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Cyclone Gabrielle: Fears cyclone death toll will rise, as body seen floating in water

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By Marty Sharpe and Hanna McCallum of Stuff

Homes in Hawke’s Bay have been destroyed by the floodwaters caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Homes in Hawke’s Bay have been destroyed by the floodwaters caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

A man helping chopper crews pluck people from roofs in flood-hit Hawke’s Bay believes the death toll is likely worse than reported, having seen at least one body floating in water he could not reach.

On Wednesday, a young child was found dead in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and more than 1400 people have been reported uncontactable, police said.

While the number of reports included double-ups of reports made of the same person by different people, and many thought to be the result of communication lines being down, police had “grave concerns” for several people they confirmed were missing.

The child’s death brings the total of people who have been confirmed dead following the storm to four.

Hawke’s Bay man Kelvin Taylor and his son, Cam, have spent hours rescuing people using a chopper.

Cam Taylor has seen at least one body in floodwaters and was sure there will be more.

Kevin, who owns Taylor Corp, a major apple grower and exporter, and his son accompanied helicopter crews over the past two days.

They have spent 16 helicopter hours rescuing more than 120 people from rooftops in the Dartmoor and Waiohiki areas of Hawke’s Bay.

“One body was seen floating unable to be rescued, and others winched out by chopper have spoken of seeing family members washed away,” Kelvin said.

“We are overwhelmed by the stories emerging from the Esk Valley. Our neighbours found the body of a woman among the slash on the beach yesterday.

“We want to share these stories to help people understand the extent of the devastation and the need for help and support,” he said.

On one occasion Cam and the pilot saw a white flag poking through a small hole in a roof.

While the chopper hovered above, Cam broke open the roofing tiles to rescue an elderly couple in their 80s who were trapped in the ceiling cavity. They dropped them to higher ground only to return and repeat over and over again.

“It’s devastating and totally unbelievable. People don’t realise what is out there and can’t even imagine it,” Kelvin said.

“The only comparison that people will understand is thinking of Japan after the tsunami. That’s what it looks like here in Hawke’s Bay.

“Central government is going to have to do something about this. It’s too big for local government, and there is going to be so much impact on people’s mental health when they have lost everything.”

The body of the young person was located in Eskdale, Hawke’s Bay shortly before 2pm today, police said. The child was believed to have been caught in rising water on Tuesday.

A body has also been found in the search for a volunteer firefighter missing after a landslide in Muriwai early this afternoon.

The firefighter had been missing since the slip came down on Monday night, toppling houses in Muriwai on Auckland’s west coast. Fire and Emergency said they had not yet identified the body, but would be working to do so on Wednesday.

A woman died following a landslip on a rural property in Matahorua Rd, Putorino in northern Hawke’s Bay on Tuesday afternoon, while a body was found on the Napier seashore in Bay View amid the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle.

“Police extend their condolences to the families of those who have died and continue to make enquiries into the circumstances.”

Police set up a major operations centre at Police National Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon with one of its tasks to help people get in touch with friends or family in storm affected areas that were unreachable.

An online 105 form was set up to register the names of family members.

As of 2.30pm Wednesday, 1442 people had registered people uncontactable via the form, police said.

“There are 111 reports of people now safe,” police said, while some were also duplicate reports of the same person, reported unreachable by different people.

However, police had “grave concerns” for several people they confirmed were missing from the Eastern District – Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti.

The majority of reports were from Eastern District with the remainder from across the North Island, police said.

“With other storm-affected districts reporting they are able to manage their response within existing resources, Police National Headquarters is now focussed on critical support for Eastern District.”

Police urged anyone concerned about friends and family to try their usual methods of communication first, whether that was a phone number, email, social media or a pre-planned emergency meeting place.

More than 70 staff were being redeployed from Bay of Plenty, Central, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury and Southern districts, as well as the Royal New Zealand Police College to Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti over the next 48 hours.

The staff would be supporting recovery efforts and provide community reassurance, police said.

On Tuesday, 12 search and rescue specialist staff were deployed to assist with recovery in Eastern District.

“We are aware that many of our staff in the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne areas have themselves been affected by the storm, but they have continued to work hard to support rescue efforts, manage road closures, and make contact with isolated people.

“Communications into and out of the area continue to be challenging, however, as telecommunication services start to come back online, Police anticipate an increase in the number of reports of missing people, found people, damage to property, and demand for basic resources such as food, water, and fuel.”

In Tāmaki Makaurau and Northland, the focus was on supporting the ongoing recovery.

Police were continuing to carry out reassurance patrolling throughout the regions and in affected areas.

– This story was first published on Stuff.

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.
  • 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.
  • Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater as it is often contaminated and can make you sick.
  • If you see a downed power line or damaged power equipment please stop, retreat and stay well clear.
  • Stay at home if it is safe to do so and 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.
  • A National State of Emergency is in place for an initial period of seven days and applies to regions that have declared a local State of Emergency.

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