Weather: Cyclone Hale takes mental toll on Tairāwhiti farmers


Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri says Cyclone Hale has taken a mental toll on Tairāwhiti farmers and growers, as they've seen too many floods over the years to count.

The Government has offered $100,000 towards recovery efforts in Gisborne, including one-on-one mentoring support.

A $150,000 contribution to the Mayoral Relief Fund has also been announced, to help with the clean-up.

Meka Whaitiri, who visited farmers in the region yesterday, said that while some remained buoyant, others were questioning whether they wanted to keep farming.

"There is a sense of exhaustion from recovery to relief and then back into recovery," she said.

"There's the physical damage you can see on farms, which over time will get addressed, but I think what I got to was some of the hidden damages in terms of some of the mental stress."

The mental support funding announcement was well received, and the government was ready to contribute further, she said.

Whaitiri said she was confident Tairāwhiti farm animals would be well looked-after, in the aftermath of Cyclone Hale.

She was assured there were no concerns about feed supplies, and sheep would still be able to get shorn, she said.

The farmers she spoke to all had contingency plans, which included moving stock to neighbouring farms that still had functioning woolsheds, Whaitiri said.

Once the state of emergency has been lifted, animal welfare teams will do assessments.

Gisborne Federated Farmers president Toby Williams said the government support was much needed, as even more damage was expected to be uncovered.

"We still haven't got a full picture, it's so wet out there that farmers haven't actually been able to get out there and have a look," he said.

"But anecdotally, there's some very very badly affected properties, there's a lot of forestry slash and timber debris on places that needs to be picked up and removed and there's a lot of fences down."

Williams said it was hoped that the clean-up could be scaled up early next week, when it stopped raining.

Civil Defence in Tairawhiti said significant progress was made over the past 48 hours on restoring roads and communication services.

Eighteen local roads are still closed, mainly in the Uawa area, while the main road around the coast, State Highway 35, is only open for 12 hours a day.

One of the main concerns was the Tauwhareparae area north-west of Tolaga Bay, where more than 50 people were still without power.

Jarrad Moroney of Eastland Network said most of the damage had been caused by logs carried by stormwater, damaging power poles and other infrastructure.

Civil Defence emergency manager Ben Green said repair crews were working this weekend but some customers could still be without electricity for a few more days.

Overall, the region was transitioning into a recovery phase, he said.

The Defence Force said it had responded to a call for help with delivering food and medical supplies to Tolaga Bay, Tokomaru Bay, Ruatoria, Tiki Tiki, Te Araroa and Te Puia Springs Hospital.

Two personnel and a unimog were deployed from Gisborne with two more personnel and another unimog deployed today.

Chorus said it would be factoring storm resilience into its future planning, after internet was cut to between 1200 and 1500 homes when a fibre cable was torn from a bridge near Tolaga Bay by the swollen Hikuwai River.

A spokesperson for the telecommunications infrastructure company, Rory O'Sullivan, said internet connections were integral to keeping people connected in emergencies, and for help to be sent to the right places.

"With the way things are going with the extremity and the frequency of extreme weather events like this, the amount of future-proofing that we as a telecommunications provider will have to look at will certainly be part of our future planning, it will simply have to be," he said.

Internet access was restored after four hours, with homes along the east coast from Tolaga Bay to Potaka affected.

Cyclone Hale also temporarily cut the wheelchair access to a prime spot on Whangamatā Beach.

Massive swells brought by the storm eroded an accessible boardwalk and dislodged a wheelchair mat that extended from it onto the shore.

The pins that secured the mat were washed away.

The treasurer of the advocacy group Toes in the Water, Donna Lowrie, said the matting was salvaged and would be reinstalled when the weather settled.

But she said the boardwalk now ended with quite a drop down to the beach, and that would also need to be rebuilt.

The storm-damaged stretch of State Highway 35 from Uawa Tolaga Bay to Ruatoria will be open during daylight hours from today.

Drivers will be able to use it between 7am and 7pm, and crews will then resume repair work overnight.

Waka Kotahi said more rain could create further instability, and travellers should proceed with caution and expect delay.