Weather: ‘Heaviest and most persistent’ rainfall still to come for Gisborne and Wairoa

Several roads in the Gisborne region have closed as heavy rain continues to fall.

State Highway 35 between Hicks Bay and Te Aroha has closed due to flooding, as has Beach Rd in Tokomaru Bay and Whareponga Rd.

More and some of the heaviest rain is still to fall in the east of the country, with Gisborne and Wairoa likely to get its worst soaking later today.

The red rain warning remains in place for Gisborne and Wairoa until the early hours of tomorrow morning.

MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris said there was still potential for persistent and really heavy rain in Gisborne and Waitoa later today.

Up until 11am there had been 120mm of rain around northern parts of Gisborne and 25mm in Gisborne city and there was still a lot more to come.

“A lot of places are still going to see the heaviest and most persistent rain in the latter parts of today being Wednesday.”

There was still potential for 100 to 150mm of rain with between 25mm and 40mm of rain forecast to fall within an hour in both Gisborne and Wairoa.

The heavy rain could cause dangerous river conditions and significant flooding, according to MetService.

Slips and floodwaters are likely to disrupt travel, making some roads impassable and possibly isolating communities.

Wairoa mayor Craig Little has told his community they are prepared and could react with the most appropriate response and resources if needed.

He says his district might have avoided the earlier worst-case scenario of flooding.
Little- who is set to have a meeting soon with local Civil Defence staff – said the predicted heavy rain had yet to hit.

“I have private messaged about 30 farmers I know pretty well,” he said.

“Most have reported normal or little rain … Only 10 per cent have said they have had heavy rain.”

Rainfall to date was nothing like that which hammered the district three weeks ago.

People needed to be aware they may lose their power, and trees and landslides already impacted from the end of March weather event could now be further compromised, he warned in a Facebook post. Stock should be moved to higher ground and those near waterways should prepare to evacuate.

A state of emergency would also be called if required, he said.

“We are a tough and resilient community Wairoa and I am always humbled by how our communities across the Wairoa District responds to situations like this.”

Strong orange wind warnings are also in place for Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and southeast Taupo including higher parts of the Desert Rd.

MetService meteorologist Andrew James said winds and rain across Bay of Plenty have not been as strong as expected but rain will continue to fall throughout the day.

It’s expected to be the heaviest on the East Cape.

Heavy rain warnings have been lifted for the North Island coastal areas today – including Great Barrier, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty. Strong wind warnings have also been dropped Auckland, Great Barrier and Coromandel Peninsula.

Ferris said this morning that a good proportion of the North Island was currently covered under a band of rain.

The low centre was further offshore than what forecasts were showing yesterday which meant the impact could be softer in some areas, Ferris told Gold AM.

However, despite the slight shift, it still looked like Gisborne and Wairoa would experience some “very extreme” rain throughout today and into tomorrow.

A red, heavy-rain alert has been issued for Gisborne until 12pm Wednesday, with up to 300mm of rain expected – in some areas around 60mm/h of rain had fallen in the past few hours. Wairoa’s red heavy rain warning is in place until 4am tomorrow.

There is a particular concern for the North Island’s East Coast – Civil Defence in Gisborne is warning people to expect heavy rain, gale-force winds and large swells.

Gisborne has so far dodged the bullet of Cyclone Fili, but contractors are on standby should more rainfall on the already-battered city.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency national journey manager Helen Harris told RNZ conditions weren’t too bad in Gisborne this morning and the good news was that their contractors didn’t have to respond to anything overnight.

Cyclone Fili UpdateThe latest observational and model information has moved the Cyclone Fili track slightly east….

Harris said the contractors continued to be on standby because they were not out of the woods yet and there was more rain coming. “We are well-prepared.”

Gisborne Civil Defence manager Ben Green said so far the rain hadn’t been falling as hard as predicted, but in the last 40 minutes in the Gisborne town area they had seen more intensity in what had been coming in.

Federated Farmers Gisborne/Wairoa provincial vice president Sam Hain said it was very much the calm before the storm.

Flooding had already hit Ruatoria and the weather system was working its way south. “We are not expecting the worst until around lunchtime.”

With the rain that had already fallen and more forecast, Hain had no doubt that there would be more slipping occurring regardless of how many trees had been planted.

“For me I think the bigger issue will be the wind. Because the ground is so wet, it’s losing the ability to support those big trees and so there will be some lodging, some trees simply being blown over from the weight of the wind.”

Most farmers were well versed in what to do and had moved stock to higher ground, Hain told RNZ.

Thames Coromandel Civil Defence controller Garry Towler told the Herald there had been no issues overnight and the rainfall and wind had not been as bad as forecast.

There were no power outages, but there had been a cellphone outage for a few hours in Thames and along the Thames Coast from 2.30am.

Thames Coromandel was over the worst of the weather and all roads were open and ready to welcome holidaymakers in for Easter and the school holidays.

“Heading through Easter, it is going to be really nice,” he said.

Green told RNZ it was “a bit early” to say whether they had dodged a bullet. Saturation was a major concern for the flood-stricken area.

Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management controller Ian Macdonald told RNZ they were “a little bit worried”, but had done as much planning as possible.

Macdonald said the key thing was about putting extra resources into Wairoa including extra police staff, extra fire resources and an army truck with soldiers. Staff from others councils had also been brought in and were ready to help out.

“Obviously for us, it’s the road between here and Wairoa that’s a cause for concern and look if we get the forecast event it’s likely that road will be closed at some stage today and potentially tonight.”

Tairāwhiti/Gisborne Civil Defence says people should stay home if they do not have to travel and move things away from low lying areas and river banks.

Fili is bearing down just three weeks after flooding on the east coast closed roads, broke bridges and inundated homes.

“But the really heaviest rain is going to sort of get going during the overnight period and into [this] morning and even [this] afternoon is when we’re expecting the heaviest rain in places like Gisborne.”

The rain is expected to cause dangerous river conditions and significant flooding, with slips and floodwaters likely to disrupt travel making some roads impassable and potentially isolating communities.

Large northeast swells are expected to hit Bay of Plenty and Gisborne on Wednesday and early Thursday, with the risk of an abnormally high tide on Wednesday afternoon and into early evening.

Macdonald said an emergency co-ordination centre in Hastings had been set up, in preparation for the storm.

People living close to waterways or steep slopes in the Wairoa district should be ready to evacuate.

Gisborne District mayor Rehette Stoltz said they had been working non-stop since the last storm.

She said officials this week were balancing the recovery, with planning for the next deluge.

Tairāwhiti farmer Sam Hain said there was only so much that could be done to prepare for a storm like Fili.

He farms sheep and beef about 50km west of Gisborne and on Tuesday had his chainsaw ready to cut up trees and the fork is on his tractor ready to clear the roads.

But he said being out there during the storm actually caused damage rather than preventing it.

“Driving around … all you do is, all the stock run to the gate hoping they’re going to get shifted and you just create mud.

“So it’s actually a bit of a stand-back-and-wait sort of attitude, whereby you wait for the rain to pass and damage to be done and then we just go out and clear culverts and assess the damage.”

Hain said it was important that farmers talked to each other for support as the storm passed through. – Staff reporters and RNZ

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