The civil defence coordinator in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast says a major bridge would still be standing if it was not for forestry slash.
Slash is a forestry waste product, and debris and logs can be swept downstream during heavy rain, causing further flooding. It has been an ongoing problem for the East Coast.
Cyclone Gabrielle has meant communities there have again been beset by slash which has caused immense damage to properties and infrastructure.
Civil Defence coordinator Lillian Te Hau-Ward said the rain had passed but they were isolated from Tokomaru Bay all the way to the top of the East Coast.
The bridge, which enables access between Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay had been washed out by slash and water, he said.
“So we’re totally isolated, we’re both ends, so we’re all hunkering down and hoping that when helicopters are up today they can land to pick up two [dialysis] patients who we really, really need to get through to Gisborne Hospital.”
The bridge would not have failed if it had not been for the slash, she said.
“From the video and the photos we’ve received, all you see is slash around the columns.”
The practices have not changed since 2018 when heavy rain and flooding in Tolaga Bay left tonnes of forestry debris strewn across farms and blocked rivers, Te Hau-Ward said.
“Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of our whānau rely on forestry work for income, however, the practices of leaving slash on the sides of hills needs to change – those need to be cleaned up because they end up in our waterways.”
Te Hau-Ward said she had not noticed any improvement in addressing the problem of slash.
“I live rurally out on a farm and we see it every day.”
In a briefing on the cyclone response, Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said there was no doubt slash was causing an “unneeded addition to the weather event”.
“The minister of forestry has indicated himself that he’s got some work under way … this is an area that I’m particularly interested in.”
He welcomed the prime minister’s comments that it was something he was committed to sorting out.
Forest Owners’ Association spokesperson Don Carson said they accepted the climate was changing faster than their measures to deal with the problem.
He said some forestry blocks in the Tairāwhiti region would never be milled after two cyclones in two months pushed logs, debris and silt and water over swathes of land.
What had worked in the past – planting pine trees to stabilise land – was no longer working, he said.
The Tairāwhiti region was a vulnerable landscape, particularly in from Tolaga and Tokomaru bays, he said.
The land was originally native forest which was taken out by the first European settlers and it was made into farmland, he said.
“Then Cyclone Bola hit in ’88 and the consensus was how do you respond? You put in pine trees, that will stabilise the land.”
But the question was now how to get those slopes more stable, Carson said.
The rest of the country may face what Tolaga Bay, Wairoa and Tairāwhiti were experiencing now in future years and forest owners supported an inquiry, Carson said.
Evacuations due to possible danger from slip
Te Hau-Ward said because her community was up the coast there was an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
“So there have been clean-ups in Gisborne and Tolaga Bay, there’s been absolutely nothing on the East Coast.”
Twenty-six homes had to be evacuated again on Tuesday night after a large slip to the north of Tokomaru Bay came down in a riverway, she said.
“For the fear that everything backing up behind that slip would blow last night, fortunately for us that hasn’t happened.
“So I have been in touch with the controllers at Gisborne District Council and Tairāwhiti Civil Defence and they’re going to try to get crews up on the ground to try to start moving that slip to relieve some pressure.”
Civil Defence workers would also be doing welfare checks in the region to determine whether they need any supplies and then letting Gisborne know, she said.
“Because we’ve got no power our local supermarket is down, but we’re trying with generators and the support of Starlink to get them up and running today.”
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