More rain is on its way to the Gisborne area, with as much as 50 millimeters expected to fall in the space of an hour this evening.
MetService extended its heavy rain warning for the area until 7 a.m. Thursday, forecasting heavy rain and thunder for Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Taranaki to arrive late Wednesday afternoon. Some areas might expect an additional 150 millimeters to 200mm.
A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday morning as overnight rains caused severe flooding in Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru Bay in Tairāwhiti.
Tairāwhiti Civil Defense Group Comptroller David Wilson is urging people to prepare and stay home if they can. “There are a number of roads closed due to slides and flooding, and we’re asking everyone to restrict their movements until assessments can be made,” Wilson said.
“To date, flooding has been concentrated around Te Puia, Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, but we know areas are affected across the region.”
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The Hikuwai River peaked at 12.5 meters but has since fallen. Emergency services were working together to keep the community safe.
“We are currently working with our partner agencies to gain access to essential items such as medicines. Anyone in need of assistance should feel free to call us and we can put them in touch with the appropriate services.
Civil Defense had ordered residents of the area north of Gisborne to evacuate at 2 a.m., and residents fled their homes in Mangatuna, Anaura Bay and Tokomaru Bay. Large parts of State Highway 35 remain under water, but the road has reopened temporarily to allow people to return home or for essential travel before further rains.
Helen Harris, national travel manager at transport agency Waka Kotahi NZ, said SH35 would close overnight, in case heavy rain forecast for the evening caused further disruption, but this would be reassessed in the morning with a view to open it at 10 o’clock.
The Tolaga Bay and Kahukuranui area school closed and became the local civil defense center. The school’s Facebook page said the storm caused damage.
A huge volume of rain has already been dumped on the region. Te Puia, north of Tokomaru Bay, received 315mm of rain in 24 hours until 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, meteorologist David Miller said.
Tolaga Bay received 215mm during the same period, while many places in the region received around 200mm. Measuring equipment at Gisborne Airport recorded just 31mm, but heavy rain in the beaches would run off towards the coast, adding to the flooding.
Grocery stores began to run out of basics on Wednesday afternoon as people rushed to fill their cupboards. The owner of Hikurangi Foodmarket Four Square in Ruatōria, Vina Carroll, said they had more than 100 people at their doorstep that morning, there was no bread, milk and eggs and that toilet paper supplies were dwindling.
Eastland Network, the electricity distribution company for Gisborne, Wairoa and the East Coast, posted an update on its Facebook page at 2.30pm saying crews had restored power to a further 400 homes.
Power had been restored to some addresses in Tokomaru Bay, including the police station, medical center and telephone exchange, as well as to Rototahi, Waipiro Bay and all of Te Puia Springs, including the ‘hospital. However, 245 customers remained without electricity.
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An urupā at Hinetamatea Marae in Anaura Bay has been “seriously threatened” after floodwaters carved out sections of land.
Marae secretary Elaine Tamatea said it was “devastating” for whānau watching. “Our concern is whether we get a lot more rain like we are supposed to tonight.”
She estimated that there were at least 50 graves in urupā and probably more that were unmarked. There was little to do.
Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers chairman Toby Williams said that while locals were “pretty resilient” the washout of the main road was a concern. “We are isolated as is, especially with the pandemic.”
Williams said farmers in the area had been hit by Covid-19, making it difficult to get stock off farms and into meat factories. Flood-damaged roads would aggravate this problem. “The loggers and cattle trucks will have a problem.”
Early warning from forecasters had enabled farmers to move livestock to higher ground. While this is impacting parts of the viticulture and crops sector, he felt much of the horticulture industry has escaped the worst.
Deputy Civil Defense Officer Nori Parata said the scene in Tokomaru Bay was “quite grim” after an “absolute spectacle and relentless weather” overnight, she said. “The thunder rocked the house, and it didn’t calm down at all.”
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