Cyclone Gabrielle victims lack confidence in Civil Defence after report finds major response failures

Cyclone Gabrielle victims say they have no confidence in Civil Defence protecting them after a scathing report found major failures in the official response. 

The review, led by former police commissioner Mike Bush, also found authorities hadn't made changes recommended by reports into previous disasters. 

When the cyclone hit, Esk Valley resident Greg Millar was keeping a close eye on river levels and when floodwaters filled the entire valley, he said Civil Defence was nowhere to be seen.  

"Plenty of people actually phoned Civil Defence and they were just like 'Nah it's okay, we're watching it, there's no dramas, stay at home.'" 

"The poor little girl down the road didn't have to die," he said. 

The review into Hawke's Bay's Civil Defence emergency response confirmed that.

Bush found that when well-informed locals tried to warn Civil Defence they were often told they were 'overreacting'. 

"To tell people they are overreacting is exactly what should not occur," Bush stressed. 

Newshub wanted to question Bush on Monday, but the joint committee decided only they should speak to media. 

While interviewing him on Tuesday to discuss emails obtained by Newshub, showing authorities knew which houses could be at risk but did nothing about it, he admitted he didn't know why that information was ignored. 

"No, I can't explain that," Bush said.

Hawke's Bay damage following Cyclone Gabrielle.
Hawke's Bay damage following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo credit: Newshub

Since the report has been released, locals are calling for the committee to admit to its mistakes during the cyclone and apologise for its failings.  

"People need to actually come out and say something, and apologise for what was done," Millar stressed. 

However, Civil Defence is refusing to do that.  

"It's a massive report, and we are accepting of all the findings that are in it," Hawke's Bay Civil Defence committee member Alex Walker said. 

When asked by Newshub if Civil Defence will apologise, Walker said "The accountability is being taken by absolutely taking the findings of this report and completely overhauling the system".  

The review revealed authorities hadn't made the changes recommended by previous reports into disasters in 2017 and 2020.  

It came as no surprise to resident Donald Crosby. 

"They haven't learned anything from the previous two flooding events," he stressed. 

Millar agreed, adding no one had any faith in authorities. 

"We have no confidence at all that anything is going to be done," he said. 

Civil Defence now have 75 recommendations to consider, including more investment in capabilities such as early warning and flood detection systems that still operate even in power and communication black outs. 

"They need to do a better job of monitoring the river levels, and anticipate what water is coming and where it's going," Crosby said. 

The final report from the Government Inquiry into the North Island weather events of January and February 2023, is now in the Minister's hands and expected to be publicly released in the coming weeks.