As I write this, there’s another thunderstorm watch in place for our region. After Cyclone Gabrielle brought flooding and destruction to the East Coast just over two weeks ago, I know people are feeling anxious about anything that might signal a repeat performance.
This is understandable. Te Matau a Māui Hawke’s Bay faces unimaginable devastation and loss. Most of us have never experienced a disaster of this scale, with this much impact on our lives, livelihoods, whānau, homes, whenua, farms, orchards, vineyards, neighbourhoods and communities.
My heart goes out to people who lost loved ones due to the cyclone and its aftermath, and to those who lost livelihoods, homes, pets and treasured possessions. Here in Central Hawke’s Bay, Waipawa, Pōrangahau, parts of Waipukurau, and a variety of lifestyle and residential properties close to rivers were flooded. More than 600 households in total. And then there are those that have been left isolated by road and bridge washouts – too many to mention except to say that Wakakarara, Gwavas and parts of Elsthorpe and Omakere are suffering this more than others.
The clean-up for many has been made so much easier by the generosity and volunteering all across our district. Thank you for the way we have been able to pull together. For our farmers, clean-up is bigger and a bit more complex – particularly as the rain continues to fall and the land continues to be mobile and slippery. But I know that many of you are seeking advice from those who suffered in Cyclone Bola, and are putting plans in place for how to rebuild – one step and one day at a time.
Leadership of our Council, in a time of Civil Defence State of Emergency, looks a bit different to what is usually expected. By being in a state of emergency, the democratic leadership of Civil Defence is put to the side as specialist controllers and agencies step in to lead the response. As well as keeping people safe through warnings and evacuations, Councils at the local level hold the vital responsibilities for roading, rubbish and water lifelines, as well as the welfare needs of our local communities.
So when we met last week, our focus was on getting the appropriate financial delegations to our Chief Executive to continue the emergency works required, and to set up a system for release of funds raised through the Mayoral Relief Fund. We clearly want this to be easy, and a high-trust system where if you ask for help then we can move quickly. This is now live and details can be found on the Council website or ask our Council team for assistance.
The Government and other organisations have also announced support packages. The Ministry for Primary Industries has opened applications for recovery grants to farmers, growers and whenua Māori owners significantly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle. You can ask our Council teams for assistance on this; we are working to keep our website as up to date as possible, even though things change quite rapidly with new avenues opening up almost daily.
I have hosted our local Wairarapa MP, and Minister for Civil Defence Kieran McAnulty on two occasions over the last two weeks. He has been in regular contact the whole time which has been very reassuring, and he has taken the time to understand first-hand what is happening on the ground in our community.
The strength of our community, and I’ve seen this over and over again, is in your willingness to work together to get through difficult times. Alongside Emergency Services, community leaders, Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence, volunteers and Council staff, you have baked, cleaned, leafletted, dug and donated – and you continue to do so. We’ve had an overwhelming response to our call for volunteers. Thank you all! Look out on our Facebook page for some profiles of the people we’re calling our Good Vibes Tribe – volunteers young and old out there doing some magnificent mahi.
This way, together, we all make up ‘civil defence’. While the system helps deliver food, welfare and coordinate resources and volunteers, it is the people and communities like ours who ensure we respond, recover and build back stronger.
Council are now working quickly to scope and prioritise getting water and roading networks back into a more workable state – but I want to emphasise that this is going to take time, it is going to take extraordinary amounts of money, and it’s going to take patience.
Regional cooperation and mutual support are also crucial to our next steps during the weeks, months and even years ahead. Our recovery needs to be locally responsive and regionally led. A strong and simple structure, brave leadership, and resolute, timely decision-making will support and reassure our communities while we rebuild the Hawke’s Bay we know and love.
3 March 2023
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