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Isolated Tairāwhiti communities anxious as kai supplies run low and power remains off

Flooding from Cyclone Gabrielle, between Tokomaru Bay and Ruatoria, on Monday 13 February.

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Flooding between Tokomaru Bay and Ruatōria on Monday.
Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Up the coast from Gisborne, the isolated town of Ruatōria is cut off, without power, and hardly any reception.

Tairāwhiti councillor and Waiapu civil defence member Rawinia Parata lives there.

Local residents are staying connected – getting food parcels to each other across broken roads.

But Parata says time is ticking – diesel for generators is running low, and with freezers defrosting precious kai could spoil.

There is no confirmation when fuel or food might arrive.

“Everyone from Uawa to Pōtaka we’re all safe, we’re all alive, we’ve all gotten through the storm… but we are finding it difficult with the lack of connectivity,” Parata told Checkpoint.

“I know that Tolaga Bay is having some real troubles in terms of communications and they were hit particularly badly through Cyclone Gabrielle but also Te Puia and Waipiro Bay, Whareponga, we’ve got lots of really isolated communities that we have concerns for but we’ve made contact with key people in those communities.”

Before the cyclone, key community champions were identified, Parata said.

This means there was one or two people in each community who would go door-to-door to make sure everyone was OK.

“Most of the local roads have regained access, there are still some that can’t quite get out but they can come to the break in the road, which they have been doing and we’ve been giving them supplies that way.

“We’re really concerned because our freezers are now starting to defrost and that’s going to cause a real issue considering that our shop is very low on supplies. Our Eftpos is still not working so that’s causing some anxiety amongst our people for sure.”

Gisborne District Council, Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou and Te Puni Kōkiri provided civil defence supplies like non perishable and toiletry items ahead of the cyclone which have been given to whānau who need it the most.

At this point, what was most needed was fuel to keep the generators going while the main power was fixed, food supplied to the shop and the Eftpos back up and running, Parata said.

The food was meant to come via a truck from Auckland and the Eftpos was meant to be up and running on Wednesday, she said.

A Star Link has been delivered to the shop – the only shop servicing all of the communities surrounding Ruatōria – but there was a piece missing. On Thursday afternoon the shop still did not have any power.

There was no confirmation from Allied that any generators would be delivered any time soon, Parata said.

“We’re very concerned.

“In te Tairāwhiti lots of us stock meat so we have chest freezers, when that goes, and there’s no supplies to the shop that becomes a real issue for us because we have no way out of te Tairāwhiti , no way out to any of the main cities. So when our freezer stores are depleted, that will become an urgent issue for us.”

The civil defence effort had been really well supported by the community, she said.

“Everyone’s doing the best that they can but I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t an air of anxiety now just being concerned about when more supplies are coming and knowing of course we are one of many communities that are facing these kind of issues and just wondering how far up or down the priority list will our needs be.”

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.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • If you don’t need to evacuate, support those who do by staying home, staying off roads and staying safe.
  • If you are not able to contact your whānau in the heavily affected areas go to Police 105 website and complete the inquiry form or phone 105 and remember to update if you reconnect through other means.
  • 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 are without power eat the food from your fridge first, then your freezer. Then eat the food in the cupboard or your emergency kit.
  • 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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