New Zealand’s Horse of the Year show is hunkering down as Cyclone Pam bears down on the Hawke’s Bay region.
The cyclone has already devastated the pacific nation of Vanuatu, with at least 40 people confirmed dead and houses, buildings and crops destroyed. Aid workers have described the situation as catastrophic.
The show officially starts on Tuesday, and classes scheduled for Monday have been postponed as the region prepares for a forecast 100mm of rain and 120km/h winds today. The wind did not eventuate overnight but there was persistent rain.
About 3000 people and 1100 horses spent the night at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds, with some 5000 more people and another 1500 horses expected to be in residence by tonight. Those staying in tents last night were relocated to buildings on the grounds.
Horses who were shifted to the Hawke’s Bay Race Course are returning to the showgrounds, and about 250 who spent the night at the National Equestrian Centre in Taupo are on their way to Hastings.
Cyclone Pam has been downgraded to an “intense extra tropical cyclone”. Civil Defence has advised people to stay away from beaches with Metservice predicting total combined waves (sea and swell) generated by Cyclone Pam expected to rise to 7-8m around the northern New Zealand coastline and even up to 9m around the northern Gisborne coast.
Strong southeast winds and rain are expected over much of the North Island today, along with extremely large seas about the east coast. Wind gusts of 160 km/h or more are possible about the eastern Bay of Plenty and northern parts of Gisborne.
Most of those competing at the Horse of the Year show are either already on the road or at the showgrounds in readiness for the country’s biggest show, which runs through to Sunday, March 22.
HOY show director Kevin Hansen and the 8000 square metres of marquees at the grounds were locked down at 6pm on Sunday night, and are now being opened up for trade goods.
“We are constantly reassessing the situation and have plans in place to ensure the safety of people and horses,” Hansen said.
He said the forecast for the rest of the show week was “brilliant”.
More than 2600 horses and riders are expected to compete over the week, battling it out for the most prestigious titles in New Zealand equestrian, including the $200,000 Bostock International Olympic Cup, which will be awarded to the Showjumper of the Year on Sunday, March 22.