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Defence Force increases support to disaster regions

Almost a week into Cyclone Gabrielle’s impact, the New Zealand Defence Force continues to commit more resources by mobilising and establishing ships, aircraft, vehicles, communications equipment and personnel across the North Island.

19 February, 2023

Click here for the latest live updates on our response to Cyclone Gabrielle.

At the outset of the cyclone, the Defence Force was deployed to assist in the rescue and evacuation of thousands of people, notably in the hard-hit Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti regions.

The commander overseeing the Defence Force’s response, Colonel Mel Childs, said the Defence Force has responded fully to the disaster, with more than 900 Defence Force personnel currently  deployed.

“We have highly-trained and highly-skilled people who are proud to be able to help these communities who have been through so much. Many of our people have friends and family in the area, and we take great pride in responding to the needs of fellow Kiwis,” she said.

“It has been particularly rewarding to see that we can offer help from air, from land and from sea, utilising all of our capabilities and specialist skills. We are a Force for New Zealand and I think the whole country has seen that over this past week”.

Hundreds of other personnel across a variety of capabilities from Linton and Burnham stand ready to be called forward on request including builders, plumbers, electricians, caterers, transporters and others.

“We stand ready to assist other partner agencies and NEMA, and to utilise our skills where they are best placed,” Colonel Childs said.

Personnel from 5/7 Battalion, Hawke’s Bay, reach cut-off Moteo Marae north of Napier. Crewmembers from HMNZS Te Mana work as a clean-up crew in Havelock North. Connectics vehicles and electrical specialists are loaded on board a C-130 Hercules for transportation to Northland.

Over the weekend, HMNZS Manawanui travelled down the East Coast, calling into cut-off communities to deliver supplies before arriving in Gisborne. HMNZS Te Mana also departed Auckland, stopping at impacted communities on its way to Napier, with 26 tonnes of supplies such as food, water, fuel, shelter, and generators.

Multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury, having completed tasks in the Sub-Antarctic Islands, arrived in Lyttelton on Saturday morning. The ship and its crew are now preparing to take supplies up to the Hawke’s Bay region.

Over the week the Air Force has been involved in transportation of personnel and supplies, reconnaissance of communities and life-saving rescues.

Food, water, medical supplies and communication equipment have become priorities, with No. 3 Squadron, operating NH90 helicopters delivering much needed cargo including a small military water treatment plant to Wairoa this week.

For the bigger lifts, C-130 Hercules aircraft from No. 40 Squadron have moved Army personnel, a military reverse osmosis water treatment plants to Gisborne, support vehicles for vital utility services such as power, as well as urgent medical supplies. These have included medical oxygen and other gases, chemotherapy medication, pharmaceuticals, medical nutritional supplies and blood products, to enable hospitals to provide critical care and support primary and community health providers.

The Army has established a field headquarters in Napier to coordinate the East Coast response, with Army engineers preparing to support the construction of Bailey bridges (temporary, hand-erected bridges) as requested by NEMA.

The Army’s Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles has also checked the inland road route to Wairoa, and are now conducting a check of road access to Napier from Wairoa. Some light armoured vehicles (NZLAV) and personnel will also travel to Wairoa to assist with the clean-up.

Defence Force Reservist personnel are also fully in the fight for their communities, having been some of the first on the scene during the devastating weather event, leaving their own whanau and friends to help the wider communities that they serve. 

In Auckland and Northland, Army personnel and seven Unimogs have supported response and relief efforts. This included the support to Fire and Emergency New Zealand, NZ Police and St John at Muriwai on Auckland’s West Coast, through the transportation of two casualties and conduct of evacuations. This week Air Force personnel joined forces with Urban Search and Rescue and Fire and Emergency New Zealand in Northland, tasked with assessing the state of roading near Dargaville. Aviators were involved in the rescue of a family of three, including an eight-month-old baby, from a car stranded in floodwaters near Whangārei.