Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Cyclone Gabrielle: Firefighter still missing, FENZ receives 1800 storm-related calls in a day

Fire and Emergency New Zealand Deputy National Commander Steph Rotarangi talks on Cyclone Gabrielle response

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Fire and Emergency New Zealand deputy national commander Steph Rotarangi gives an update on the search for the missing firefighter.
Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

Fire and Emergency is using drones and seeking geotechnical advice over a firefighter missing in Muriwai, a media briefing has been told.

Tonight, Fire and Emergency’s Urban Search and Rescue crews resumed operations at the site.

Earlier, Fire and Emergency deputy national commander Steph Rotarangi said the firefighter remained missing after going into a flooded property on Motutara Road on Monday night.

The property was hit by another house that collapsed during widespread rain and strong winds unleashed by Cyclone Gabrielle.

A second firefighter was taken to hospital with critical injuries.

Other properties on Motutara Road were evacuated.

Rotarangi told the briefing, arranged by Auckland Emergency Management this afternoon, that crews remained at the scene on Auckland’s West Coast, and were trying to work out how to resume the search in a safe manner.

FENZ had deployed drones and was working with the police and the Defence Force on geotechnical advice about when it would be safe for their teams to resume the search, she said.

Police stop traffic at a road block on Motutara Road, Muriwai, on 14 February, near where a landslide came down onto two houses late on Monday 13 February, 2023.

Police at the scene of the landslip this morning.
Photo: RNZ/ Tom Taylor

Also in Muriwai, Auckland Council regulatory services director Craig Hobbs said after a review of the area, police and FENZ determined the danger of carrying out rapid impact assessments of buildings was too high and the operation had to be stopped.

“Police have alerted us that people are returning to dangerous properties in Muriwai and that is of extreme concern to us. We’re currently phoning all property owners that we can reach to advise of danger and that they must stay out of those properties,” Hobbs told the briefing.

Slips, flooding and falling trees have affected the ability to assess some properties, he said.

Fire and Emergency received about 1800 storm-related incident calls in the past 24 hours.

Auckland Emergency Management duty controller Rachel Kelleher said the national state of emergency declared before 9am today would assist in the recovery efforts.

“The impacts to the west coast of the Auckland region have been considerable. Muriwai remains cordoned off by police.”

Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson acknowledged the community support and the work of emergency personnel as well as elected members who had been helping throughout the night.

Aotea / Great Barrier had also shown tremendous resilience after taking a big battering overnight too, she said.

Watch the full briefing of the Auckland Emergency Management team

Power outages in Auckland

Widespread power outages are still affecting the Auckland region with those in rural areas warned to prepare for several days without power.

Vector chief operating officer for electricity, gas and fibre Peter Ryan said there were about 44,000 customers without electricity at 1pm.

He said gale force winds were hampering repair efforts.

Ryan said it was a complex picture around Snell’s Beach, Warkworth and Wellsford because there were multiple faults and the Dome Valley road is cut off for now.

Damaged power pole near Warkworth

A damaged power pole in Warkworth.
Photo: Supplied / Vector

In Piha, where trees blocked roads, repair crews were unable to access damaged equipment.

One repair crew had to abandon a vehicle in rising floodwaters in Auckland’s west today, he said.

Up to 80 roads closed or partially shut

Auckland’s roads have been badly damaged by the cyclone.

Auckland Transport general manager safety Stacey van der Putten said there were many roads closed in the city’s west and north.

Piha, Bethells Beach, Muriwai and Karekare were cut off and Wellsford was inaccessible from the south. She said it was unclear when the network will be cleared and roads re-opened.

About 80 roads were either closed or partially shut.

Many ferries have been cancelled but some trains will resume in the south and east later today after an inspection by KiwiRail that was due to happen at 3pm.

School bus services had also resumed.

The Auckland Harbour Bridge is open.

Auckland Airport is also open, however, airline schedules may be disrupted for several days as airlines gradually return to normal, Kelleher said.

Auckland Emergency Management controller Rachel Kelleher, centre, Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson

Rachel Kelleher, centre, with Desley Simpson on the right.
Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

The airport had asked that only passengers with confirmed bookings on flights scheduled on the day arrive at the airport.

“At times there may be delays and queuing, particularly if high winds make it unsafe for airline ground crew to handle and load or unload aircraft,” Kelleher said.

More than 110 people used Civil Defence centres on Monday. With 27 Civil Defence centres and shelters operational, assessments were being made to see if some could be closed and resources used elsewhere.

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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