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On Tuesday 14 February Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle stormed in, unleashing its full fury throughour district, causing carnage and destruction in it’s path.

At 8:49am on 14 Feb, a State of Emergency was declared for the Tararua District and an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was set up. This was shortly followed by a National State of Emergency.

Reports began to come in to the EOC. Communities were cut off, isolated, and in some caseswithout power and telephone communications; communities like Ākitio, Te Uri, Herbertville, Owahanga and more. Using our Civil Defence radio network we were able to get through to  these communities and receive important information and updates on the evolving situation.

Slowly, videos and images came in and  we began to get a visual picture of what was really happening on the ground. It was evident that for many people, their lives had changed forever. As well as the physical loss, damage, and difficulties in the immediate present, there was also a likely ongoing mental and wellbeing aspect that we realised would need to be addressed, and fast.

Needs assessments for the communities began in earnest early on 15 February via outreach phone calls.

We then put skilled drivers and teams on the road, knocking on over 500 doors conducting in person welfare checks.  As our outreach missions, and the Tararua Alliance, began breaking through to our communities, we saw firsthand the impact the cyclone had wreaked on our district. A summary of some of the damage is below:

Rainfall statistics were:
  • Ākitio Toi Flat – a 1 in 50 year event – 223mm over a 24 hour period
  • Cadmus Bridge at Ākitio – a 1 in 20 year event – 328mm over a 72 hour period
  • Tamaki Reserve – a 1 in 20 year event – 154.5mm over a 24 hour period
  • Some river catchments recorded higher river levels than the 2004 flood event
Effects of historic rainfall:
  • 49 roads closed
  • 14 roads open with restrictions
  • Over 2,300 road faults identified – 473 drop outs
    2 communities, and other various rural areas cut off
  • 1 bridge washed away – 6 bridges sustained damage
  • Loss of power to 420 properties
  • 200 farms impacted by floods and slips etc.
  • Loss of mobile phone and landline coverage in some areas
  • 3 buildings red stickered
  • 16 buildings yellow stickered
  • Dannevirke initiated water restrictions
  • Boil Water notices in place for Ākitio and Pongaroa
  • Shut down of campgrounds
  • 40 - 50 people sheltering in the Dannevirke Civil Defence Centre
  • Stress and anxiety in farmers, rural residents and children
  • Supply issues with groceries and fuel

Over the next 3 weeks we worked hard using a multi-agency approach, working alongside our incredible Iwi partners and many, many others to get urgent help to those who needed it, and to rebuild access to isolated communities.

On 3 March 2023 the Response period of the emergency ended for the Tararua Distrcit and we moved into the longer-term Recovery phase.