'It's just taking too long': Wairoa presses PM on cyclone aid

Fri, Mar 17
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and other ministers had lunch at the marae and listened to stories of the cyclone's impact on residents.

After two failed attempts, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has finally visited Wairoa — more than a month after the town was hit by Cyclone Gabrielle.

By Ashleigh McCaull for RNZ

Those who have lost their homes and have been staying at the marae said they were relieved he had finally made it and glad they had not been forgotten about.

But they wanted more reassurance and support for the clean-up efforts and for accessing long-term accommodation.

While the prime minister was sitting down for lunch with some of Wairoa's community, whānau finally had a chance to voice their concerns and explain what they had lost from Cyclone Gabrielle.

Some were still living in cars, while others have been staying at Taihoa Marae but were unsure for how much longer.

Nevertheless, the community was glad Hipkins had finally made it to town. They described his visit as relieving.

"If you're not here on the ground with us, we believe that we're all here by ourselves," one person told RNZ.

"Well, it's good that he's here, you know to acknowledge us, and if he asks us any questions, then we can answer," another said.

Chris Hipkins announces the new shipping service, while at the Gisborne Port.

Trevor Mihaere's home was one of many that were yellow stickered in the area. That included a marae at his home, both of which were destroyed by silt.

He wanted reassurance from the Government that it would help improve the town's infrastructure to help protect it from future natural disasters.

"This is twice now, the third time we believe it will go right over our houses, so if all we've got to do now, if we're doing up our houses now, we're just building quick fixes. Cause we know it's going to come again," Mihaere said.

"So that quick fix is only until the next one, and we don't know if it's going to come this winter, next winter or could come tomorrow."

Kuiwai West-Scott's home was also yellow stickered, and she had been staying at the marae since the cyclone hit because her home was still filled with mud.

She wanted the Government to do more for those who had lost everything.

"Support the families that have lost a lot, you know, in their homes and help them repair their homes again because there was a lot of flooding and people had to move out and go and stay with other families.

"So it would be good just to have the Government bring the workers in to help us clean up," West-Scott said.

Stan Paul, whose home was red-stickered, agreed.

Chris Hipkins saw two NZ Defence Force helicopter trips to Wairoa turned back in the days immediately after the cyclone before making it there today.

"I just think that we should get accommodation, whether it's short-term or long-term," he said.

Earlier in the day, Hipkins announced an emergency shipping route between Gisborne and Napier.

At present, it takes more than nine hours to transport products between the two cities after key roads were damaged.

More than $2 million will be spent on chartering a ship for three months to help get products, including vegetables and meat, out of Gisborne and to the market.

Hipkins said reopening the critical economic link between Napier and Gisborne was going to take some time.

Chris Hipkins boards a helicopter for a flight from Napier to Wairoa on 22 February.

"But in the meantime, we still need to be able to get goods to market, and we still need to be able to make sure there's relatively free movement along the coast. And coastal shipping, the blue highway, can actually fill a significant part of that gap that we've got at the moment," he said.

The iwi trust in the flood-ravaged town of Wairoa will underwrite $2.5 million to help fix flood-damaged homes.

More than 300 homes in the predominately Māori town were ruined in Cyclone Gabrielle.

Tātāu Tātau o Te Wairoa said the funding — which comes from its 2016 treaty settlement — will help work get started while the rest of the repair costs were worked out.

Housing, and roading among topics discussed with PM

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said the prime minister had gone away understanding what the town needed.

The main priority was housing. However, there was a long list of things that needed to be done.

"We've got things broken everywhere... we need a bit of urgency on the roading; it's just taking too long to do anything," Little told Checkpoint.

Little said Hipkins was told loud and clear what was needed — for example, that for the most important roads, repair work should be occurring 24 hours a day.

"We just need to get this community back to a functioning community so that if we need to go down to Hawke's Bay, we can."

As far as housing was concerned, a major railway bridge needed to be removed so that modular housing could be brought down from Gisborne, he said.

Little said there were about 60 to 70 sections ready to be built on so these could be bought and made available for intense housing, with as many as three houses on each section.

"Let's just fast-track that; give us some money so we can get everybody there and build these houses."

The town was already short of about 150 houses before the storm, and now it needed another 100.

He estimated $10 million to $20 million from the Government would help with immediate housing needs.

Ministers Kiritapu Allen, Stuart Nash and Meka Whaitiri accompanied Hipkins, and Little was confident they would help ensure Wairoa's recovery stayed front of mind for both the Prime Minister and the Government.