Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke’s Bay flooding latest – two dead, hundreds evacuated and rescued

Flood-stranded workers evacuated by NZDF boat. Video / Tusi Kaisa

More than 9000 people are out of their homes across Hawke’s Bay, including 3000 in Civil Defence centres as residents struggle to come to terms with the loss of lives, property, animals, roads and crops.

More than 300 residents have been rescued from rooftops and waters since floods inundated the region, cutting off roads, bridges and isolating communities.

Twelve helicopters are still working to rescue people and it was expected the rescues would all be completed today, Emergency Response Minister Kieran McAnulty said at a briefing today. One building had 60 people on the roof, he said.

He has spoken to most mayors in affected areas but was unable to contact the mayors of Napier and Wairoa.


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He said NEMA was doing a report on the damage. “We are confident we can provide the support needed, but we need to know what that is.”

Police help with evacuations on Venables Ave, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor
Police help with evacuations on Venables Ave, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

“Everyone knows we have a long path ahead of us… this is a significant disaster and it’s going to take many weeks for those areas affected to recover.” He gave an assurance the government would offer support and resources.

An Air Force Hercules will be flying over the top of Hawke’s Bay for reconnaissance.

McAnulty said while there had been forewarning of the strength of Cyclone Gabrielle, the impact it had had on the Hawke’s Bay had taken people by surprise.


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“There was nothing to indicate to them that the amount of rain they got was coming.”

He had got a text at 4.30am that told him Hawke’s Bay was in real trouble.

Locals kayak on a flooded street in Venables Ave, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor
Locals kayak on a flooded street in Venables Ave, Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

“Each region is at a different stage. Bay of Plenty have stood down their civil defence, they’re in recovery phase.”

That would not happen in Hawke’s Bay until they could reopen access to all the affected communities.

Those rescued include a group of seasonal workers stranded by floodwaters, according to the New Zealand Defence Force.

Also yesterday, crew on three Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopters rescued 23 people and five dogs, including by winching people off roofs of houses. Two pallets of medical supplies were also delivered to a medical centre in Napier.

Rescues have taken place over a wide area, including the Esk Valley north of Napier where homes have been completely submerged, in a sometimes raging torrent, but the devastation was repeated throughout the province.

Flooding in Hawke's Bay.
Flooding in Hawke’s Bay.

Two deaths had been reported, one to the north at Putorino, halfway between Napier and Hastings where a woman was killed by a landslip on her house, and another person’s body has been found on a storm-ravaged beach.

In some cases, flood waters were up to the second storey of homes where people were being rescued, and Army and Air Force teams were still working on rescues today.

NZ Army Second Lieutenant Judge Gregory said the teams rescued about 50 to 60 people and they were grateful to be picked up.


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“The floodwater was waist-high, but the Unimog tyres and massive clearance meant we were able to get into the elevated areas needed to reach the seasonal workers,” Gregory said.

Earlier on Tuesday when water banks burst, it flooded the agricultural landscape surrounding Hastings, leaving hundreds cut off from town.

“We were sent to support those areas and evacuate families trapped in homes,” he said.

Overall, the NZ Army teams had rescued about 200 people, with that number still climbing, at one stage it was reported 97 rescue teams were in action.

In Hastings, the NZ Army was operating with seven Unimogs and a police officer was allocated to each truck to help with navigation and traffic control.

Police determined high-priority areas for the New Zealand Defence Force to respond to.


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A person is rescued from their flooded property in Hawke's Bay. Photo / Defence Force
A person is rescued from their flooded property in Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Defence Force

Gregory said people they rescued were glad to see them.

“Heaps of waves and smiles but there’s quite a bit of heartbreak when we are driving past,” he said. “When we pick up people they are pretty grateful.”

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The flooded Esk Valley north of Napier has become the main priority for three NH90 helicopters as the Defence Force steps up its search and rescue response.

The NZDF says A C130 Hercules transport aircraft has been tasked with taking blood and oxygen supplies to Hawke’s Bay Hospital, the HMNZS Manawanui would be heading to Napier from Devonport Naval Base for Napier once it has been determined what supplies are required and it has been loaded, and a convoy of trucks and at least 100 personnel from 1 Brigade at Linton are travelling to the Hawke’s Bay region.

A C130 Hercules transport aircraft would also conduct a surveillance flight across the East Coast area, including Wairoa, the NZDF said.

Central Hawke’s Bay District Council chief executive Doug Tate said it was “pretty brutal out there” and said council’s thoughts went out to everybody affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.


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“The scale of it is just incredible, really,” he said.

Council still was not sure of the state of some areas in the region due to the breakdown in communications – caused by damage to fibre lines providing mobile coverage to the area.

Flooding on Links Rd, Hawke's Bay as Cyclone Gabrielle hits the region. Photo / Paul Taylor
Flooding on Links Rd, Hawke’s Bay as Cyclone Gabrielle hits the region. Photo / Paul Taylor

“Out toward the coast we’ve got big gaps of knowledge. It’s sort of funny, in a normal day losing a bridge is a really big deal and pretty much by the end of yesterday it was just another bridge that we’re just adding to the list.”

There are about 150 houses in lower Waipawa that are underwater, he said.

“You know, people kind of laughed at us when we said ‘look guys, you need to get out’, and in the space of an hour and a half, not even half an hour, we had nearly a metre and a half of water through some properties.”

Damage to farm areas was a big focus for council, “trying to get some reconnaissance over that wider area”.


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He also said parts of the region had no water supply and could expect not to have any for several days.

“Both of our treatment plants have been submerged quite significantly,” he said.

“It’s going to be pretty hard going for those urban areas in that context as well.”

Tate said his was one of the first homes in Waipukurau to be flooded.

There was “so much still do to” and “still a lot we don’t know”, he said.

“You will have heard the messages from everybody else: absolute caution, stay home . . . listen out to the key messaging, that’s kind of a really big thing for us that we’re continuing to promote.


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“If people were safe at home and didn’t need to go anywhere, the ‘best thing to do is just stay there’, he said.

He called on people to check on their neighbours if able.

Rescues continuing

Posts on social media said a group of 42 people were trapped on a hill on Korokipo Rd in Omahu.

“The rescue helicopter will be taking them food and water this morning, I’m not sure of a rescue plan at this stage but the water has started to recede around them,” the post said.

The New Zealand Defence Force regular and reserve forces have helped rescue about 200 people in Esk Valley, Napier, and wider Hawke’s Bay. As of 8.40am the NZ Army teams overall have rescued about 200 people, with the number still climbing.

An Esk Valley, Hawke's Bay, resident is plucked to safety by Defence Force personnel in an NH90 helicopter. Photo / Defence Force
An Esk Valley, Hawke’s Bay, resident is plucked to safety by Defence Force personnel in an NH90 helicopter. Photo / Defence Force

Three NH90 helicopters responded to the Hawke’s Bay area as part of a multi-agency response, with one of the tasks involving recovering people from the rooftops of their homes in Esk Valley.


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Other tasks have involved moving about 60 to 100 people from Hastings, as well as moving medical supplies around the region.

NZDF released photos of people being plucked from rooftops in the region as floodwaters raged below, and carrying locals through swamped streets in boats.

Receding floodwaters reveal the damage to Hawke's Bay properties.
Receding floodwaters reveal the damage to Hawke’s Bay properties.

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Apple exporting company Mr Apple said all of its seasonal workers that had been trapped on roofs yesterday have been evacuated to safety.

”We are thankful for the support of emergency services who were able to reach our people and get them to safety,” said Gary Jones, regulatory affairs specialist.

“We are working hard to establish the location and safety of all our team across the wider Hawke’s Bay region and provide necessary support, especially to those who have been evacuated from their homes.”

Wairoa cut off

Wairoa is cut off on all sides today, with dramatic photos from Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence revealing the inundation of the town and the challenges facing its embattled residents.


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Word came out via the Starlink system, a standalone wi-fi connection that is only accessible to the Emergency Operations Centre. Civil Defence says the rest of the Wairoa District is still without access to mobile and wi-fi connections.

Due to being completely cut off, Wairoa has only one day’s worth of food and enough drinking water for two days, Civil Defence said.

The Wairoa River has flooded up to a quarter of the town.

An RNZAF reconnaissance flight was to be sent, and Emergency Response minister Kieran McAnulty said Wairoa was particularly of concern.

Aerial view of flooding in Wairoa. Photo / Hawke's Bay Civil Defence
Aerial view of flooding in Wairoa. Photo / Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence

Wairoa’s mayor has put out an urgent request for emergency assistance from “all agencies”.

Mayor Craig Little said they are desperately in need of assistance, with hundreds evacuated from properties mainly surrounding the river catchment.


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”The North Clyde side of the town has been hugely impacted,” he said.

While they are managing, their isolation meant they were severely challenged particularly around food, water supply, fuel and communications.

”At this stage we have enough food, water and fuel for the next few days. Damage to the roading network, lack of phone and internet means there are many people who we have not been able to make contact with.

“We have received very little help because we are so cut off and everywhere around us is in emergency mode.”

He said the event was being described as “the most catastrophic” weather event to hit the area in living memory.

Little said the river rose at an “unprecedented rapid rate”, within a very short time frame, and spilled its banks.


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He also thanked their farming community for their help and support in evacuating people in very scary conditions.

Power, internet, phone coverage out

Thousands were left without power yesterday when a Transpower substation in Redclyffe was flooded. The company warned it could be days or even weeks before power was restored.

Yesterday afternoon they were able to restore some power to about 27,000 households across Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, but it is insufficient to provide power to the rest.

Napier mayor Kirstin Wise said the latest information they’d received from Transpower was that electricity was “likely to be a number of days away.

“We’re communicating with them constantly to try and get some clarity around what that means,” she said.

Meanwhile communications were “incredibly patchy” and Wise said the primary source of information is the radio.


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“Cellphone coverage and internet coverage is pretty much non-existent,” she said.

“That lack of communication is really dire and it does elevate everybody’s feelings of anxiousness.

“If I’m completely honest we’re actually feeling pretty isolated at the moment and yeah I have been discussing that with the team this morning about how we can start accessing these [state of national emergency] resources at a national level because we don’t have the resources on hand here to be able to do it alone.”

Spark said they had satellite units en route to Napier via helicopter and were dispatching an additional 10 generators.

“Communication will be limited to voice and text and congestion will occur – however the priority is to reconnect the region as quickly as possible,” Spark said.

Level five water restrictions in place

The “critical thing” about the power outage was that it affected water supplies and water treatment, meaning people are being asked to follow “level five water restrictions”.

Wise said this meant people should be having sponge baths instead of showers and only flush the toilet if absolutely necessary.

Level five is defined as water only being used for consumption or sanitary purposes.

Council warned on Facebook its water plants in Waipawa and Waipukurau would run out of water from 10pm yesterday and it could be several days before supply is restored.

“This means you are going to need to collect bottled water and water for household activities like drinking, cooking and washing. This is going to be particularly challenging over the next few days for sanitary services,” the post said.

People can access water at:

• Waipawa Municipal Theatre on Kenilworth St


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• Otane Hall

• Racecourse Road Waipukurau, opposite GM Panelbeaters

Council has also issued a boil water notice for Otane, Waipawa and Waipukurau, which will continue for the foreseeable future.

Evacuations and where to go

Council issued an evacuation order this morning for Te Awa, Napier and expected to issue more for the surrounding suburbs.

Multiple suburbs were evacuated yesterday as flooded rivers poured over stopbanks and on to floodplains.

The suburb of Esk Valley suffered widespread flooding and required multiple rescues as people sought refuge on the roofs of their homes, with the water lapping barely centimetres below.


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Many evacuation orders were lifted last night as floodwaters receded.

The Waikare River Bridge near Putorino collapsed in wild floodwaters caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo / Rosie Tong
The Waikare River Bridge near Putorino collapsed in wild floodwaters caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo / Rosie Tong

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said it was hard to believe the devastation to property and the roading network, including bridges. The council is dealing with an influx of people from flooded homes.

“We’ve got so many people displaced, so many people in our emergency centres and shelters. We are setting out two more emergency centres, people are flocking in from across our district.”

Major evacuations are still ongoing in Maraenui and Te Awa, with Police, Fire and Rescue and Surf Lifesaving attending. People were trying to salvage what they could, and personnel were evacuating residents to Napier City Council’s main evacuation centre at McLean Park’s Centennial Hall.

Rachel Kale, who lives in Te Awa Fields, said she was devastated when she saw the extent of the flooding.

“We burst into tears when we saw it.”


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She said while it was devastating, the pumps seemed to be doing their job as many houses were still relatively dry and the bulk of the flooding had rushed through the streets.

Due to lack of communication, many residents don’t know where to go. Rachel’s neighbour, who was also evacuating, said that the lack of communication and cellphone service was a significant problem.

“They’re saying look at our Facebook, look on our page, and because there’s no connection you can’t figure out what’s going on.”

Carol Parkes, who is part of the neighbourhood watch group for the area, said that having no cell communication was “just disgusting” and feared for those going through severe emergency or medical situations would struggle to call services.

In Maraenui, one of the poorest areas of Napier, IRBs were out in force rescuing people along Venables Avenue and Cotterell Crescent.

Many families were at the entrance to the road waiting for whanau, while some were assisting emergency services.


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A man taking his ute through the storm to rescue people joked it would be a “world record”, after he had returned for more than a 4th time.

Evacuations centres can be found at:


  • Flaxmere Community Centre
  • Te Aranga Marae, Flaxmere
  • EFKS Church, Flaxmere
  • Cook Islands Centre, Flaxmere
  • Hawke’s Bay Environment Centre, Hastings
  • Waipatu Marae
  • Hastings Sports Centre (at capacity)
  • Ascend Global Church, Omahu (at capacity)


  • Rodney Green Events Centre, Latham St
  • St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College (at capacity)
  • Pukemokimoki Marae (at capacity)

Central Hawke’s Bay

  • Centralines Stadium
  • Waipawa Municipal Theatre
  • Pōrangahau Hall
  • Tikokino Community Hall
  • Takapau Hall



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  • Taiho Marae
  • Ruakituri Resident Hall
  • Wall Memorial Hall
  • Kahungunu Marae (Nuhaka)


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