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Cyclone Gabrielle: Agency oversees air rescues for hundreds in Hawke’s Bay and East Coast

An NH90 helicopter and crew recover people from the rooftops of their homes in Esk Valley, Napier.

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The Defence Force rescuing a person in Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay on Tuesday.
Photo: Supplied / NZDF

Helicopters and other aerial reinforcements are being brought in from as far away as Otago to assist in rescue missions in Hawke’s Bay and East Coast.

Maritime New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Centre in Lower Hutt took over multi-agency coordination of air resources yesterday morning.

Operations manager Michael Clulow said in 24 hours, the centre completed more than 80 rescue missions, involving hundreds of people.

“Most of these rescues require a lot of technical expertise and we are proud to be able to support the response to Cyclone Gabrielle with the skills we have at the rescue coordination centre, alongside our search and rescue partners.”

Its response team, which included police, St John, the New Zealand Defence Force and Fire and Emergency. The latter has been overseeing operations on the ground.

Air rescues were being carried out by local operators, emergency medical service providers, Defence Force NH90 helicopters and others, Clulow said.

Among them was Rotorforce Helicopters boss and chief pilot Joe Faram who told RNZ about some of the rescue missions he undertook, including two elderly people who were sheltering in a tree and on a roof and had to be taken directly to hospital afterwards.

An NH90 helicopter and crew recover people from the rooftops of their homes in Esk Valley, Napier.

A person waits to be rescued on the roof of their home in Esk Valley on Tuesday.
Photo: Supplied / NZDF

The centre had not previously run large-scale multi-agency coordination for aviation like this but was quickly able to set up systems based on its search and rescue experience, he said.

“This has been an incredibly fluid situation, with a range of operators coordinating a significant number of large scale rescues.”

The centre’s focus had been on triaging incidents and dispatching rescuers, plotting paths for helicopters to check affected areas and responding to calls for assistance.

“This requires ensuring we have enough fuel and pilots to ensure there is the capacity to continue the work. Fatigue can be a big risk for people undertaking this work, and we need to ensure the people in the air are safe,” he said.

A group of RSE workers was among the hundreds rescued yesterday.

National state of emergency: What you need to know

  • The New Zealand government has declared a National State of Emergency, to assist in the response to Cyclone Gabrielle.
  • The declaration will apply to the six regions that have already declared a local State of Emergency: Northland, Auckland, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay.
  • A national state of emergency gives the national controller legal authority to apply further resources across the country and set priorities in support of a national level response.

National Emergency Management Agency advice:

  • Put safety first. Don’t take any chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
  • Stay at home if it is safe to do so. But have an evacuation plan in case your home becomes unsafe to stay in.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of Civil Defence and emergency services.
  • Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater: even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles. Flood water is often contaminated and can make you sick.

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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