East Coast homeowners still in limbo six months on from Cyclone Gabrielle

It's been six months since Cyclone Gabrielle unleashed its fury on the East Coast, destroying hundreds of homes, killing 11 people and costing billions of dollars.

Many of those homeowners are still in a state of limbo and are awaiting council decisions on property buyouts and flood protection.

There are currently 1445 households in Category 2 or 3.

It includes people like Lynn Noanoa, who moved to Hawke's Bay with her husband Art to retire in the warmer weather. But their new home was ruined by floodwaters and is still yellow-stickered.  

They're living between friends, family and a caravan next to their home, with a portaloo on the road outside.

"It's hard and it's cold. It's a different way of living, we are living rough in that sense. But yeah, what can you do?" she said. 

Not much, because their whole street, Pohutukawa Drive, is in Category 2A.

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It means no one can live here unless flood protection is built, as the current risk to life is considered too high.

They'll either be red-zoned or allowed to rebuild, and Noanoa said the uncertainty is crippling. 

Pohutukawa Drive resident Lynn Noanoa, who says the resilience of the community has been incredible.
Pohutukawa Drive resident Lynn Noanoa, who says the resilience of the community has been incredible. Photo credit: Supplied

"We feel like we've got no power, our power is being taken away. We just want to rebuild," she said.

Which she said isn't helped by a lack of communication from the council. 

"Come and talk to us. We've not had one council guy come and knock on their door and say, 'Are you okay?' or you know, 'How can we help you or is there anything we can do'," she said. 

Her neighbour Jayde Demanser said the past six months have been "horrible" and the hardest thing is not knowing whether they'll be allowed to live back on Pohutukawa Drive again.

She calls Category 2A a "non-category". 

"We're in limbo and can't do anything, can't touch anything, can't make any decisions. We just have to wait," she said. 

They're hoping to rebuild.

"This was our home. This was what we saved for many years to build with a young family," Demanser said.

"The most uncertain category"

How long they have to wait is unknown, and the Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive, Nic Peet, told Newshub that he's very aware of how tough the situation is.   

"They are perhaps the most uncertain category. And what we're doing at the moment is going through a process of looking at potential engineering solutions. Category 2 is probably one of the toughest spots to be in at the moment," Peet said. 

It's a tough spot the Government's $203.5 million of flood protection should help with. The council's aiming to have answers about how it'll be spent in a matter of weeks.

"But I don't want to promise to people exact dates because some of those sites are really complex," he said.

The council needs to work out if the risk to life can be mitigated and if a scheme can be designed and put in place. 

"It's balancing the speed of doing the engineering studies with trying to get the decision right, both for people who might move home, but also for future generations," said Peet.

Since the land categorisation maps were published over two months ago, the council has been rebuilding stop banks and restoring flood protections. Peet said that's resulted in people being moved into Category 1, where they can start rebuilding.

"We've probably moved well over 1000 households now to the point where they have some certainty," he said.

It's a certainty that Category 2A wants, as Lynn Noanoa is worried her dream of a relaxing retirement is slipping away.

"I don't want to be too old to enjoy it in the end. My husband said, 'God, we're going to be dead before we can get this organised'," said Noanoa. 

"I would want the councils and Government to listen and to hurry up with their decisions," said Demanser.

"More anger and frustration now"

Six months on from the cyclone and parts of Hawke's Bay are still smothered in silt, with many homes and businesses full of debris and awaiting demolition.  

An aerial view of Esk Valley six months after Cyclone Gabrielle.
An aerial view of Esk Valley six months after Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo credit: Supplied

Twenty million tonnes of silt and sand was dumped on the region's flood plains and although contractors and residents have been working around the clock to clean up, there is a long road ahead.

Some residents told Newshub the uncertainty is "paralysing", as most red-zoned home-owners are waiting for a buyout offer from the council, a cost that'll be split 50-50 with the Government

Sarndra Spicer from the Esk Valley Community Hub said the recovery is far from over. 

"It's just a struggle, and there's actually probably more frustration and more anger now because everyone's sort of coming to the reality that nothing's happening fast," she said. 

And the donations of food, fuel, and supplies are drying up.

"We just don't have the help that we had before. We don't have the donations coming in. Everyone keeps saying, 'You're at six months, you should have moved on by now', when it's like, you know, we're six months in. It doesn't mean we've moved on, we've got a hell of a lot of work ahead of us," Spicer said. 

She said any donations would be welcomed - from grocery vouchers to tools, toiletries and building materials - as families are living in caravans and motel rooms while still paying mortgages and insurance.

"They're really struggling financially. They're still trying to keep it as normal as possible for the kids to get them off to school to keep everything ticking along, but they don't have anything coming in. So the hub is really important for them," said Spicer. 

As for mental health support, the council is urging people to use the services available. 

"There is support out there. And, you know, I just encourage people where they need that, that emotional and mental support, that they reach out and take it," said Peet. 

"It's a tough and traumatic event. We're doing our best to work with those affected communities for people who are really finding it tough as they go through that kind of grieving process."