Auckland mayor orders inquiry over flood response

By James Perry

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown has ordered a full independent review of the decisions made, including himself and his office, in the first 24-48 hours of Friday's deadly floods.

Brown has been criticised by residents of the country's largest city since the historic level of rain fell on Friday night, particularly for the lack of communication from council and emergency management officials. This afternoon he acknowledged it should have been better.

"Yes, there have been hiccups, of course. I accept that communications, including mine and my office's were not good enough, especially on Friday night.

Asked what errors he might have made, Brown declined to specify. 

"I don't think I did anything personally wrong but I followed the instructions closely. One of the things we're going to review is whether those instructions were as clear as they might have been."

Despite acknowledging the shortcomings, Brown is resisting calls for him to resign, including a petition which has collected more than 12,000 signatures.

"I'm certainly not going to resign. I was elected to fix Auckland and this is a giant fixup."

Brown admits climate change

Brown this afternoon also changed his opinion on the part climate change played in Friday's severe weather. 

On Saturday morning he said it was far "too early" to talk about climate change. However, he now says he agrees with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins that it was caused by climate change. 

"We hadn't realised it was such a widespread event. We were all thinking in terms of the lessons we learned in the New Lynn flood and there was perhaps another New Lynn flood somewhere else. We didn't realise there were 25 New Lynn floods. We didn't realise that, unlike New Lynn, there were five more days of this coming. And we are not finished.

"As more evidence accumulated, we started to see and think differently."

More bad weather 

Metservice has upgraded the severe rain warning for Northland and parts of Auckland and Coromandel from Orange to Red as the latest forecasts indicate more heavy rain is expected between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Brown is recommending schools and businesses stay closed during that period.

"It has taken some time for everyone to appreciate just how wide and deep an event this is, and it isn't finished yet," Brown said.

"It's nothing like Friday night but the ground is so saturated and the drains are so full, it could be even more dangerous than Friday."

Brown said he was recommending businesses and schools definitely remain closed tomorrow and that theNZ  Army should be brought in to help sandbag and other duties.

"Stay home, if possible," he said.

Ministry of Education chief Iona Holsted has since ordered all schools, including kura, early learning services and tertiary institutions in Auckland to remain closed until after Waitangi Day.

“Earlier today the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) asked us to take action to help minimise traffic movement on Auckland roads while vital infrastructure is urgently repaired.

"With the possibility of further weather damage leading to more disruption, the Secretary for Education has directed that schools, kura, early learning services and Tertiary institutions in the Auckland region (Wellsford to Pukekohe) must close for physical attendance and instruction until February 7."

"Schools and kura can open or remain open for onsite instruction but need to provide distance learning.

"Early Learning Services may allow the physical attendance of any child whose parent needs them to do so, in the same that we did for Covid but must otherwise be closed.

Clean-up continues

Auckland residents who have started to clean up their flood-damaged homes can now take storm-damage items to local refuse stations free of charge, Brown says, while council teams are making their way through the city collecting waste piled up on streets where it's safe to do so.

Councillor Richard Hills is urging Aucklanders to keep an eye on neighbours as more rain arrives: “Reach out for help, reach out to friends and whanau if it gets tough tonight. We’re seeing significant breaks in pipes. Don’t assume [council] knows about all of these. Please log them and we will get to them. If we don’t know about [these problems], we can’t get there.”