More shocking details emerge of communications breakdown in deadly Hawke's Bay flooding

More details have emerged of the communications breakdown in the hours leading up to the devastating Hawke's Bay flooding that killed eight people.

A Civil Defence Facebook post reassured residents earlier that night that they didn't need to evacuate despite emergency officials being told one hour beforehand of "serious concerns" about rising river levels. 

The drama of the flooding remains etched in Eskdale resident Mel Gale's mind. 

As the rain pelted down outside, she was reassured by a Facebook post from Civil Defence.

"I would have rather left my house at 8:30 that evening and sat on a hill with nothing happening than to be told that everything was okay, and I had to drive my children out through water. It's not okay."

"It was horrific and it was the scariest and bravest thing I've ever had to do and my kids are never going to forget that moment and neither will I."

An hour before that Facebook post, at 7:28pm, the council's principal engineer emailed the emergency operations centre a clear warning. 

He stated: 

  • The Esk river is of "serious concern" and that the river was at 4.67 metres at 7pm and "rising fast"
  • The Mangaone at Rissington is "definitely a concern"
  • The water level at Mangaone at 7pm was 8.176m, and a "red" level, or one-in-20-year event, is 8.5 metres
  • It's "quite likely" to rise above the 2018 flood level "within the next few hours."
The flooding has been described by Eskdale residents as chaotic, horrific and scary.
The flooding has been described by Eskdale residents as chaotic, horrific and scary. Photo credit: Newshub

However, at 8:33pm, Civil Defence posted on Facebook saying that there was "no need for residents to evacuate and that those who should move have already been contacted."

"It provided myself and a lot of other people with a false sense of security that it was going to be okay," Gale said.

She said people further down the valley had gone to bed.

"It made people feel safe and it made people feel like the experts had the situation under control and they could go to bed as normal," Eskdale resident and strawberry grower Donald Crosby said.

Crosby said he's not convinced anything was learned from the less severe flooding of 2018. 

"My gut feeling is people should resign if they've made mistakes and should make room for people who do have the ability to fix it." 

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Gale's relative was the first to call the fire service urging them to get people out. 

"My brother-in-law, who's just a tenant of the Valley and a business owner who's lived here for over 30 years, made more sensible decisions than people in paid positions," she said.

Volunteer firefighter Nick Hinks said he wasn't privy to the information officials had and when he was called, he acted. 

"With the resources we have and the training we had, we did everything we could do," Bayview senior station officer and volunteer fireman Nick Hinks said.

Hinks said they first started evacuating people in Eskdale at 10pm that night.

As the hours ticked on, the floodwaters covered the highway. 

"It was chaos, that's the short term for it," he said.

When asked if Hinks felt he had saved lives, he responded: "I would like to think so."

The official evacuation order for Eskdale was made at 5.19am, hours too late. 

By then, dozens of people were already stranded on rooftops.