Northland needed more help from central government in the Cyclone Gabrielle recovery, according to Whangārei mayor Vince Cocurullo.
The recovery and clean-up is continuing in Te Tai Tokerau, where 1900 homes and businesses are still without power on Tuesday.
Many of these people also do not have cellphone or wifi connection, and have been without power since Sunday, February 12, when the cyclone first hit the region.
Cocurullo said one of the biggest issues for the region was the indefinite closure of State Highway 1 at Brynderwyn Hills, south of Whangārei.
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“It’s a road where Waka Kotahi NZTA is still trying to work out how badly damaged it is. They can’t say when it will reopen but from my experience, I’m saying at least a month.”
Cocurullo said he would’ve like to have seen a greater response from central government for Northland, especially when it came to the major highways.
“Unfortunately, it looks like other regions are taking preference. It’s understandable why [with the damage elsewhere] but Northland needs an economy too.”
With SH1 closed at the Brynderwyns, freight is being forced to detour through SH12 and SH14, a route that can add up to an hour to a trip between Whangārei and Auckland. Light vehicles can detour through Mangawhai and Waipu Cove Rd.
With SH1 also being closed at the Brynderwyns after storms on January 10 and January 27, local detour roads were getting damaged, Cocurullo said.
The council would ask Waka Kotahi to repair damage on these roads too, with the cost expected to be many millions, he said.
SH1 is also closed at Mangamuka Gorge, south of Kaitāia, due to a storm in August 2022.
Across Whangārei district, 16 local roads remain closed and 70 have restricted access due to slips.
In the Far North, two local roads are closed by slips and fallen trees, and about a dozen have restricted access.
In Kaipara, three local roads remain closed and 38 have reopened but require caution.
So far, 6750 Northlanders have accessed Civil Defence payments for those affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, with those in need encouraged to call 0800 400 100 or visit workandincome.govt.nz.
‘Don’t be shy to ask for help’ – Far North mayor
The Far North has also started a mayoral relief fund which can give financial support to those impacted by a lack of insurance, business losses or other needs, said Far North mayor Moko Tepania.
In rural communities, power cuts mean no running water and the loss of frozen foods, with many homes bulk-buying food because of their isolation, he said.
Tepania urged people not to be too shy or proud to seek help from the Civil Defence payments and the mayoral relief fund.
“I was talking with a kuia from the Hokianga who said, ‘there’s people in way more need than us’.
“My message is, you’re not taking anything from those who are more affected by accessing the fund – you need to do it for you.”
Central government will be asked to put extra money into the mayoral relief fund, but Tepania thought the response had been appropriate so far.
Ground was still moving and flooding – Waka Kotahi
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency rejected the idea more work could’ve been done on Northland’s state highways sooner.
“Contractors and subcontactors worked in incredibly challenging environments where the ground was saturated and hillsides vulnerable to further movement,” said Jacqui Hori-Hoult, regional manager maintenance and operations.
SH1 at Dome Valley, SH16, SH12, SH14 and SH15 were opened as soon as it was safe to do so, she said.
“Our teams were at the mercy of high tides and flooding, and often had to wait for the water to recede before they could access the roads and clear debris and carry out repairs.”
Damage to other highways in the North Island would not take away funds or expertise from Northland, with Waka Kotahi working to an emergency works contract, she said.
SH1 at Brynderwyn Hills is impacted by two underslips and a significant overslip caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, as well as two other overslips from the previous weather storm.
Hori-Hoult said geotechnical engineers were assessing the road and would then provide a timeframe for reopening.
Meanwhile, motorists are urged to respect roading crews and not to travel just for sightseeing trips.