urged people to leave early, carpool, and be seated by 7pm sharp. It had been raining throughout the day.

3.52pm MetService said 60mm of rain had fallen in an hour, causing surface flooding. There was a severe thunderstorm warning in place.

4pm Suburbs were flooding. Safunga and Seve Uatea said they fled their home on Clover Drive, Henderson, at this time, by swimming. The current was so strong they had to pull themselves along by fence posts. Wayne Brown later said he was at his council desk at this time and remained there the rest of the night.​

Flooding on Candia Road in Henderson Valley, west Auckland.

Flooding in Henderson Valley in West Auckland, on Friday
Photo: Supplied

4.30pm Police issued a warning to drivers as bad weather pummelled the city. There was significant flooding on the North Shore and out west.

5pm Auckland Emergency Management controller Andrew Clark​ said from this time it was considering whether to ask for an emergency to be declared. Emergency organisations were speaking to each other.

5.07pm Fire and Emergency had 400 emergency calls. It prioritised people who were in danger. It advised people with flooded homes to get stuff off the floor, and to only call 111 in an emergency.

5.20pm The roads around the Brynderwyns closed and diversions were in place due to a slip. Police asked drivers to take care.

5.45pm Auckland Emergency Management posted to Facebook amid the worsening weather, with advice, and said it would stay in touch: “Stay safe.” ​The post built 342 comments, none of which appeared to have been responded to. It did not post again on Facebook until 10.01pm​.

Flooding in Auckland - Candia Road West Auckland

A house washed off its footing and car in floodwaters in Candia Road, West Auckland, on Friday
Photo: RNZ / Felicity Reid

5.50pm MetService issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Auckland City, Kaipara, Waitakere, Rodney, Gulf and Albany. They warned to expect torrential rain.

5.50pm Flooding on the Northern Motorway was particularly bad. Waka Kotahi tweeted that flooding was blocking southbound lanes at Greville Road.

5.52pm Emergency Management minister Kieran McAnulty confirmed what most already knew – heavy rain had hit, “the impacts are being managed locally… I’d urge people to follow the advice of their local authorities.”

5.53pm MetService issued another severe thunderstorm warning.

5.55pm Waka Kotahi tweeted that flooding on SH1’s Northern Motorway between Northcote and Esmonde Road was causing delays.

6pm Auckland Emergency Management made a call not to ask for an emergency declaration. Controller Andrew Clark later said: “When we considered around 6pm, should we ask for this? We didn’t feel at this time it was needed.”

6.10pm Diversions around the Brynderwyns were now closed, too, due to severe flooding on SH12.

6.11 to 6.15pm Auckland Emergency Management tweeted that severe weather was particularly affecting north, north-west, and west Auckland: “We’re working with emergency services to establish what help is needed on the ground. If it’s safe, stay home, call 111 if your life is at risk, don’t drive through floodwaters. We will continue to provide updates.”

It did not appear to have tweeted again until 10.04pm​.

6.21pm Fire and Emergency by now had 500 calls for help.

7pm Shortly after 7pm organisers called off the Elton John concert at the exact time fans were told to arrive.

7.15pm Waka Kotahi sent a “final update” on the Brynderwyns route, asking people to check its website for more information.

7.16pm Auckland Transport said it was helping Elton John fans get home by redirecting special buses: “We’re asking for everyone’s patience.” It did not appear to tweet again until 9.27pm​. There were chaotic scenes as people tried to leave Mount Smart stadium, with reports of cars floating down streets and people u-turning on motorways to avoid flooding.

7.25pm A body was found in Wairau Valley.

7.30pm Waka Kotahi tweeted a “final update”, and said parts of the northern motorway were closed. It directed people to its website.

7.35pm A landslide brought down a house in Remuera. One person was missing – and later found dead.

7.40pm Waka Kotahi tweeted another motorway update.

7.50pm Waka Kotahi sent its last tweet for several hours – a “final update” about State Highway 1’s Southern Motorway. “Closed from Market Road off-ramp northbound.”

There were no more tweets from Waka Kotahi until 10.30pm.

7.55pm Wayne Brown told RNZ: “We just need the rain to stop, that’s the main issue”.

8pm The Northern Motorway was submerged. Images emerged of flooded buses trying to drive with passengers in knee-high muddy water. Severe flooding had also closed the Waterview Tunnel and surrounding motorway.

8.24pm 1000 emergency calls had been made to Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ), which pleaded for people to stay home and only call with life-threatening requests. People were trapped in cars, on roofs, and in houses. The Defence Force was called to assist by FENZ. By the next morning FENZ would estimate it had received 2000 calls.

Flooding on the corner of Seabrooke and Margan Avenues in the Auckland suburb of New Lynn on 27 October 2023.

Flooding in New Lynn on Friday
Photo: Josie Campbell

8.30pm Lifeguards rescue 69 people from workplaces on the North Shore using Inflatable Rescue Boats.

9pm Six family members, including a child, were rescued from rising floodwaters at their property in Helensville, with lifeguards pulling them from their window onto two rescue boats. An 80-year-old woman was rescued from the second floor of her home.

8.37pm Flights were disrupted after a landing aircraft broke a bunch of runway lights at Auckland Airport. It would eventually close the airport to flights and passengers. Some slept at the airport as the car park was flooded.

8.42pm Pak’nSave Glenfield was now inundated with water, with shelving breached. Four supermarkets across the region would have to close.

9.01pm Amid ongoing silence from Waka Kotahi, Michael Wood instructed NZTA to reopen its communication channels. “The best source of information is [Civil Defence Emergency Management] but there also needs to be clear comms from [Waka Kotahi],” he tweeted.

9.14pm Wood added, “The event is extremely serious. Ministers and MPs are coordinating. A formal declaration sits with the mayor.”

9.27pm Auckland Transport began tweeting again​ – two hours after its last message – advising people to stay home amid road closures and public transport cancellations. It noted closures from half an hour earlier that had not been communicated.

9.27pm This is the time PM Chris Hipkins would later say a state of emergency was declared by Mayor Wayne Brown at the behest of emergency services, Brown would say minutes earlier. This was not immediately communicated.

Water in terminal at Auckland Airport

Auckland Airport flooded on Friday night as heavy rain hit the supercity.
Photo: William Bell-Purchas

9.30pm Auckland Airport told people to stay away, as photos emerged of significant flooding inside the international terminal.

9.30pm Councillor Richard Hills criticised official communications from Civil Defence: “They haven’t updated their social media in over three hours.”

9.31pm MetService issued a Red Warning for Auckland, until 3am. The city had already seen three times the monthly average rain fall in one day, and heavy rain was due overnight.

9.48pm Councillor Richard Hills called for a state of emergency to be declared.

9.50pm Councillor Josephine Bartley told Stuff that Mayor Wayne Brown had declared an emergency, although Brown, Auckland Council and Auckland Emergency Management had not confirmed this themselves.

9.56pm National leader Christopher Luxon urged Brown to declare a civil emergency: “This will give our brilliant emergency response teams the tools they need to respond. High tide hits after midnight and we need a list of evacuation centres for folk to head to.”

Cars in Milford on the North Shore were left swimming in the water after a severe thunderstorm hit Auckland.

People trying to navigate through cars left swimming in water in Milford on the North Shore. Cars were abandoned across the city, while some people were trapped in them in floodwaters, as the waters rose quickly.
Photo: Supplied / Sean D’Souza

9.57pm Auckland deputy mayor Desley Simpson told TodayFM the mayor had signed a declaration of a state of emergency. Brown was yet to comment.

10.04pm Auckland Emergency Management started tweeting again – a thread about opening a shelter in Kelston, it asked people to stay with family if they could, and to take essential items with them.

10.14pm Civil Defence Minister Kieran McAnulty said Brown had declared a state of emergency. Brown was yet to comment. McAnulty said the National Emergency Management Agency was ready to send resources from across the country to help Auckland.

10.15pm A man was swept away in floodwaters at rural Onewhero in north Waikato. On Sunday police said they had recovered a body and believed it was the man who had been swept away, but formal identification was yet to be done.

10.18pm Auckland Emergency Management confirmed a state of emergency had been declared.​

10.41pm PM Chris Hipkins said the flooding was an “extraordinary set of circumstances” and the government was “ready to assist”.

11.14pm Wayne Brown hosted an impromptu press conference, his first since the flooding started. Only a few reporters were invited. Entire news organisations, including Stuff, were not told.

11.15pm Civil Defence tweeted a picture of the mayor signing off the declaration of emergency. It directed people to the website for more information.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown signing a formal declaration calling a state of emergency for the region, on Friday 27 January, 2023

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown signing a declaration of a state of emergency in response to widespread flooding on in the region on Friday, 27 January. Chris Hipkins later says the emergency was declared at 9.27pm
Photo: Supplied/ Auckland Council

11.43pm Chris Hipkins asked for public updates to increase. The Beehive Bunker was being prepared for emergency management. The basement is the national coordination centre for emergency responses.

12am Rescuers were directed to a hypothermic man screaming for help from his vehicle, which was trapped by floodwater and starting to float.

12.30am Hipkins and McAnulty bunkered down in the Beehive basement, alongside staff from Defence, emergency services and Civil Defence.

12.38am A second body was found in Wairau Valley.

12.49am Civil Defence directed people to further shelters on the North Shore and Randwick Park.

1am 249mm of rain had fallen in Auckland (airport meter) and Auckland Airport registered its wettest day since 1985.

1.30am Hipkins and McAnulty held their first press conference on the flooding. Hipkins warned Auckland to “brace for more rain”.

The rain continued to fall.

* This story originally appeared on Stuff.

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