Wellington exposed by batterings

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014

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If you thought 2013 was especially disastrous, you'd be right - storms, floods and earthquakes cost more than $204 million.

Insurance companies paid out $174m in costs for weather-related events last year, one of the worst years since 1968. The Cook Strait earthquakes also made a dent, with more than $31m paid out for damage.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton said with climate change scenarios pointing to more rain and wind it was important to be prepared for extreme weather.

"[It] underlines the need for New Zealand to focus on pre-disaster mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimise economic losses and social disruption," he said.

June's storm was the event to hit Wellington the hardest - electricity was cut to thousands, roads and railway tracks smashed and some houses on the coast severely damaged after southerly gales reached 202kmh on Mt Kaukau and 143kmh down in the city.

Lyall Bay resident Toni Roberts and her family have been living on one floor of the house since the storm, after a sea wall was washed away and the bottom floor of their home flooded by ferocious seas.

"We've just coped . . . It's hard in the sense that we can only have so many people in the house, but I think we've become used to it."

Ms Roberts' family is still working through complicated insurance processes to ensure the $200,000 worth of damage to the sea wall and their home is covered.

KiwiRail spokesman Michael McKeon said repairs to the Ngauranga-Petone seawall, which washed away in the June storm causing trains between Petone and Wellington to be cancelled and delayed for several days, has cost about $2m so far.

Much of Wellington's transport infrastructure was not built to withstand weather events like the June storm and if severe weather events were going to become more common, so would road and rail outages, he said.

"Climate change may lead to that becoming routine and the infrastructure's not designed for that."

KiwiRail was working with regional and local councils and NZ Transport Agency on a long-term project to address the resilience of transport in and out of Wellington.

"It's not a railway thing, it's an everybody thing. The quick answer is nothing's been done apart from repair and reinforce the wall that was damaged, but it's a major strategic investment for the city as a whole and we've started the process, but it'll be a sort of 10-year project," Mr McKeon said.

A Ministry of Transport report put the economic impact of the June storm, including infrastructure fixes, bus replacements, and the value of increased travel time for commuters, at $32.2m.

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Wellington City Council estimates the June storm alone will cost them just under $6m - about $5m of that was repairs to roads, footpaths, seawalls and coastal slopes and the rest for cleanup and tree removal.

Wellington Civil Defence regional controller Bruce Pepperell said the region bounced back from the events pretty well, considering the storm and two earthquakes happened in quick succession.

"I think we're never as good as what we'd like to be, and there are opportunities to do better . . . but it's really important that individuals, businesses and neighbourhoods actually understand that they have some responsibilities here too. We all need to own this thing."

- The Dominion Post

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