OPINION: With any luck, the forecasts are wrong and hours of torrential rain won't fall on Christchurch on Sunday. If the weather gods are kind, people who are still drying out and cleaning up after last week's floods won't have to face the same or a similar problem again. If all is well, one thing we don't want to hear next week are any complaints that the council and Civil Defence over-reacted to a non-existent threat.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management issued an alert on Wednesday that possibly damaging rainfall might result when the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Lusi tracks south towards Canterbury, with an estimated arrival on Sunday. Issuing the alert was absolutely the right thing to do. Lusi is a completely different weather beast to the southerly storm which caused havoc last week, but could bring some of the same results. It is likely to bring heavy rain and severe gales to the North Island, but Christchurch people also need to be prepared. In the words of Blue Skies weather forecaster Tony Trewinnard: "This storm has the potential to have similar outcomes to last time."
The Christchurch City Council's initial response to the threat has been appropriate, prioritising areas where sandbagging may be required, clearing drains and waterways, checking known flood areas and preparing to close roads should they begin to flood. Engineers are assessing stopbanks and a warning has gone out to homeowners, should any such warning still be needed, to be aware of the dangers of floodwaters contaminated by sewage. "This is a situation where, if we prepare for the worst-case scenario, we will be ready for what may come," Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has said. "I'd much rather we put too many precautions in place than not enough."
She is right, of course. Unfortunately, these situations are always difficult to call, and if the worst-case scenario doesn't eventuate there are always critics who blame forecasters or are quick to say authorities were scaremongering or putting people through unnecessary stress by issuing warnings too readily.
Rather, the fact is that the councils and Civil Defence personnel in potentially affected areas have a duty of care to tell people to get ready for the worst, even while they may be hoping for the best. After last week's flooding, and with parts of the city still saturated, they would be negligent not to take the forecast seriously and take prudent steps to minimise Lusi's potential threats if they can.
With any luck, Lusi will change course, or arrive bearing less rain than the forecasts have predicted. Hopefully she won't pack the sort of punch that forecasters fear she might. But we cannot rely on that hope to get us through and certainly not after recent experience.
Some people, repeatedly battered by earthquakes, insurance and EQC problems, and now weather, will be wondering when it will all end. Some will need extra help from family, friends and neighbours if they are affected again this weekend. Let everyone look out for each other now. Do what you can and good luck to those in vulnerable places.
- The Press