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Emergency response hampered by closures

Despite isolated communities, extensive flooding, and at least one deep-water rescue, Wairarapa emergency services report the first 24 hours of Cyclone Gabrielle have been better than expected.

Fire and Emergency [Fenz] Wairarapa group manager Craig Cottrill said access was the biggest challenge for brigades, with road closures hampering the response to incidents on Tuesday.

“Hopefully, the rivers go down, and the roads open. Our ability to respond is restrained right now by the condition of the roads.

“That’s not a criticism, it’s just the nature of the weather event.”

He said people were generally adhering to advice to stay home, although he confirmed one driver had been caught out in floodwaters on Te Whiti Rd early yesterday morning.

Cottrill said the driver, who was on the roof of the car, was rescued in a combined effort by her partner and Fenz shortly after 5am.

On Tuesday afternoon, brigades from Masterton, Carterton, and Wainuioru responded to reports of a landslide behind a house on Te Wharau Rd.

Thankfully there were no reported injuries or structural damage in the incident, because most of the brigades never made it, due to two big slips blocking the road about 400 metres from the property, Carterton Fire Brigade officer Wayne Robinson said.

“The Wainuioru Brigade proceeded on foot, and confirmed there was no further action required by Fenz.”

Robinson said it was fortunate the incident had not been more serious.

“There wouldn’t have been much we could have done aside from making sure everyone was safe.

“Thinking worst-case scenario if we needed a helicopter, the weather was pretty bad out there – windy, and torrential rain, and slips and debris on the road.

“The eastern hills have had the worst of it.”

Fellow officer Bryan Styles said in his six decades in the region he had never seen such extensive flooding.

“Out in Tinui and Te Wharau Rd, I couldn’t believe the amount of water. The Wainuioru River was way up.

“Tinui Brigade had a fire out that way, but they couldn’t get to it. They needed jet boats, not trucks,” Styles said.

On Tuesday afternoon, multiple brigades responded to a shed fire in Whareama. However, the condition of the roads meant only Masterton brigade could attend.

The suspected electrical fire razed the structure.

Cottrill said there had been contact with isolated rural brigades on the east and south coasts of Wairarapa.

“To a certain extent, it is business as usual – they are used to being isolated, but the severity of that depends on the period of time.

“If they are isolated for a prolonged period and we need to get resources to those communities, we’ll be looking at options such as helicopters.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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