One Year After Cyclone Gabrielle, NZ Builds Back Better!

NZ now has tighter regulations and is using Big Data to monitor slash whilst its largest commercial causality is about to reopen to total capacity!

Thu 15 Feb 24


One year to the day since Cyclone Gabrielle slammed New Zealand’s North Coast, communities are still counting the costs of the Southern Hemisphere’s most costly cyclone.

Breaking ground on February 15-16, 2023, witnesses described the sound of snapping trees “like the loudest gunshots you’ve ever heard,” with the carnage causing more than NZ $13.5 billion in damage – forever changing how slash is managed in NZ forests.

And whilst insurance companies are busy processing more than NZ $1.73 billion in insurance claims, the Luxon government is grappling with a ticking infrastructure time bomb – with experts projecting that 15,000 extra workers will be needed by late 2025 to work on critical road rail, water and energy projects destroyed by the cyclone and slash.

Some of the local heroes who stepped up in the crucial early hours of Cyclone Gabrielle say if they’d waited for emergency agencies to act, hundreds could have died – footage courtesy of @newshubnz.

Deep in the heart of Central Hawke’s Bay, split into two after the cyclone swept away the Tūtaekurī River bridge, local Mayor Alex Walker said the anniversary was an opportunity to come together, reflect and renew a commitment to build back stronger.

“Cyclone Gabrielle caused deep loss here in Tamatea Central Hawkes Bay. Whanau lost loved ones, and people’s lives, livelihoods, homes, farms and communities have been impacted forever,” he said.

According to Mayor Walker, the region’s road network remains decimated, “we have about NZ $129 million worth of damage,” before adding, “many in our community are still having delays or detours that have to navigate how they go about their daily lives.”

However, “the resilience, grit, spirit and determination that has pulled over our community has been amazing…with our community rebuilding – hand in hand with the recovery teams and iwi.”

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Cyclone Gabrielle caused more than NZ $300 million in damage to the Oji Fibre Solutions-controlled Pan Pac mill. (Photo Credit: Pan Pac)

It includes the Oji Fibre Solutions-owned Pan Pac Pulp and Paper mill – one of the largest mills in NZ – which Wood Central understands is the largest commercial causality of the cyclone.

Located in Whirinaki, north of Napier, locals reported that timber and logs from the mill sprawled across roads 300m from the mill

Working towards a full reopening next month, the local community has been working with Pan Pac’s 800-strong workers to “build back better” and restore the mill to its past glory – serving the local community rather than looking for a new site.

 “Our message to our Hawke’s Bay community, customers and suppliers,” Tony Clifford, Pan Pac’s Managing Director, told the NZ Herald, “is that we have been here 50 years, and we are here to stay.”

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Pan Pac has been working with contractors to help people in the Tangoio, Kaweka, Whirinaki, Eskdale and Dartmoor Valley areas clean up and repair damaged infrastructure on their properties. This work primarily consists of clearing silt and woody debris, repairing culverts and fences, and restoring access roads. (Photo Credit: Pan Pac Facebook)
Does NZ have enough construction capacity for the rebuild?

However, despite the progress to date, experts are concerned that NZ does not have the internal capacity to finish the rebuild.

According to Civil Contractors New Zealand CEO Alan Pollard, the country’s building and construction industry was working on a big overseas recruitment drive, and some people, such as forestry workers, had picked up construction jobs.

But he still worried there would not be enough hands on deck.

“There’s a lot of stress in the industry at the moment because people are working extremely hard under extremely trying conditions to try and meet the requirements of the current workload, and we’ve got to up that for when the future workload comes on stream.”

Mr Pollard is concerned that current immigration settings are not ‘fit for purpose.’ “If you look at the immigration pathway, very few visa settings have civil construction roles on them.”

“We were fortunate to have a couple of roles added pre-Christmas to the green list, but some of particularly the lower-skilled visa categories — there are no civil workers on there at all, and that has to change.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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