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Cyclone Gabrielle update

In brief

  • The Hawke’s Bay Region – Hastings District among the hardest hit. 
  • Dozens arrested for looting and dishonesty.  Some locals are setting up roadblocks to deter criminals. Also, domestic violence has seen a marked increase according to police. 
  • 11 confirmed dead, 23 still missing. 
  • State of emergency extended.

North Island slammed

Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand from 12 to 16 February 2023. A national state of emergency was declared on 14 February, which has since been extended. The cyclone left a trail of destruction across the North Island with the east coast, Coromandel, and Hawke’s Bay hit particularly hard in New Zealand’s deadliest storm since 1968. 

The death toll is at 11. More confirmed deaths are possible. At the time of writing, 23 are missing.  A temporary morgue has been set up in Hawke’s Bay. 

Flooding, slips and high winds have caused extensive damage. Large areas have been buried in silt. There’s severe damage to homes and infrastructure, as well as heavy losses to crops and livestock.

Leftover forestry debris, known as “slash”, has been widely reported causing havoc as it was whipped along with raging flood waters out to sea where it then leaves its evidence covering beaches all along the coast. 

Some rural communities have been inordinately affected as relief efforts, already stretched thin, focus on more populated centers. 

Cyclone damage

Reported lawlessness and looting 

How much crime is occurring has become a source of controversy

While police say that there has been an increase in family harm in areas hit by the cyclone, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said crime is, otherwise, below normal. Prime Minister Hipkins said reports of gunplay, gang incidents, lawlessness and widespread looting are unsubstantiated. 

There are multiple reports of locals in affected areas constructing roadblocks using large vehicles to thwart criminals and defend vital equipment. 

Dozens have been arrested for looting and dishonesty offences. 

Police say they’ve brought in around 145 additional officers to assist local police along with helicopter support and Search and Rescue teams. ACT points out that police sent 600 officers to deal with anti-COVID protests in Wellington. National, ACT and NZ First urged more involvement of the military but Defense Minister Andrew Little has ruled out using them in a policing function. 

Political parties debate rebuild

The Government announced two programs worth $300m to help businesses and rebuild roads. Some say it’s too little with damage estimated in the billions of dollars

The National Party is against possible tax increases floated by Labour and the Green Party to pay for the rebuild. They want the Government to borrow the money to fund critical infrastructure projects. 

The Government is also considering a policy of managed retreat. That means paying people to move from areas likely to be hit again during future climate events. The controversial move could affect tens of thousands of people and cost billions. 

Considerable imported bitumen will be needed for road repair.  NZ First has said the Government was wrong to close down Marsden Point Refinery and have started a petition to have it reopened. NZ First describes the situation for Labour as “woke meets reality”. 

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