Pan Pac’s step-by-step cyclone recovery

Friday 16 Feb 2024

After Cyclone Gabrielle ripped through Hawke’s Bay in February 2023, Pan Pac Forest Products’ Whirinaki site was left submerged in up to 2-metre-high floodwaters and completely unrecognisable. Pan Pac managing director Tony Clifford said he realised they had a “marathon in front of us, not even a 10k run”.

“The water came over our stopbank system by about 750mm. The stopbanks didn’t fail, the water just came right over the top,” Clifford said. The cyclone washed 1.8 to 2m of silt and water through the entire site, flooding the electrical systems, power distribution systems and control systems.

For Pan Pac, the electrical work has been the biggest repair job in both time and cost. Clifford said just for the engineering cost the company is facing a repair bill of NZ$150 million, and 12 months on it has spent close to NZ$100m of that. He added the NZ$100m has largely been on plant recovery “as at this stage we haven’t started recovering any of our main administration office building, which will be done in the next 18 months”. Pan Pan had its chip mill up and running in August and September last year, and in January this year it got the sawmill running at about 50 per cent capacity. The company hasn’t been able to reactivate all of the kilns that dry the wood after it’s been through the sawmill. More kilns are set to be up and running in a few weeks, with the hope Pan Pac will process a larger volume of wood through the sawmill.

To get to this point, Pan Pac “recognises the progress that has been done so far and the contribution by thousands right across Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand”, Clifford said. As one of Hawke’s Bay’s biggest employers, Pan Pac’s recovery was aided by the creation of a list of its employees’ skill matrix, and where the employees could help.

Along with finding jobs for everyone, Pan Pac was creating job certainty as “staff were uncertain in the early stages when they came into the site and saw all the damage. We did our best to create certainty when there was mostly uncertainty, which helped with morale,” Clifford said. “Once people knew they had a job and it wasn’t at risk, that created a much higher degree of comfort.” Many Pan Pac employees come from trade backgrounds or had skills that were helpful to the recovery on-site.

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Source: NZ Herald, Photo credit: John Taylor

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