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RNZ News

New Zealanders should be prepared for the number of fatalities in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle to increase, says Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

He said at a media briefing in Gisborne that every available resource was being used to help find those who are missing and to rescue those who were known about but unable to be reached.

Over the past two days the rescue coordination centre had overseen 450 rescues and all rescue requests in the 111 system had been completed, Hipkins said.

Overnight the death toll rose to seven but there are still people for whom the police hold grave concerns.

As of 2.30pm yesterday, 3544 reports of uncontactable people had been registered with the police. A further 450 had been reported as found.

Those included multiple reports for the same people. Police were prioritising those in the more isolated areas.

“And we do need to be prepared for the likelihood that there will be more fatalities,” Hipkins said.

The situation in Gisborne
Hipkins said the damage in Gisborne was extensive and there was “absolutely no doubt” that communities impacted were under enormous pressure.

Earlier, Hipkins flew to Gisborne for his first in-person look at the scale of destruction from the cyclone.

Hipkins said it “was a pretty moving morning”.

“Flying in over Gisborne is was clear the extent of the damage even before we’d gotten off the plane.”

It was clear there were big challenges facing the community, he said.

Communication was incredibly difficult for some people and both fibre routes in and out of Gisborne had been damaged with engineers working to repair the damage as fast as they could, Hipkins said.

Getting the water supply up and running would not be an overnight fix but was a prority, he said.

Hawke’s Bay update
The government was trying to get hotspots and other temporary measures in place and 10 more Starlinks were on their way to Gisborne. Five units have been delivered to Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay, with more on the way.

Hipkins said there was a reasonably good supply of Starlinks in NZ.

“They’re not going to provide a complete answer though, but they will provide a limited amount of connectivity in those areas that are currently cut off and that will hopefully allow us to at least establish some of those basic communication channels.

“We’ve been able to reach Wairoa and Hawke’s Bay by road today and SH2 to Gisborne has also been opened on a limited basis for convoys of emergency supplies including food, water and fuel.”

Temporary supplies were on route and more would be arriving soon, he said.

“Fresh water is clearly an issue.”

There were real concerns for the Eskdale areas, Hipkins said.

Teams were there going door-to-door to identify the extent of the damage and any human harm, he said. There had not been a report back from these teams yet.

People in Hawke’s Bay were advised to be prepared.

“We’re dealing with very unpredictable weather at the moment, it is certainly likely that there will be more rain, that’s what the forecasts are suggesting.”

The damage to roads in all areas was one of the most significant challenges and people in these areas were asked to minimise their own movements so supplies could get to where they were needed, Hipkins said.

“If you can stay put, stay put, make sure you’ve got everything you need to stay put if it’s safe to do that and if you need to evacuate be prepared and be ready to evacuate as well.

“That involves your grab to go bag, making sure you’ve got something warm and dry to wear and that you’ve got a plan.”

Communities were coming together and managing the situation very well, Hipkins said.

Alert others
People may need to go door-to-door to alert others if they need to evacuate, Hipkins said.

The most recent information is that approximately 102,000 customers are without power across the upper North Island.

Hipkins said the government had released $1 million as an immediate top up to the mayoral relief fund as the first step to help get immediate support to those who need it.

A further $1 million had been released to the Hawke’s Bay.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' press conference in Gisborne
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins . . . “We’re dealing with very unpredictable weather at the moment, it is certainly likely that there will be more rain.” Image: Nate McKinnon/RNZ
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