Regional state of emergency declared for Waikato

13 Feb 2023, 9:46 PM

In response to the growing threat from Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle, and other local declarations, a state of emergency has been declared for the Waikato Region.

Taupō District Councillor Anna Park is the Waikato’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management (CDEM) Joint Committee Chairperson. She says the decision to declare for the region is a pragmatic one and is not intended to alarm people.

“In fact, just the opposite. We want to reassure people we are taking the response seriously by throwing the weight of the region’s resources behind it.”

Councillor Park says coordinating the regional response allows the group controller to help prioritise the allocation of a number of resources, including emergency and contracted services, to the most impacted areas of the region.

“Given the severity of the cyclone, the growing number of local declarations, and the closeness to other heavily impacted areas such as Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, we felt this is the right next step.”

The decision follows two local states of emergency declared this afternoon for the Waikato District Council and Hauraki District Council. Thames-Coromandel District Council has also been in a state of emergency since the Auckland Anniversary weekend.

Declaring a state of emergency gives Civil Defence staff special powers to deal with the emergency, including the ability to evacuate residents at high risk of impact.

Waikato District Mayor Jacqui Church says her council’s decision to declare was made with the safety of the public forefront of mind.

“With the worst of the weather due to hit overnight, we want to ensure that we are ready to respond taking whatever action necessary to keep our people safe.”

The decision was made based on modelling and a risk assessment which indicates several areas of high risk, including low lying areas near the Waikato River at Port Waikato.

However, Waikato District Council is urging residents not to wait for authorities to tell them when they need to evacuate, a sentiment echoed at the regional level.

“If there is surface flooding in your area and you see rising water, do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.” says Mayor Church.

“It is also important to remember to never try to walk, play, swim or drive in floodwater and, if someone’s life is in danger, call 111.”

Hauraki District Mayor Toby Adams says the main areas of concern for his district are the coastal and low-lying areas. “By declaring, we are empowering our staff to be able to manage any situation that develops in a way that keeps our people safe and protects property from harm.”

“The district is already saturated and the rainfall being predicted will likely isolate our communities and cut off access to the Coromandel through Waihi,” says Mayor Adams. “Please avoid all travel, stay safe and have an evacuation plan ready.”

Civil Defence Group Controller Julian Snowball says the declaration of an emergency across the region does not mean they will be using legislative powers everywhere. “The region-wide declaration simply enables my team to effectively coordinate the significant responses already occurring in the north of our region.”

For other councils in the Waikato, the regional declaration does not automatically trigger a change to their current response arrangements.

“For the most part, most people in our region will not be impacted further by the regional state of emergency.”

He reminds people that the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle is to come tonight and to continue to heed the warnings coming from Civil Defence.

“As long as you’re not in immediate danger, then stay at home and bunker down. Bring in or secure any loose objects on your property, bring your pets inside if you can, and just look out for each other.”