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Emergency services respond to cyclone SOS





27 Feb, 2023


thumbnail 4 MF-KDCrespond1-429Over the course of Cyclone Gabrielle, emergency service volunteers bravely put life and limb on the line, facing torrential rain and wind gusts of 100kph-plus, to help those in need.

While Gabrielle raged around Northland, volunteer firefighters from all over the district clocked up long hours attending multiple incidents, with Mangawhai Volunteer Fire Brigade [MVFB] responding to approximately 35 -40 callouts in the midst of the wild weather, involving roads blocked by fallen trees and one on a local house, to downed and arcing powerlines, landslips and flooding. In the storm’s aftermath, they also spent eight hours straight pumping 150,000 litres of water from Sailrock Drive.

Mangawhai Volunteer Fire Brigade [MVFB] chief fire officer, Graham Kerrigan, said the crew would go to a call-out for one fallen tree and have to clear two more on the way back. In a touching show of support, firefighters sometimes returned to the station to find community members had left treats of chocolates, scones and gift baskets at the station, with Mangawhai Heads Four Square owners Hamish and Hannah Townshend also donating meals, drink, chickens, salads and sweets.

“Our community response group, Mike and Sharon, were also supporting the community in the background, getting feet wet delivering much-needed sandbags. We also had great support from Whangarei based Local Control Centre,” he says.

“Many people had hired pumps and moved to higher ground, they’ve taken the Gabrielle warning seriously and I would also like to celebrate our community resilience.”

Dargaville Volunteer Fire Brigade was dispatched to at least 50 weather-related incidents including flooding and rescues, during the cyclone’s peak, between February 14-16. However, Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) Northland district manager Wipari Henwood says the number is conservative due to a range of factors including the lack of communications coming from some areas in Northland.


Hate Hone St John Mangawhai was well-prepared for Gabrielle’s arrival, with newly-appointed group operations manager, Carl Findlay, spending his Sunday night February 12 shift getting the essential service primed and prepped to take on ‘the main event on Monday night.’

“The lead-up to the cyclone meant ensuring all the tactical plans were in place for all my ambulance stations and that the crews were ready and prepared for the worst. We had generators and fuel, extra bottled water and supplies were ready to go. These contingencies have been well planned ahead for emergencies just like we have had,” he says.

“One of my incredibly brave Mangawhai volunteers, Sammy Seon, who currently is training to become a full-time paid Emergency Medical Technician, was rostered on Monday night and battled through the weather system, dodging downed trees and slips to get to her patient and then transport them to Whangarei.”

As the St John Liaison Officer for Silverdale Fire Station, Carl also spent the Tuesday of February 14 in the thick of the storm at the Rodney/Waitemata Local Control Centre, with FENZ commanders and local surf lifesaving managers, to help co-ordinate emergency response and recovery.


Kaipara District Council [KDC] staff and elected members were in the midst of the response to Cyclone Gabrielle, door-knocking with emergency services to alert residents and help with evacuations and planning strategies, and Northland’s Civil Defence Emergency Management [CDEM] group controller Graeme MacDonald says the council ‘excelled’ in the face of Gabrielle’s wrath. The experience also inspired staff to seek further training.

“The Kaipara team had a lot to deal with during the Cyclone Gabrielle response, notably evacuations necessitated by both flooding and land instability. As a result of this experience, a number of additional staff are wanting to go through the CIMS (Co-ordinated Incident Management System) training that is the basis for working in an Emergency Operations Centre.”

Northland received a lot of support from outside the region, New Zealand Defence Force helping with evacuations and reaching isolated communities with supplies stacked up in the Unimog trucks, and a large presence of responders from a range of agencies descended on Dargaville from around the country, ‘with people coming from as far away as Invercargill.’

“This is referred to as ‘surge support’ and was used to reinforce key roles in a couple of the district council EOCs as the original people in those roles had been working long hours for a number of days,” MacDonald says.

“Some of the emergency management professionals who came into Northland as surge support had already been working in the Auckland flood response and after some rest, are likely to be re-deployed into Hawke’s Bay.”

In a statement, a spokesperson says there is a visible police presence in the Waitemata North and Whangarei communities which have been impacted by Gabrielle, assisting the lead agencies and offering support where required. They want to advise the public to not visit impacted areas due to several roads continuing to have sustained slip damage. On the topic of looting from flooded or stickered properties, police urge any victims of this type of offending or witness anything suspicious to please contact police.


Kaipara District Council members hard at work monitoring the developing situation and lending support to Dargaville’s Emergency Management Team. From left, Cr Gordon Lambeth, deputy mayor Jonathan Larsen, Brian Armstrong, Linda Osborne, Amanda Bennett and mayor Craig Jepson. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


Mayor Jepson and Cr Lambeth [far right] helping out Dargaville locals with sand bagging by the Northern Wairoa Boating Club. Northland Civil Defence group manager Graeme MacDonald says the council ‘excelled’ in the face of Gabrielle. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


“The Kaipara team had a lot to deal with during the Cyclone Gabrielle response, notably evacuations necessitated by both flooding and land instability.”

- Graeme MacDonald, Civil Defence

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