Expecting another deluge, cyclone-hit NZ orders more evacuations

Wellington: Fresh evacuation orders have been issued for the Esk Valley, the site of much devastation from Cyclone Gabrielle, as heavy rain returns to New Zealand.

Cyclone-ravaged parts of the North Island were under heavy rain watches on Friday, with up to 200 millimetres forecast by MetService.

Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Controller Ian Macdonald said the decision to evacuate the Esk Valley, just north of Napier, was precautionary ahead of an expected deluge.

A horse died on the roof of this house in Napier, after swimming there in flood water on February 16. Cyclone Gabrielle caused widespread destruction across New Zealand’s North Island.Credit:Getty

“The timing is to ensure people can evacuate safely in daylight and before the impacts of the heavy rain make driving dangerous,” he told Radio NZ.

“Once the order is issued, people must evacuate and not wait to go later when roads are likely to be affected by surface flooding or slips.”

The re-traumatising evacuations come as police make huge gains in clearing reports of missing people.

The death toll from Cyclone Gabrielle remains at 11.

Police had received 6960 reports from people of uncontactable loved ones after Gabrielle but by Thursday night, the number of missing people was 23.

“Getting in touch with those remaining 23 remains a priority,” a police spokesman said.

“We are working as fast as we can, using a number of different methods … visiting homes, alternative accommodation, evacuation centres and other locations.”

More than 100 police have been assigned to the task.

Helping the rescue effort are Australian search and rescue teams, and from this weekend, a Fijian crew.

The 33-strong team of defence, fire and disaster management personnel will hitch a ride to New Zealand with the visiting delegation currently in Nadi for the Pacific Islands Forum.

“It just makes sense,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said.

“There’s room on the plane … and so this has worked out. It’s a win-win.

“We’re going to warmly receive those people with their expertise.”

Also in Fiji, Papua New Guinea formalised an offer to send a defence force platoon to help with the clean-up.

Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said Prime Minister James Marape was “very keen” to assist but New Zealand was yet to accept the offer.

The country is also thinking beyond the immediate clean-up, launching a new immigration pathway to help rebuild after the cyclone and last month’s Auckland floods.

The “recovery visa” will fast-track the applications of much-needed workers in specialist industries, following a similar playbook to the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.

More than 10,000 workers arrived in Canterbury in the years after the quake, which killed 185 people and destroyed large parts of the South Island’s biggest city.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood said application fees would be wiped and visas would be processed within a week.

“The visa covers the mix of workers needed for clean-up and recovery, including construction workers,” he said.

“In the short term, we are likely to need experts such as insurance assessors, infrastructure and utilities engineers and technicians, heavy machinery operators and debris removal workers to support the experts we’ve already got in the country.”


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