Cyclone Gabrielle: Concerns for rural Hawke's Bay residents still missing


Rural Support Trust has fears for people still unaccounted for in flood-affected rural Hawke's Bay communities, where communication and access is still a major challenge.

Co-ordinator Jonathan Bell said the damage there was confronting and people would likely only begin to understand how bad it was once more areas could be reached.

"Access is an issue, the other one is power," he said.

"Obviously, we're lucky here and Hastings and Havelock and some surrounding areas, we have power, and Napier has no power and there's no power to the rural communities.

"At the moment, we've got helicopters going into some of the areas that have been badly hit, connecting with farmers and dropping off things like generators, gas bottles, gas cookers, fuel, and essential food and supplies, just to keep them going."

Bell expected the recovery period would take a very long time.

Puketitiri, Tūtira, Kotemaori, the Dartmoor Valley and Eskdale appeared to be the worst hit areas so far, he said.

"Once we've sort of covered those areas, then we'll start to reach out to some of the other areas, but the biggest thing is access," he said.

"If we can get the roads to a point where we can get unimogs in, the army's here at the moment with unimogs, and if they can get out and get in, then they can take more supplies."

He was extremely concerned about the welfare of rural residents that were still missing.

"There are a number of people still missing, particularly over in the Valley Dartmoor area and we have concerns for them," he said.

"We have concerns for the mental wellbeing of our farmers and as a Rural Support Trust, that's one of the main things that we're involved with.

"Unfortunately, we can't get to people and they can't contact us."

Once communication opened up and the trust was able to talk to and visit isolated residents, further support would be offered to them, Bell said.

Vineyards washed away in Dartmoor Valley

Meanwhile the manager of a winery based in the Dartmoor Valley says their vines have suffered severe damage.

Sacred Hill Wine has two sites in the cyclone-hit valley, inland from Napier, where it grows grapes.

Manager Ben Poulter said his team were all safe and accounted for, but their vineyards had been washed away.

"There's so much rain, the rivers rose and just took everything with it," Poulter said.

"Bridges, which are the only access way, it took, vineyards, orchards, people's houses and dare I say it, people, just everything."

Poulter said both of their sites in the Dartmoor Valley had been damaged.

"One site has been pretty much washed away," he said.

"There's probably a meter of silt on the vineyard, the grapes, the vines, the trellising is all gone.

"It's not a pretty picture."

Their second vineyard was higher and had fared better in the cyclone, but they were unable to access it, Poulter said.

He had been able to fly over the property to check on it, but he did not expect to be able to set foot on the ground for some time.

'8000 bins of apples in the coolstore with no power'

The head of a major fruit provider said he had seen horrific scenes in parts of the Esk Valley, with orchards and vines underwater and silt, dead animals and debris everywhere.

Yummy Fruit general manager Paul Paynter said 45 hectares of their crops were buried under 1.2m of river silt - which he estimated to be half a million tonne of debris.

"We currently have no power, I've got 8000 bins of apples in the coolstore with no power, our packhouse can't operate," Paynter said.

"I've got half of my staff who live in the Napier district and can't get to work, so it's very difficult."

Paynter said a generator was en route to them from Wellington on Friday, and he hoped they could be back up and running this weekend.

"We loaded out 31 pallets of fruit for the market in the dark yesterday but the electric forklifts, they'll go flat soon, so we need to get the power back on and we've got a generator to do some of that and help us limp by."

He said what was most devastating about the event was the toll on human lives.

"There's going to be people who I don't think will ever be accounted for," Paynter said.

"In that area between the rivers, there's a lot of lifestyle blocks out there, with stock and horses and a lot of pining paddocks.

Cyclone Gabrielle: Concerns for rural Hawke's Bay residents still missing
Photo credit: RNZ

"When the water recedes, there's gonna be some really grisly finds, and tragically, some of them are going to be human."

Support money needed to be urgently made available, similar to the Covid-19 wage subsidy, to help residents unable to work make ends meet, Paynter said.

"Secondly, we need to throw the kitchen sink at the cleanup," he said.

"There's a lot of areas that are a write off, but there's even more that are recoverable if we can get rid of the surface water and the small amount of river silt that's around, there's a lot of orchards that are recoverable."

On Friday, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson said further short-term relief measures to help those hit by floods and the cyclone would be announced soon.

So far the government had contributed to mayoral relief funds, rural support and clean up costs, and an Auckland-based fund to assist businesses. The latest measure was a loosening of credit rules to allow loans of up to $10,000 without extensive credit checks for those affected.

Hard-hit areas would likely lose their entire crop, their trees and soil without a thorough cleanup, he said.

"We probably also need something like Provincial Growth Fund-type loans," he said.

"I don't think farmers want too many free handouts.

"I think on commercial terms, for those who have got a pathway to recovery to get some sort of government loan to allow them to re-establish their orchards, because the economic engine of Hawke's Bay needs to be rebuilt."

He said Hawke's Bay's horticulture and viticulture industry was worth more than half a billion dollars and up to 30 percent of that had been hammered by Cyclone Gabrielle.