Kieran McAnulty requests urgent briefing from emergency officials following Newshub investigation

Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty requested an urgent briefing with national emergency officials after Newshub revealed authorities in Hawke's Bay knew of "serious risks to homes" the evening before the region flooded but failed to act. 

Following the briefing, McAnulty confirmed "things went wrong". 

While the water in the Esk River is finally running clear, the surrounding landscape is scarred by the flooding of six months ago.

Dan Gale owns a campground there. He evacuated guests on the Saturday and Sunday on his own initiative, but said local authorities were silent.

"It's just appalling that when the Esk River reached a certain height they didn't push the button and say, 'Get gone'," Gale said.

On Monday, Newshub revealed local authorities knew homes were at risk but it was nine hours before the first emergency text alert was issued to people in Eskdale. Those in Rissington did not get any warning despite officials knowing river levels had hit above 50-year highs at 9:42pm.

Then on Tuesday, McAnulty asked national emergency officials for a 'please explain'. 

"As soon as I saw that report on Newshub last night, I asked for an urgent briefing from them. I was pretty keen to know what advice they got in that time period."

He confirmed local authorities did not pass on to national officials what they knew. 

"So that's a real worry that that didn't filter through," he said. "There were things that went wrong and that's on us to make sure that doesn't happen again."

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Now, Newshub can reveal more concerning revelations relating to telemetry or river sensors. Emails obtained show on February 10, four days before the flood, the council's principal engineer asked if there were any telemetry issues preceding the oncoming rain and wind. 

The head of the Hydrometric Network responded by saying one site was having "communication issues", referring to this as "quite normal" and data is late. 

"Heading there now to try and install the new digital radio."

At another site, there was "slightly intermittent data transfer".

"It says they're not prepared. They don't have plans and procedures in place," Gale said.

Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor Neil Kirton said there is "systemic failure" going on.

"Clearly there is systemic failure going on and the responsibility of Civil Defence is to make sure our systems are up and running, that the telemetry was working, that the early warning systems were functional and clearly that didn't happen. We need to know why."

Leaders of both Civil Defence and regional council have refused interviews with Newshub. But Kirton accepted mistakes have been made by both agencies. 

"I certainly think there has been significant failures in our processes and the management of our early warning system," Kirton said.

Gale told Newshub it's astounding Civil Defence didn't have a set maximum river height level that would trigger an automatic evacuation order. 

Email communications obtained by Newshub show at 2:10am on the morning the Esk River flooded, the river height reached 8.19 metres. Officials were told this was "the highest ever measured on Esk". Yet no evacuation order was made.

Gale said he'd like to see a nationwide alert system for all riverside communities around the country. 

Former Police Commissioner Mike Bush has been announced as the person who will lead the review in the Hawke's Bay Civil Defence response during Cyclone Gabrielle. A draft report is due later this year, with the final report expected to be issued in 2024. 

The Minister for Emergency Management has announced an inquiry into the response to the North Island weather events. The inquiry aims to assess the actions taken and the design of the emergency management system and incorporate lessons into future emergency management. The inquiry will be led by former Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.