Cyclone Gabrielle has slammed the North Island causing destruction around the region leaving one firefighter missing, and residents in Kumeū inundated again. Video / NZ Herald
Northlanders’ fears that road closures will cut off entire communities have been realised as Cyclone Gabrielle continues to hammer the region.
With large chunks of the state highway network and dozens of local roads closed due to downed trees, slips and flooding, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is “strongly urging” people to avoid all non-essential travel.
As of Tuesday, major access points have been cut off including SH15 Maungatapere to Twin Bridges, and SH11 between Kawakawa and Ōpua at Taumarere due to flooding.
The Brynderwyns are again closed from the SH12 intersection to Waipū, and SH14 from Dargaville to Whangārei and SH12 from Dargaville to Ruawai are closed. Both of these highways were vital detour routes for large vehicles and trucks while the Brynderwyns were closed, largely since January 27.
Mangawhai Rd, which is part of the detour route being utilised for light vehicles, is also closed.
A 60km stretch of SH1 is closed from Kawakawa to Whangārei due to flooding at Whakapara with diversions around Jordan Valley Rd and Hukerenui Rd.
More than 20 local roads are closed in the Whangārei district, including Abby Caves Rd, Hukerenui Rd, Matapouri Rd, Whangārei Heads Rd and Kaka St. There are 18 road closures in Kaipara.
Fire and Emergency (Fenz) Northland Area Commander Wipari Henwood said his greatest concern is access to the Kaipara.
He was also worried about Dargaville becoming isolated and getting to Ruawai with potential evacuations needed due to tidal inundation and the river rising.
“We’ve already had crews there to rescue someone in a car. They were able to get in and get out, but only very high 4WDs can get through.
“The problem for us in sending further resources over there. We’re trying to find a workaround.”
Henwood also said fire crews can’t get to the Hokianga.
“We’ve got concerns about getting to Omapere, Opononi and Rawene, and are trying to find alternatives to make that happen.
“We’re trying to do the best we can.”
National Road Carriers transport specialist Paula Rogers said the road closures were “incredibly disruptive”.
Many trucking companies were “staying back unless it’s absolutely necessary that they’ve got to get out there. Then they’re making alternative arrangements.
“A lot do know local roads, so they’re putting plans in place.
“The problem is they’ve got to get the supplies through. Supermarkets are finding shelves emptied, and will need refilling.”
Rogers said she hoped the roads would “steadily reopen”.
“There are back roads, but a lot aren’t suitable for the freight trucks.”
Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin said drivers were doing their best to safely get their deliveries to distribution centres which include Pak’n Save, New World and Four Square stores.
“While there has been some disruption to deliveries, all the preparation we’ve done in advance means we have plenty of essentials already at store.
“The current road conditions may mean deliveries to affected areas are delayed today and we kindly ask customers to continue to buy only what they need, so communities can get their fair share when they come to store.”
AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto said the state highways are “the lifeblood of Northland” and should be more resilient.
“We understand there might be local roads that get flooding but when it comes to the state highway network we expect a much better level of resilience.
“And SH1 is the main highway in New Zealand so that standard should be even higher.”
Rissetto said she was concerned with the extent of the damage and how long it could take to repair.
“It’s great to say the Brynderwyns are closed, everyone can go SH12 or 14, but as we’ve seen those highways aren’t that good either.
“Further north you’ve got the Mangamukas with still no plan. It’s not this Government, it’s been the last 10-20 years. We need to bite the bullet like we did with Covid.”
A Waka Kotahi spokesperson said road crews are “working on some roads as we speak”.
However, she could not say how long it would take to get the region’s roads up and running again.
“The journey planner is being updated as quickly as possible with the best available information, but things are changing very quickly on the ground and we can’t give definitive answers… at this stage.”
Waka Kotahi National Emergency Response Team spokesman Mark Owen said the situation is “volatile”.
“Conditions are hazardous on many highways and local roads, with trees and other debris down, surface flooding, continuing heavy rain and high winds making driving conditions extremely difficult.
Waka Kotahi urges anyone who does need to drive in areas affected by severe weather to drive to the conditions.
This means slowing down, increasing following distances, switching headlights on and watching for flooding and debris on the road.
MetService said there would be some respite for storm-hit Northland as heavy rain is expected to ease off today, with a few showers and strong southwesterlies.
Countdown has been approached for comment.