Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.
JOHN CARTER - MAYOR OF THE FAR NORTH DISTRICT OF NEW ZEALAND
Moving forward together
Thursday 24 July 2014
A shared purpose
When I made the decision to take leave earlier this month and travel overseas for a couple of weeks it was based on the belief that this was likely to be a relatively quiet time on the local government front. What I couldn't have foreseen was that the Far North was about to experience its most destructive storm in years. I am proud of how the Council and other agencies responded to this emergency and how those in charge rose to the occasion. Effective leadership is never just about one person. It requires a team effort and I want to commend the Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group for leading the district through this challenging event.
When Cyclone Wilma flooded Moerewa in 2011, the Council was criticised for failing to provide adequate help to the community. This time, Council staff and representatives of other agencies, including Work and Income and the Fire Service, were on the ground assessing and responding to welfare needs when floodwaters threatened households. We put portaloos and rubbish skips in streets, pumped out houses and septic tanks and inspected properties damaged by water. Elsewhere in the district, we delivered food parcels, provided portable showers and offered accommodation to families who were without power. It is gratifying to hear positive feedback about the support we were able to provide to communities by joining forces with other agencies. The storm has highlighted the importance of these co-operative relationships and shown the strength and resilience we have as a district and a region when we work together and have a shared purpose.
I also want to congratulate Top Energy for successfully responding to what must have seemed an insurmountable challenge. At the height of the storm, up to 16,000 households were without electricity. Yet Top Energy had power back on to all but a few hundred properties within 48 hours. Council contractors also worked long hours to keep the district's water supplies, wastewater treatment plants and roads operational or open. The New Zealand Transport Agency deserves special applause for getting State Highway 1 open again within a week.
We are still tallying up the cost of repairing our infrastructure, but expect the bill to run well into the millions. I am grateful for the financial support we have already received from the Government, which has allowed us to establish a $180,000 Mayoral emergency relief fund to help storm victims. The Council will be making a strong case for further Government support when staff have completed cost assessments. We have long argued that the Far North has unique social, economic and geographic challenges. This storm has brought those challenges into sharp focus once again. We need to develop a shared purpose that spans all sectors and levels of Government if we are to recover from this event and become a stronger and more resilient district.