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Tāmaki Makaurau’s Friday deluge: a timeline

1 February, 2023

Reporting by Spike Keith, adapted by Stella Huggins

Aftermath in the CBD, the morning after Friday's flooding. Photo: Corey Fuimaono.

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This timeline is compiled of flood reports from the initial deluge, combining highlights from social media posts, press reporting, and official communications from organisations.

From this timeline, we can estimate when and where flooding was occurring, and what communication was being given by organisations.  

This dataset comes with a few caveats. The timeline, for the most part, only covers publicly available reporting. Organisations like Fire Emergency, the Police, Waka Kotahi, and the Auckland Council would have been the primary groups to receive reports of flooding, so we can only estimate what they might have been aware of from what is publicly available.

This timeline can be taken as a “best case scenario”, with flooding to be estimated as occurring at the time posts were uploaded. 

Preceding Friday, multiple forecasts came through highlighting potential heavy rainfall for Auckland. A WeatherWatch rainfall forecast on Wednesday warned of 50-200 mm of rainfall over Anniversary Weekend. MetService on Thursday issued an Orange Severe Weather Warning for the greater Auckland region. WeatherWatch, on the same day, also warned of an impending week of repetitively bad weather starting from Friday. However, most interestingly, an Australian weather model on Tuesday forecast 300-400mm of rain landing directly on Auckland- exactly what was to occur three days later. 

Obviously, these are all meteorological predictions that have to be examined critically, but there was a strong indication before the day that Auckland would receive heavier than normal weather on Friday. These warnings didn’t stop, either. WeatherWatch and MetService continued to release further updates, warning of incoming heavy rain. WeatherWatch released a Flood Risk Map at 12:45pm on Friday, one of the first forecasters to mention the potential of flooding in Auckland. 

And soon after, reports of said flooding started to come in. One of the earliest videos on Twitter was posted at 2:15pm on Friday, showing surface flooding pouring out of a gate at Maungawhau School in Mt Eden. At 2:30pm, Waka Kotahi sent out an update that SH1 was partially blocked by slips north of Auckland. An hour later, MetService posted a severe thunderstorm warning for Auckland, saying it would cause surface flooding and to “take it easy out there”. Posts started to trickle onto social media, showing roads and waterways increasingly swamped by the rain. A photo from Riverhead at 3.30pm shows a roadside stream starting to overflow onto the street above. Just after 4pm, a Twitter user shares a video of the flooded culdesac outside his house, now sending water down his driveway. 

A photo posted to NIWA’s Flood Photo database at 4.15pm shows water pouring through a fence, starting to flood someone's backyard. A little bit later, Auckland Transport announces their first disruption due to the weather, saying that the Western Line track had flooded in Glen Eden. By this point, Oratia Stream, usually a small tributary running through West Auckland, has now become a raging torrent. A video posted at 4:30pm shows water levels in the stream up 10 metres, now running onto a bridge high over the stream, and flooding surrounding houses. 

For many, the floodwater came without warning. Mele, a woman from Mangere, described her house being suddenly inundated with water, and before long, reaching chest height even before she had the time to grab her things. By this point, Auckland had already received 60 mm of rainfall since midnight. Waterways and stormwater systems were already highly saturated, before the 180 mm that was about to be dropped onto the city over the course of a few hours.

Just before 5pm, Auckland Council reports a large landslip blocking State Highway 1 north of Auckland. It’s now the second SH1 blockage in Northern Auckland so far. Posts start to stream in, showing flooded intersections and waterways turned into deluges. At a press conference late Friday night, Auckland Emergency Management controller Andrew Clark would say that a state of emergency was being considered from 5pm onwards. 

AEM had seen widespread flooding in Western and Northern Auckland before 5pm, and instead of calling a state of emergency, let Friday long weekend rush hour traffic out onto a quickly engulfed road system. A few minutes after five, Fire & Emergency reports that every fire truck in Auckland is in use after 400 calls for assistance. 

By 5:30pm, sections of SH1 in the North Shore and SH16 out west have already flooded, leading to gridlocked traffic trying to navigate floodwaters. At 5:45pm, Auckland Civil Defense communicates for the first time about the flooding on Facebook. “The situation across Tāmaki Makaurau is worsening, and we’re working with Emergency Services to establish what help is needed on the ground.” They list out some warnings and advice, and say updates will be provided as they come in. They don’t post again for four hours. By this point, Waka Kotahi confirms State Highway 1 is blocked in Albany and by Esmonde Road. The CBD is starting to be impacted, with footage showing Queen Street overwhelmed with water and RNZ staff being forced out of their studio due to flooding.

At 6pm, Auckland Emergency Management reportedly decided not to issue a state of emergency declaration. MetService warns of significant flooding underneath thunderstorms at the same time. Busways along State Highway 1 are now completely flooded in sections, with water pouring into buses as they pass through. NIWA confirms Auckland has now received 80% of its normal summer rainfall over the course Friday so far. 

Major roadways like Victoria Street and Dominion Road are now swamped, and the Eastern and Southern train lines are disrupted due to flooding. Tens of thousands of people are continuing to descend on Mt Smart Stadium for the Elton John concert, and the Auckland Stadiums management group enters a meeting to discuss the event. 

By 7pm, parts of the central city are completely flooded. In busy thoroughfares like Newmarket, Victoria Park and the bottom of Parnell, cars can be seen attempting to navigate floodwaters or already stuck. Elton John is cancelled after 10,000 people are already inside the stadium, and attendees are loaded onto buses to be shuttled through increasingly flooded streets. Shortly after, a man is found deceased in a culvert in Wairau Valley. A business owner in the area would tell the New Zealand Herald that he saw the man kayaking through floodwaters. 

The Victoria Park tunnels from the CBD to the Harbour Bridge are now completely flooded, trapping cars in built up queues. Waka Kotahi posts the first update to Auckland road closures in an hour and a half, confirming SH1 closures throughout the North Shore. The Twitter account for Waka Kotahi will “sign off” at 7:50pm, saying no more updates on social media for the night, as reports of further flooding continue to pour in. Wayne Brown calls into RNZ around the same time, saying “we just need the rain to stop, that’s the main issue.” 71mm of rain will be dropped onto Auckland over the next hour. 

All across Auckland, further reports of major flooding continue to be posted. The main Greenlane East intersection by McDonald’s is underwater, and Wairau Valley is completely flooded. Police and emergency services are at some locations trying to divert traffic, but many report having no information about what roads are closed or where to go for assistance. Michael Wood, the Minister for Transport, will say on Twitter that he’s now asking Waka Kotahi to restart their social media communication urgently at around 9pm.  A Red Heavy Rain Warning is issued for Auckland soon after, 5-6 hours after reports of major flooding began. 

At 9:30pm, a state of emergency is allegedly declared by Mayor Brown, but this isn’t communicated publicly by council until after 10pm, leaving councillors and politicians to continue to call on Brown to declare a state of emergency. After the declaration is confirmed publicly, Auckland Civil Defence posts the location of the first evacuation centre set up for the flooding at 10pm. Other organisations begin to post about the flooding again, including Auckland Transport, Waka Kotahi, and Auckland Council. 

For many of these organisations, it’s the first update they’ve posted about the flooding in hours. At 10.45pm, Chris Hipkins confirms the emergency declaration status in Auckland , and mobilises the Beehive Bunker to monitor the situation. At 11.15pm, at least nine hours since surface flooding began and after the rain had mostly stopped, Wayne Brown hosts a press conference covering the flooding situation. Much of the conference is spent defending the council’s response and communication over the course of Friday.

While this timeline of the flooding has its limitations due to only being a public snapshot of the events, it pales in comparison with what information government organisations would have access to. Emergency services had received 400 calls by 5pm, and Fire Emergency was completely at capacity around the same time. Auckland Transport has access to over 5,000 cameras across Auckland, including on sections of road that saw major flooding, like Beach Rd, Queen Street, and Wairau Valley, along with reporting from public transport services and operators. 

They were aware of disruptions to services by at least 4:30pm, and impacts only worsened over the course of Friday night. Waka Kotahi would have been aware of potential traffic buildup going into rush hour, and knew State Highway 1 was blocked off in multiple major thoroughfare locations from at least 5-6pm. Auckland Civil Defence management was watching the situation from 5pm onwards, but the declaration was made four and a half hours later, already after most of the flooding had occurred. 

In the aftermath of Friday, central government and council figures promised a review of the events, trying to determine what went wrong. Much of the criticism for the handling of Friday has been placed on Wayne Brown, but a bigger question remains to be asked of council organisations whose role it is to monitor and react to events like this. 

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air