May 29, 2023

‘Likely to be more fatalities’: Officials say it’s possible people are stranded, waiting to be rescued in Hawke’s Bay

Watch: Hawke's Bay officials say it's still possible people are stranded and waiting to be rescued.

Hawke’s Bay officials say it’s still possible people are stranded and waiting to be rescued.

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and Civil Defence have told Prime Minister Chris Hipkins the need is still great and time is running out.

On Friday the Prime Minister arrived in Napier to see for himself what people there are dealing with. 

“There is no question this is a major and catastrophic event,” Chris Hipkins said.

The view over the Esk Valley, which was once a fruit bowl, is now a silt-covered floodplain.

Search and rescue staff told Hipkins it is still very much an active operation. 

“Definitely there [are] some isolated communities. We’re doing our best to get in whether it be by road or by helis,” USAR squad leader Joel Frazer told Newshub.

“Our main priority now is to make sure there’s nobody trapped in houses or also now deceased still in the flood-affected properties.”

After what seems like aeons for those living through the devastation, there still might be people out there who are surviving without power and without contact.

But the Prime Minister insisted everything that can be done is being done. 

“We’ve got teams in from Australia, they have been arriving overnight I believe. We’re accepting offers for help, we’re trying to get as many people here on the ground as we possibly can,” Hipkins said.

When Newshub said it was heartstopping to think people haven’t had any help yet, he replied “it’s incredible when you look from up on the hill the extent of the damage – it really is confronting”.

Even for those untouched by the floodwaters, it’s an uncertain time. 

Jeniffer Cranstone-Hunt is 84 and lives alone as her husband died a few months ago. Without power she has no idea what’s happening. 

“I guess it feels like being back in pioneering days. We’ve got a real dearth of information because we haven’t got radios and things like that,” Cranstone-Hunt said.

“It would be really great if there were people around on the streets with a uniform so we know who to go to that can give us some information at least. I didn’t even know about the evacuation centre that was near until I walked and found it.”

People have been queueing for five or more hours to get a jerry can of fuel. Gas cookers are running out and food is too.

“I’m tired because we have to get up, stay up and keep the fire going for hot water, [and] a cup of tea. Our babies are getting sick, it sucks,” Napier resident Te Awhina Nopera told Newshub.

Another Napier resident said, “we are lining up every day just to get a meal per day because there are no freezers”.

Hipkins said they’re working on solutions.

“There are tankers coming with more fuel, there are refrigerator trucks coming with more food for the supermarket. We are working hard to make sure that we can get that stuff through,” Hipkins said.

Fire and Emergency, the Defence Force and police are surging more staff into the area but there are still a lot of people to reach.

“The number one priority for us is getting into those communities that we haven’t been into yet, particularly the rural areas in Hawke’s Bay,” Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management Group Controller Ian MacDonald told Newshub.

“There’s tens and maybe hundreds of communities. And communities can be anything from 1000 people in one community at the back of Rissington through to tens of people to a few people,” he said.

And amid that uncertainty, the Prime Minister had a warning.

“I think we need to brace ourselves that there are likely to be more fatalities,” Hipkins said

And for more tough times ahead.

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