One year on from Cyclone Gabrielle: Residents slam local councils, say they aren't doing anything to ease pain

Emotions are still raw in East Coast communities from Cyclone Gabrielle but residents feel local councils aren't doing anything to ease that pain and they're still waiting for answers.

Wednesday marks exactly one year since New Zealand was hit by one of the worst storms on record claiming 11 lives and causing billions of dollars of damage.

While time has passed, some residents say wounds are yet to heal and have chosen not to attend events marking the date.

They say regional councils are only extending the painful process and are demanding real action.

Advocate, Louise Parsons told AM on Wednesday morning for some it's too hard to revisit.

It comes as red-zoned residents in Hawke's Bay are furious the Hastings District Council is trying to change its buyout rules.

Some homeowners are still waiting for a decision by the local council on whether they'll have to pay to demolish their own damaged properties.

Parsons hit out at the local councils telling AM there are still so many people in limbo.

"The voluntary buyout, there's nothing voluntary about it, it's been forced on people. There are still people that are waiting for insurance to turn up to look at their places," she said.

"So there's a lot of people still in limbo... probably the big thing that we have at the moment with this control being lost, is we're all trying to come to terms with one year on and people are in bits, they're an in absolute bits, some people are on the absolute ragged edge and we've got a city council right now who meet yesterday (Tuesday) to talk about how they can claw back money from this stricken community to pay for the demolition of houses that they wanted to stay in."

Resident advocate Louise Parsons.
Resident advocate Louise Parsons. Photo credit: AM

She told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green, who was broadcasting live from the Omāhu Marae in Hastings, residents feel like they've lost control.

"There's so many challenges and we're a year on and I knew I was going to be speaking to you today so I put it out to the community and said, what do you want me to say? What's happening? How are you feeling? There's so much hurt out there and I think the big message that I got was, there's no control," she said.

"They've lost control. The cyclone took that control away, well that's mother nature there's not a lot you can do, but from that point on there's been no control. We've had no decisions to make."

Following the cyclone, authorities have red-zoned hundreds of homes into Category 3, saying the risk to life is "intolerable".

But residents argue if there was a proper flood warning system, there'd be no risk.

While many will gather on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary, some are using it as an opportunity to shine a light on what they're calling "inaction" by regional councils.

Resident Steve Wheeler joined AM alongside Parsons and told the show many people are still doing it tough and haven't received adequate support.

"Things are not good. Things are still miserable, absolutely miserable for so many people and of course, you can do the very, very best we can to jolly them along, but as Louise was saying, and I absolutely concur, the council is not giving anybody hope. The council is not being kind. The council is not being reasonable. The council is fighting us when they shouldn't be fighting us. We are paying their rates," he told AM.

Local resident Steve Wheeler.
Local resident Steve Wheeler. Photo credit: AM

However, Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz told AM the roading infrastructure has certainly improved.

"One year ago we woke up, we had no roads, no water, no electricity, no internet, and we were cut off for quite some time," she said.

"I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done this year to reconnect our community, saying that, our roading infrastructure is still very fragile and it needs massive investment," she said,

"So a lot of work has happened in our roading area, also, in our water works, we've just added new lamellar filters so we can take more water out of silt-laden dams. So a lot has happened, but there's still a lot of hurt in our community."

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz.
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz. Photo credit: AM

Stoltz told AM her region still needs a lot of help to continue to fix infrastructure.

She said it'll require long-term planning, adding she doesn't want it to be a "patch job".

"We cannot close this region every time we have a severe weather event," she told AM. 

"We need to make sure work, especially on our state highways that connect us, State Highway Two and State Highway 35, there is resilience built into those networks to make sure we can get our produce to the rest of New Zealand, and we have access to our region to health and people coming here to visit us. So we are talking to the government and it will be ongoing negotiations."

Watch the full interviews above.