National | Cyclone Gabrielle

'There are more bodies, it'd be a miracle if there wasn’t'

A car overturned and punctured a house on Shaw Rd, Eskdale near Napier, during Cyclone Gabrielle.  Photo: NZME / Warren Buckland

A helicopter pilot involved in the recovery of those lost in Cyclone Gabrielle has told the magnitude of what rescuers are dealing with.

'They're prying open doors and roofs and finding them [bodies] in the upper floors of houses,' the pilot said on Saturday.

The man is part of a civilian pilot contingent ferrying rescuers in and out of Hawke's Bay regions cut off due to damaged roads.

The groups are recovering multiple bodies, he says.

Death toll defended

Police have confirmed just seven deaths in Hawke's Bay, including two this morning, but officials are taking heat for the discrepancy between the nine bodies officially reported nationwide and the nearly 5000 flagged as missing.

"In all likelihood, there are more bodies. It would be a miracle if there wasn't," a Defence Force source told this morning.

Some 700 staff from the NZDF are on the ground and five impact assessment teams made up of 25 people from Australia arrived earlier today.

“There is 10 foot of silt out there," they said, speaking to the situation in Eskdale, one of the region's most hard hit by the cyclone.

"People are anxious but this takes time," the source said.

'Rumours swirling, no information to suggest they’re true' - police

Police rebuffed speculation their death toll was underreported on Saturday.

"We acknowledge there have been a number of rumours swirling in the community... but we have no information at all to suggest that they're true, and can confirm that all known deaths as a result of the cyclone at this point have been publicly notified," they told

Representatives added the caveat that, "It is important that we are meticulous to avoid unnecessary confusion and worry, particularly for those waiting to hear from their loved ones."

Police are required to "follow a coronial process... and working through this can take some time," they said.

Whānau report missing, not found - police

While people report whānau missing, they do not necessarily report them found, officials say, and connectivity remains a problem.

"There are a large number of people reported as uncontactable. However, we do not believe this is reflective of the situation on the ground," the police statement says.

"As communications come back online, we expect those numbers will fluctuate and in time reflect the reality of the situation," the statement reads.

Police renewed calls for people who had previously marked whānau missing, to update police if they were found, through the 105 website.

"Heightened" concerns are held for about 10 people missing in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, authorities said on Saturday.

"Police would like to assure people that we are working to ensure we confirm deaths as quickly as possible."

Water recedes, tensions rise

As floodwaters recede, the demand for accountability in Napier is growing.

On Facebook, deputy mayor Annette Brosnan said she was "going rogue" this morning, to lampoon central government for underinvestment and infrastructure she says is subpar.

“Our community of Napier has been devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle, and it has illustrated just how isolated and abandoned Napier is from the services we as a community should have from our government.”

Having all bridges in and out unable to be crossed highlighted the lack of investment in the roading network, and lack of police cells, hospital services and cell towers were issues too.

“We have not had a local central civil defence centre, causing our mayor a five-hour round trip to see them, and we have an electrical substation built in 1925 next to a river with limited resilience planning, leaving 60 thousand plus without power for the best part of a week.”

Eskdale epicentre

Eskdale, where the region's power plant is located, is increasingly becoming a devastation epicentre after Gabrielle completely submerged homes.

A source working at Whirinaki Power Station told he saw whole homes picked up and washed away, amid an avalanche of water and debris descending from surrounding maunga.

'I was on the second floor, I had to go up to the third, and the water was still rising… If I wasn't there, ... I don't think... I'm not sure,' he said.

Three bodies, including that of a two-year-old, have been recovered in the Eskdale region of around 2700 and its surrounding areas, police say.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence controller Iain Maxwell says the region is suffering an "unprecedented natural disaster", and the recovery will be long.

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