Cyclone Gabrielle: Frustration building from residents still stuck in buyout limbo

A year on from Cyclone Gabrielle and hundreds of people are still stuck in limbo, especially those in red-zoned areas who are waiting on council decisions.

Esk Valley and Pākōwhai are the largest parts of Hawke's Bay where authorities have deemed the risk to life too high for people to keep living there.

But there's a lot of frustration among residents navigating the buyout process, like Joanna Donnovan. It's 12 months since the cyclone destroyed her home, yet when she invites us inside it looks just as it did back then.

"Everything is falling to bits," she told Newshub.  

The house is abandoned and overgrown, it's falling apart and black mould is creeping across the walls. Pieces of their previous life are scattered everywhere, from the DVD in the hallway to the radio still on the bench.

"We're waiting on council, the council offered us a buyout scheme," she said.

Mould grows on the walls.
Mould grows on the walls. Photo credit: Newshub

To date, 326 houses have been red-zoned in Hawke's Bay. It took the Government and councils four months to reach an agreement on splitting the buyout cost 50/50.

Since October the council has been valuing properties - but now it's proposing to charge some residents for their demolition costs. That will be voted on this week.

"They've changed the goalposts. It's like... you guys need to get your shit together," Donnovan said.

Joanna Donnovan's home is still a mess a year after floodwaters swept through.
Joanna Donnovan's home is still a mess a year after floodwaters swept through. Photo credit: Newshub

Hastings District Council said it is pleased with the progress of the voluntary buyout process, but understands that the most impacted are desperate to get on with their lives and things will never go quite fast enough.

Under the buyout policy, the council won't buy Donnovan's land because it's larger than two hectares. They'll pay her out for the house but she'll be left with no property rights so no one will ever be allowed to live there again.

"Who wants to buy seven acres when you can't build a house on it," she said.

To see how others are faring, Newshub also caught up with Jayde Demancer, who we met last year when she was waiting for the council to decide if her family would be allowed back.

But now - construction is underway; her dream home is finally being rebuilt.

"Just having an answer, a direction and an end date has just lifted everything, changed everything. We're looking forward to getting back as we miss it out here," Demanser said.

Hastings District Council said it's aiming to have the bulk of buyout offers worked through by August, but it's also trying not to rush people who want more time to consider their options.