Gisborne flooding: State of Emergency declared in Tairāwhiti, residents told to evacuate

A state of emergency has been declared in Gisborne as wild weather saw rivers rise rapidly, giant trees crash to the ground and flash flooding hit the region overnight.

At 2pm the council region broadcast the alert after concern about threatening river levels, and flooding around homes in Gisborne and further north up the coast.

Already a month’s worth of rain has fallen in a day, with officials waiting nervously ahead of high tide which is due in less than two hours.

Welfare centres have opened across the region as the heavy rain continues to fall and schools have closed for the day.

Strong winds have also left a trail of destruction across Bay of Plenty and Waikato with high winds toppling trees and powerlines across the two regions.

State Highway 1 is now closed between State Highway 29 and Karapiro Rd after numerous trees fell blocking the road today. The route is not expected to reopen until tomorrow morning.

Civil Defence controller Dave Wilson today encouraged people to do what they could to keep safe.

“If the river levels around you are rising or if there are floodwaters getting into your home please get in contact with us at civil defence.

“If you have whanau or friends you can go and stay with then please self-isolate, evacuate and get to somewhere safe.”

Wilson warned now was not the time to go sightseeing but instead stay home and keep dry.

He said flooding had closed several roads, with some residents at Pouawa and Loisels forced to evacuate.

“The ground is already staurated, with high tide due at 6pm our rivers are being closely monitored,” he told RNZ.

“The road situation on both state highways and local roads are changing by the hour. Please drive to the conditions, and only travel if you need to.”

The council this afternoon opened a welfare centre at Wainui School for residents affected by flooding in the Sponge Bay area north of the city.

MetService earlier issued an orange warning for the region, with rain expected to ease after 6pm.

A heavy rain warning remains in force for Hawke’s Bay until 11pm.

The Gisborne District Council said there has been 220 millimetres of rain since yesterday morning and its team had a busy night monitoring the city’s sewerage and stormwater systems.

The storm, which struck overnight, left residents crossing their fingers earlier today as river levels rose.

Rural resident John Fraser is thanking his lucky stars after a near brush with death.

John Fraser was working in his shed yesterday when a 30-metre gum tree fell on it.

“The tree fell down and demolished the shed at about 1pm and destroyed everything in it.”

About 9pm last night another tree came crashing down, bringing with it a third.

Fraser said the first tree had uprooted the second “so three trees fell”.

“The gum tree that fell needed a crane to lift it off. The tree went through the shed and brought down the rails of the veranda of our house.

“I was in the shed when I heard it creak and I ran out at probably twice the speed of sound.”

Fraser said he tripped as he was running out but managed to pick himself up and run to safety.

“I had got far enough just to the edge of the shed when it came through.

“What happened was a small branch fell on the roof which made me look up and then I saw the tree coming towards me and I took the run. And I saw it completely flatten the shed.

“I told my wife I’m glad it didn’t fall on my head.

“I spend a lot of time in the shed so was there but luckily enough it missed me. I am always in the shed messing around. Every man needs a shed and now I haven’t got one.”

King Road resident Larissa Wooding-Ngata was today keeping a close watch on river levels, worried for her property.

“It’s crazy how quick the river came up,” she told the Gisborne Herald this morning. “We went to bed last night and the river (Taruheru River) wasn’t spilling over and then I woke up at 5.30am or 6am and it was at our doorstep (base of the steps).

“If I’m standing in the water, it is 30 centimetres deep, right up to my gumboots . . . but it’s getting worse now as it looks like a big swimming pool.

“We have two rain gauges — one full and one empty. It measured 90mm yesterday and now it’s about 200mm now.”

There was another close call last night in the city, this time due to high winds.

Firefighters were called out at around 6.45pm after the roof started to lift on a house in Salisbury Road.

“We managed to screw the loose roofing down and keep it intact,” a senior firefighter said.

Fire and Emergency NZ sent two of the professional Gisborne staff to Tikitiki yesterday, and two to Tokomaru Bay to assist firefighters in those areas of the Coast if needed.

Uawa Civil Defence reported on Facebook that surface flooding at Anaura Road had cut some properties off.

“Local advice is that Rototahi has flooding and only 4-wheel-drive vehicles or better should be trying to get through.

District Court sessions in Ruatoria were called off today.

Court staff made it partway to Ruatoria but it was decided to reschedule the court session due to road conditions.

Heavy rain meant Gisborne District Council had to open the emergency sewer valve at Wainui Road into the Turanganui River at 5.40pm to prevent sewage from overflowing back into homes and on to roads, and causing a significant health risk,

“The discharge is highly diluted with rainwater, but still poses a health risk,” a GDC Facebook statement said. “We’ll notify the Hauora Tairāwhiti Medical Officer of Health, water user and sports groups.

“Temporary warning signs will be installed and we advise no swimming, fishing or gathering shellfish in rivers and beaches until at least five days after the valves are closed and warning signs are removed.”

Sewage worries kept some Ilminster Intermediate students away from school today.

“Whānau, an unusual request from us. If your child is at home at the moment, can I please request that you keep them at home,” principal Megan Rangiuia wrote on Facebook.

“Whilst we are not closing, we have very full sewage pipes at the moment and we are conscious of managing that until the rain abates a little.”

On Facebook, parents were understanding. The school postponed assessments for today so absent students did not miss out.

In Wairoa, high river levels closed two back-country roads at Hereheretau and Kotare roads.

A MetService New Zealand post on Facebook said Gisborne Airport recorded its second wettest 9am-9am period on record (since 1937).

“95mm in 24 hours is a lot for an urban centre, especially when their average November total is below 65mm.”

‘ At 11.25am, GDC issued a flood warning for the Hikuwai River. The Willow Flat gauge showed the river level as 8.12m and rising, expected to peak at 8.5m at 1pm.

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