Urgent review launched into Wairoa flood, government boosts funding

The government is giving the Wairoa community another $500,000 to help it recover from devastating flooding.

The Wairoa river flooded more than 400 properties as heavy rain lashed the east coast last week, and mayor Craig Little said there has been about $40 million worth of damage.

Little lifted Wairoa’s state of emergency on Wednesday morning.

Emergency Management Minister Mark Mitchell announced the extra cash during a visit to the district on Wednesday, which follows initial funding of $100,000 last week.

“Last week’s flooding has been really tough for Wairoa, particularly following the impacts of other severe weather events in the past couple of years, and the district council have indicated that they require financial support to clean up damaged properties.”

The money would be spent on “immediate and pressing needs”, including the clean up of sections, replacing clothes and bedding, and the hire and purchase of drying and dehumidifying equipment.

He said the residents were showing a sense of resilience despite the misfortune that had come their way in the last 16 months.

“A big part of the recovery is people seeing things happening quickly,” he said, promising the government was trying to speed things up as much as possible.

Mitchell praised the efforts of volunteers, civil defence and council, emergency services, iwi, contractors and everyone who was supporting the Wairoa community.

“Thank you for the work you are doing – it has been heartening to see how strong our communities are when we stand together.”

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Penny Simmonds said the government would lead an urgent review into how Hawke’s Bay Regional Council managed the river.

The council has already admitted Wairoa would have flooded less if a channel to let the rising river release into the sea was dug sooner.

It has announced it is commissioning an external review of how the process was handled.

Little is among those who support a government review of how the regional council responded during the emergency, and has pointed the finger at how it managed the river.

He wanted the regional council to own up and say sorry.

He said legal action could be on the cards, but he did not want it to go that far.

“I’d hate to be in a situation where councils are fighting each other.

“But it’s pretty simple this one really. Just give us an apology for god sake and just say ‘hey, I don’t think we got this one right’.”

The minister shared his concerns.

“This review will look at whether there was adequate monitoring of the state of the Wairoa River bar; whether correct decisions were made in a timely way; and whether there were any other actions that could have been taken,” Simmons said.

Heavy machinery caught in floodwater at the Wairoa River mouth on 26 June 2024. The digger is used to open up a channel in the bar to let floodwater escape more quickly.

“It is about finding out where improvements can be made so we can better manage future events and protect communities.”

Mitchell said: “The people of Wairoa feel very strongly that they want some answers around the management of that rivermouth.

“And the other side to it which is very important too is giving some certainty that we can identify what the problems were so we can have confidence it doesn’t happen again.”

Simmonds, who also visted Wairoa on Wednesday, said the review would look at the monitoring, the decision-making and how it all went wrong.

“These families are going through a huge amount. It’s impressive what they’re doing for each other and we need to do our bit about what caused this.”

A Givealittle page set up to help fund the town’s recovery has now reached $150,000.

But Little said the town should not have to fundraise to survive, and the $600,000 is only the equivalent to repair five homes.

One of those in need of support was Marcella Reedy.

Her home was one of about 120 that have been yellow stickered, meaning it is unsafe to live in.

“It was flooded, it ruined our furniture and belongings – we’ve lost our livelihood.”

She said the government money was nowhere near enough to go around.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Meanwhile, Reedy said she and her community wanted answers.

“Our town is a small town, a beautiful town, and whoever was responsible for that bar not opening up should be accountable for that flooding.”

The review is expected to take around four weeks, with findings and recommendations to be presented to Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in August.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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