Cyclone Gabrielle: Stuart Nash says warning Napier faces two weeks without power is 'alarmist'

Napier MP Stuart Nash has labelled the local regional council's warning that some in the city face at least two weeks without power "alarmist" and "over the top".

The centre has been hit hard by the wrath of Cyclone Gabrielle, with the local lines company Unison Networks saying there are 31,700 homes in Napier without power. This is due to flooding causing extensive damage at the Redclyffe substation.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council on Thursday morning said on Facebook that the power outage in Napier "is expected to be at least two weeks". It said emergency power has been provided for Wellesley Road Medical Centre, Countdown and Caltex Napier.

Nash, the local MP and Government minister, told AM that "sounds a little alarmist" and believes the suggestion that power could be out for weeks "is over the top" considering how important it was to get sorted.

He said the Government and Transpower understood restoring power was "critical".

"It is their number one priority to get power back on because, of course, we're living in the 21st century, right? Food is kept in fridges and freezers. We all operate on a power grid. Without that, it's very hard to undertake any form of contact."

He said local businesses had been geared up for the annual Art Deco weekend, which has had to be cancelled. 

"It is really, really tough times for these guys… If we can get power back on, then business can start operating again. If we can't, then talking to Napier City Council about setting up some form of business hub where people can come down, they can charge their phones, they can get Wi-Fi and they can start doing some form of transactional processes in the first place."

Napier MP Stuart Nash.
Napier MP Stuart Nash. Photo credit: Newshub.

Both the local Civil Defence group and the mayor were also more optimistic about when the power could be back on. 

Ian McDonald, the Group Controller of Hawke's Bay Civil Defence Group, said power is still out for much of the region, but enough is being generated for about 90,000 houses. 

"Transpower and Unison are looking at how they can bypass the Redclyffe substation and they're making some really progress on that. However, it is still going to be up to a week before power can be fully restored to Hawkes Bay."

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said anyone struggling to get in contact with loved ones in Napier should know "it's more than likely simply because the communication channels are down". 

"For us in Napier, it is looking like a number of days before we will have power restored. Reach out to friends and whanau if you need assistance to be able to cook food on their barbeques."

Transpower said on Thursday morning that initial assessments of the flooded Redclyffe substation near Taradale showed "extensive damage", with flood waters reaching heights exceeding 1.5 metres inside the control room. 

"Given the extensive damage and the likely time to repair the substation, our focus now is on creating a bypass for our 220KV line to enable it to connect to the Whakatu substation north-east of Hastings. We have been working with local lines company Unison on this bypass option and expect to be able to provide an update later today on when it will be completed."

There's also been flooding at the Whirinaki substation north of Napier which supplies power solely to Pan Pac Forest Products Limited. It is the entry point to the grid for generation from Contact Energy and access to the site is currently only by air.

"There continue to be logistical challenges in restoring power in the region as a result of damage to roading, significant debris and damaged communications networks. We are working closely with both NEMA and local Civil Defence agencies to get access to the resources we need.

"We recognise the significant impact that this loss of power has on people affected in the region, our thoughts are with them, and we thank them for their patience. We assure them that our people are continuing to work tirelessly with local lines companies to get as much power restored into the area as quickly as possible."