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State of emergency in Northland as wet weather expected to worsen ...

Torrential rain, severe gales and thunderstorms are expected to hit later today.

North Island braces for more heavy rain, Auckland’s Mayor called out over ‘media drongos’ text and why the battle of the Chrises might not be a good thing in the latest New Zealand Herald headlines. Video / NZ Herald

A state of emergency has been declared in Northland as authorities and emergency services brace for an onslaught of heavy rain and gale-force winds overnight.

The region will enter a state of emergency for an initial period of seven days.

Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford, who chairs the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, said the decision to declare a State of Emergency had not been taken lightly.

Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group Controller Graeme MacDonald requested the emergency declaration that was signed by Stratford.

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An Emergency Mobile Alert advising of the declaration has been sent to phones in Northland capable of receiving the alerts.

The move - rare for Northland as the region has only had five since 1973 - provides authorities with powers that would otherwise not be available so they are able to respond to emergencies more swiftly.

Civil Defence Northland said the declaration was not intended to cause concern within communities.

Instead, Northland’s Civil Defence Emergency Management group will be able to co-ordinate other emergency services; ensure temporary accommodation, food and water are available; make sure access to dangerous areas is properly controlled, and provide regular public information meetings.

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“Declaring an emergency is a step under our legislation which allows the Civil Defence Controller and/or those to whom they delegate authority, access to emergency powers, granting authority to protect life and property in extraordinary emergency events under the Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Act 2002.

“Some of the most commonly-used emergency powers include evacuating premises and places, entering premises, closing roads and public places, removing aircraft, vessels, vehicles and requisitioning property, equipment, material or supplies. Of these, enabling evacuations is often the key reason for an emergency declaration.”

Stratford said CDEM had been monitoring the situation since last Wednesday before Auckland declared its state of emergency.

“We know there’s a heightened state of uncertainty for people, especially after what happened in Auckland. We also want to ensure we have emergency powers that will allow us to evacuate premises, enter closed roads, and make people safe,” she said.

”We don’t know whether we will need to use these emergency powers but given the potential of this rain, we may need them overnight. It is a precaution to make sure those powers are available if needed.”

The seven-day State of Emergency could also unlock central government resources but that wasn’t behind the decision.

“The main reason is those extra powers to evacuate people from buildings they know they should evacuate from but they may refuse. It’s for their safety as well as that of emergency responders. If you don’t get out before the water rises, somebody else may be put at risk.”

Concerns about the oncoming weather escalated yesterday when MetService issued its first-ever red rain warning for Northland - an alert reserved for the most extreme weather events.

The atmospheric river bearing down on the upper North Island is expected to hit Northland the hardest between 2pm today and 4am bringing localised downpours of 25 to 40mm/h or possibly more.

This subtropical low-pressure system on the country’s edges however, could bring 100mm to 140mm of rain in the north and east of the region - with some areas possibly receiving as much 140mm to 220mm – in a 24-hour period.

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The worst of the incoming front is forecast to reach Auckland by midnight and while potentially not as prolific as Friday’s deluge, could add to the woes of the already soaked super city.

Stratford re-iterated the advice she had offered earlier this morning.

”Have a go-bag ready with your medication and other essential items. Have a plan where to go, hopefully with friends and family. If evacuation centres are needed our Civil Defence will activate those.

“The locations will be publicised on our Northland Civil Defence page and many of the community response groups share them on local Facebook pages. And keep watching MetService updates.”

She also reminded people to think of their animals. That included considering how to transport their cats or dogs if they lived in a low-lying area, and moving stock to higher ground if they hadn’t done so already.

“Northlanders should also avoid unnecessary travel. A lot of people do need to get on the road, but we recommend people don’t. There’s already a serious accident this afternoon [on Puketona Rd, between SH10 and Waitangi] that left the road closed. Heavy rain coupled with high winds may mean more road closures so it’s best to stay home,” Stratford said.

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Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford and chair of the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group. Photo / supplied
Far North deputy mayor Kelly Stratford and chair of the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group. Photo / supplied

”Everybody be safe and look after one another,” she added.

Te Kahu o Toanui spokesperson Huhana Lyndon said “there is unanimous support for the call to move to a State of Emergency”.

”We need to ensure Tai Tokerau is resourced and supported to keep our peoples safe across the rohe. Tai Tokerau iwi are mobilizing to get behind support efforts led by Civil Defence Northland.”

Earlier this afternoon, the Far North District Council announced it had set up an Emergency Operations Centre at its headquarters in Kaikohe as a precaution ahead of expected heavy rain overnight.

The centre came into operation at noon today in response to MetService’s red heavy rain warning for Northland — the highest warning level possible, and the first time it has been issued for the region.

In terms of special resources, the Far North District Council also had access to a couple of Unimogs, ex-army trucks that were capable of driving through deep floodwaters and over rough terrain.

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The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is a central command post set up to co-ordinate a response to unfolding emergencies while making sure normal council operations continue.

Representatives from the emergency services — police, fire and ambulance — are part of the EOC, along with Civil Defence Northland and council staff with civil defence training.

EOC staff will be tasked with collecting, gathering and analysing weather-related information and will make decisions necessary to protect life and property, including setting up evacuation centres if required.

In terms of special resources, the Far North District Council also had access to a couple of Unimogs, ex-army trucks that were capable of driving through deep floodwaters and over rough terrain.

Northland state of emergency: What you need to know
  • A state of local emergency allows access to powers that would not normally be available.
  • It is called when an event happens that may cause loss of life or injury and can’t be dealt with by usual emergency services.
  • Emergency management has urged people to stay home, avoid non-essential travel and not drive through floodwaters.
  • Councils have also asked people not to try to walk or swim in floodwaters as it may contain sewage. If you come into contact with floodwater, wash your hands and clothes when you can.
  • If you need to evacuate your home, emergency management advises staying with friends or family if possible. No information on emergency shelters in Northland is yet available.
  • Remember to take essential items such as medicines, warm clothing and baby items.
  • People are advised to take their pets with them as well as water, food and other essentials for them such as leads and carry cages.
  • After the flooding on Friday, Auckland Council advised wearing protective clothing while cleaning up and washing hands thoroughly afterwards. Residents in affected areas should also throw away any food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwaters. Garden produce should not be eaten if the soil has been flooded.
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