Saturday, November 27

Napier Flood Review: New Construction Must Rise and City Needs Civil Defense Personnel

The construction of new houses at least one and a half meters above the ground and the Civil Defense staff base in Napier are two of the suggestions that emerge from a review of the Napier floods.

Napier Floods, November 9, 2020

A car goes through the floods in Napier last November.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

The heavy rain event last November damaged hundreds of properties.

Almost 10 months later, some people are still in temporary housing.

Local leaders discussed what could be done better in a meeting yesterday.

In the early afternoon on November 9 of last year, the rain in Napier was undoubtedly heavy, but no one seemed particularly concerned.

Lisa Pearse, leader of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Hazard Reduction Team, said the previous weather warnings were not serious.

“Our first notice was received on November 8 and it was 9:30 in the morning,” he said.

“They identified areas north of Napier with drops of about 120 to 160mm, but they said significantly that at that stage it would be in the ranges.”

The next day, on the morning of the flooding, MetService called the council and told them that the rain could fall south of Napier, again, not in the city.

Pearse said the predictions were not unusual.

“From a normal perspective, we get warnings like this reasonably regularly in Hawke’s Bay, say 2-3 times a year, so there was nothing of concern to most of the staff at this time.”

At 4 p.m., with the rain in the city getting stronger, the forecasts still said that the downpour would hit the mountains.

Within an hour, Pearse said people were rushing to evacuate.

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Slips on Brewster Street, Napier, during the floods.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

“Most of the evacuations were self-evacuating and it was really good to see from our perspective because it was a surprise event, so there wasn’t much time to get the warnings out to residents.”

Napier fire station management was warned of the rain at 10 a.m., but did not contact the region’s Civil Defense controller until late in the afternoon, when they saw things get worse outside.

111 call centers were quickly overwhelmed and a state of emergency was not declared until after 8:00 p.m.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said not having a Napier-based Civil Defense team was and continues to be a problem.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise

Kirsten Wise.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

“As far as I know, that was not even considered as an option and it certainly made it more difficult to have them located in Hastings.”

Regional council engineering team leader Craig Goodier said the newer houses on the Te Awa estates, in one of the lowest parts of the city and where the rain was heaviest, were undamaged.

That was because the houses were built slightly taller and Goodier recommended that that should be the case throughout the city.

“If we are talking about new homes, maybe we should use minimum elevations of 1.5 and 2 meters,” he said.

Regional council and civil defense committee chair Rick Barker said that while there were challenges, he would not play the blame game.

“The problem we have with these kinds of reports is that there are those who want to point and blame, because humans have a penchant for blood sports. But we will do everything we can to avoid that, just to pick it up, move on, and be better prepared to the next “.

There were 173 evacuees from the flood, and seven still live in a council vacation park.

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