Clean up, welfare issues new focus for North in storm’s wake
Meeting immediate welfare needs and restoration of key infrastructure like power, roading, sewage treatment and water are the new focus for officials in Northland in the wake of one of the most long-running and damaging storms to hit in years.
Graeme MacDonald, spokesman for the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group, says the storm finally gave up its grip on the region about daybreak today, when officials were finally able to begin assessing its impacts in earnest.
A predicted sting in the storm's tail, which had delivered up to 128mm more rain to parts of Northland between 3pm yesterday and 6am today, had caused widespread flooding and road closures around the region, as well as knocking out power to hundreds more people.
Mr MacDonald says with the storm itself finally over, officials were now turning their attention to what is likely to be a lengthy 'recovery' phase.
That included establishing an accurate picture of the spots where resources are most urgently needed, including working to meet pressing welfare needs for those cut off by flooding and/or who had been without power for several days.
Many of the worst affected were in the Far North District, with the Whangarei and Kaipara Districts faring much better overall.
"The atrocious weather, scale of the flooding and wind damage and the associated road closures, telecommunications difficulties, power cuts and problems getting choppers up over the past few days mean today is the first real chance for authorities to get a first-hand look at the bigger picture."
Mr MacDonald says the Far North District Council has set up a welfare centre in Moerewa, where floods have forced nearly a dozen households to evacuate in the town and at nearby Otiria. The welfare centre is at Te Punawai Trust Christian Centre (the old tavern on the corner of the Main Rd and Marshall St) opposite the BP Station. It can be contacted on (09) 404 1274 and (021) 268 1231.
"Agencies are also visiting flooded communities in the Bay of Islands, Whangaroa and Hokianga areas and offering help to households that are still without power."
Mr MacDonald says as of 1pm today about 1600 Far North homes were still without power and about 20 Top Energy crews were out tackling more than 40 main sites with issues.
He says anyone in the Far North whose home is flooded or who urgently needs accommodation, food, heating, clothing or medical supplies should phone Far North District Council's freephone 0800 920 029. (The Whangarei District Council has a similar service for those needing help in its district; 0800 932 463.)
Meanwhile, Mr MacDonald says also on the welfare front, the Ministry of Social Development had opened its offices in Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Kaikohe this morning but had only collectively fielded four visitors.
While the storm itself had now ended, he says its impacts will continue to be felt for some time, especially on the roading front, where dozens of local roads and a number of routes on the State Highway network are closed or are down to a single lane due to flooding, slips and other storm-related damage.
He says information about local district council road and State Highway closures/issues in Northland is available from the Automobile Association website via www.AAroadwatch.co.nz or the NZTA website www.nzta.govt.nz
Those sites contain maps and brief description of closed/affected roads and an indication of when the issue/s involved is likely to be resolved.
"However, it's important to realise that things are constantly changing on the roading front and despite everyone's best intentions it's difficult to have accurate, up-to-the-minute details on closures etc."
"Even when roads are technically 'passable', sometimes that only applies to trucks and 4WDs, so the best advice, probably for the rest of this weekend at least, is still for people not to travel unless absolutely necessary."
Mr MacDonald says while it's too early to put an accurate cost on the storm, agencies involved agree it's one of the worst to strike the region in a number of years in terms of its impacts and the recovery would take a considerable time at an eventual cost likely to run well into the millions.