New Zealand flood victims are too scared to go home

Cyclone Gabrielle triggered a state of emergency across the country

Last month, Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand’s North Island – killing 11 people and displacing at least 10,000. That sparked a national debate about climate change and whether vulnerable homes should be rebuilt or scrapped.

“I don’t want to go back there,” said Amy Bowkett.

The mother of two lived in the Hawkes Bay area, one of the regions hardest hit by Cyclone Gabrielle. When the Category 3 storm hit with winds of up to 159 km/h (99 mph), her home was completely destroyed.

Along with 50 of her neighbors, she spent an awful 48 hours trapped without power, water or phone signal.

Eventually, she was able to make a call, and a friend organized a helicopter rescue in a neighbor’s backyard.

“I feel if we get flooded a third time it will be our fault,” she told the BBC from her mother’s home in nearby Napier. “Unless we put our house on stilts, I would be terrified every time it rains.”

She is not alone in dreading going back. Many of New Zealand’s recent flood victims lost all their belongings in the disaster and believe the area where their homes were built has become too dangerous for them to return to.

Damage from the cyclone is predicted to cost NZD$13.5 billion (US$8.4 billion; £6.9 billion), similar to the financial impact of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake – the costliest natural disaster in the New Zealand history. Last month’s event led to a national state of emergency that only ended on Tuesday.

Cyclone Gabrielle also struck weeks after unprecedented flooding in New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland, when an entire summer’s rain fell in a single day.

New Zealand climate change minister James Shaw attributed the scale of the disaster to climate change, exacerbated by rising global temperatures.

“There will be people who say it’s too early to talk about these things … but we’re firm on that now. This is an event related to climate change,” he said in a speech to parliament last month.

“We’re in it now… This is a climate change related event”, Source: James Shaw, Source Description: New Zealand Climate Change Minister, Image: New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw

Speaking to the BBC, Shaw said that while many homeowners have taken out a “full replacement” insurance policy, which compensates them if their home is destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, it only covers the cost of ownership – not the value of the land. it is built.

That means people feel “they have to rebuild on the current terrain, and of course they’re really scared,” he added.

The country is likely to experience more extreme rainfall events, and regional cyclones are likely to become more frequent by 2100, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. During the warm months, the days are already hotter, drier and windier, increasing the risk of forest fires.

About 55,000 homes in Auckland are prone to flooding, according to government data. Another 76,000 homes across the country are in coastal areas, vulnerable to erosion and rising sea levels.

“[When] people are sleeping with life jackets at the door, you know it’s bad,” said Morgan Allen, a displaced West Auckland resident. “Anxiety has reached peak levels.”

Landslide near a house on top of a cliff in Auckland

Tens of thousands of homes are now at risk in New Zealand

Along with a group of dozens of Auckland flood victims, Morgan launched a campaign calling on the government to buy their homes and turn high-risk areas into parks or nature reserves. The audio engineer says some of his neighbors spent a year rebuilding their homes only to lose everything again in January.

Morgan blames climate change for recent events, but also for crowded subdivisions – where rows of houses have been built in concrete, replacing individual homes on grassy areas.

“Our city has lost an enormous capacity to absorb all that water.” He said this increased the risk of flooding for homes built near valleys and swamps.

Consequently, in the days after the cyclone and Auckland floods, the government announced a NZD$300 million (US$185 million) package for the affected regions.

He also introduced new severe weather emergency legislation designed to help landowners repair and rebuild their properties without the usual bureaucracy.

The impact on New Zealand’s food producing regions has also been significant. In just one sector, half the crop of Kumara, a type of sweet potato found in New Zealand, was wiped out.

Just down the road from Amy Bowkett, in the small rural community of Puketapu, there were two orchards owned by Brydon Nisbet, full of apple trees ready for the picking.

Brydon Nisbet, president of the Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association in his apple orchard in Puketapu

Brydon’s orchards were covered in mud and slime

When the cyclone hit, infrastructure designed to keep major rivers from flooding collapsed, completely burying his orchard in potentially toxic mud and silt.

“It was just a disaster zone and really shocking,” said Brydon, who couldn’t reach his property until three days after the disaster. “It was all ruined. The water rose about three to four meters into the house.”

Brydon, who represents fruit growers in Hawkes Bay, estimates that up to half of the orchards in the area have been hit, some of them completely destroyed. Farmers are desperate to salvage what they can.

“We are all very resilient. I still cried a lot and hugged my wife and others. But we need to stay positive and hopeful.

“When we made the decision to try and save this orchard, it really brought hope,” he said.

“We thought, we want these trees to bloom again, we don’t want them to die.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *