Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was in Hawke’s Bay on Friday surveying the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle.
After also visiting Gisborne, Hipkins did not downplay the scale of the destruction, “This is undoubtedly the biggest natural disaster we’ve seen this century”, he said.
“We know that it’s going to take some time to get a handle on the extent of the damage and what it’s going to take to fix that damage.”
It also remains difficult to put an exact number on how many people have been displaced by Cyclone Gabrielle, but Hipkins said “there have been thousands of people across the country who have been staying in temporary accommodation in our evacuation centres overnight”.
While some will be able to return to their homes now or soon, Hipkins was aware “there are people who have lost everything”.
Hipkins was quick to add the Government “will make sure we’re supporting them through”.
But it’s “a complex picture because you’ve got to deal with insurance, you’ve got to deal with government support”, he said.
“It’s a puzzle that we need to assemble. We will work with them to make sure it’s assembled.”
It remains unclear when those who have been displaced, and who have lost everything, will be settled again.
Hipkins listed options like temporary or emergency accommodation and transitional housing.
When asked for a timeframe for rehoming those displaced by Cyclone Gabrielle, Hipkins responded: “It’ll take as long as it takes.”
“We do not want to have people in halls on mattresses any longer than they need to be,” he added.
The scale of the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle means the response will require the full force of central Government.
“This is now going to be one of the main things we are doing over the next few weeks and months,” said Hipkins.
When pressed for specifics on legislation targeted towards the recovery, Hipkins said “we’ve got a few days to work through that.
“Right now, the focus is on that emergency response, but we are preparing for the recovery phase already.”
Recovery across the impacted areas will happen at different rates depending on how much damage has been done, he said.
“There’s not going to be one magical recovery plan that I just pull out of a drawer somewhere. We’re going to have to work through and identify the true extent of the damage and how best we can support communities through that.
“We will stand by New Zealanders through this,” Hipkins said, adding “it’s going to be a big job”. “It’s going to require a significant investment. It’s going to require us to do some things differently.”
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