[Adapted and augmented from March/April BayBuzz magazine.]

In the weeks ahead BayBuzz will report in-depth on the recovery effort, which will involve both immediate and long-term elements. Immediate in terms of getting ourselves back on our feet emotionally and in our ‘normal’ daily lives and businesses. And long-term, looking at the plans and actions required at a community, regional and national scale to protect ourselves from future events like this one. 

Also, there will be accountability issues to raise in due course. We will not shy away from those. 

Regional structure and plans were in place to deal with possible major disasters, with potential earthquakes probably top of mind for most. Those plans would have anticipated bridge failures, power outages, flooding, loss of transit between our communities. How applicable were those plans in the face of this mega-disaster? Beyond paper plans, did ‘on the ground’ preparations include adequate pre-positioning/storage of necessities like potable water, food and medical necessities, generators and pumps? 

Importantly, we must question the long-term viability of such plans and measures. How well can they be assumed to protect residents, businesses and farmers/growers in low-lying areas, which constitute much of ‘metropolitan’ HB? How adequately will our stopbanks, being raised and upgraded even as this disaster struck, serve us in the future? Have we made some plain stupid decisions in our region regarding the location of housing and critical infrastructure (like power stations)? 

What more can be done to ensure the resilience of our communications system and provision of emergency comms? The loss of contact with family, friends, rescue workers and the officialdom dealing with the crisis was perhaps the greatest cause of distress to everyone in the community, even those watching from safe and secure locations. 

These and many questions like them need to be asked and addressed by our community in the weeks ahead. Beneath it all, what risks are we prepared to accept … or not? 

There’s heaps to be learned. Of course, there will be a national inquiry into our disaster preparedness and response because the issues are obviously country-wide in scale and importance. 

But that does not mean we should not comprehensively review our situation locally, so we have a clear, unified voice when it comes to advising government on our immediate recovery needs, our assessment of what worked and what didn’t in the face of the disaster, and what measures should be taken to better protect ourselves and our region in future disasters of this magnitude. Our interview with Stuart Nash, Minister in charge of recovery for Hawke’s Bay, describes how all this will be approached. 

We must prepare for more ‘once in a lifetime’ events. Climate change guarantees more frequent and higher intensity weather events, just like Cyclone Gabrielle. 

Our sincere condolences go to those who have lost loved ones in this disaster. And again, our deep gratitude to those on the front line literally saving lives and putting themselves at personal risk, and spending long hours and days on our behalf away from their own families facing challenges on their own home fronts. Thanks too to the army of volunteers and donors who have risen heroically to the occasion with helping hands. 

While the disaster might bring to light inadequate planning and capacity, thankfully here in Hawke’s Bay we are seeing it also brings out the best from those able to provide aid and support. 

This photo gallery recognises just a few of the hundreds of people who volunteered time, labour, money and materials to assist in the region’s immediate disaster recovery.

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