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Central Hawke's Bay stands together

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Under blue skies and sunshine, members of the Central Hawke's Bay community gathered to stop and reflect on the lives lost and the devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle - one of the worst storms to hit Aotearoa, New Zealand - at two commemoration events held in Central Hawke's Bay today.

Across Tamatea Central Hawke’s Bay, 632 homes were flooded following the cyclone. Waipukurau was without water for a week. Waipawa and Otāne were without water for a month. 54 properties are still yellow stickered across Waipawa, Pōrangahau and Waipukurau and many whānau are not yet in their homes. There are still 138 properties in category 2a in Pōrangahau. Roads remain closed and millions of dollars of roading damage are still unfunded and unfixed. 

Both commemoration events - one at the Pōrangahau Memorial Hall and one at Waipawa Primary School - started at 11.00 am and included karakia, waiata, speeches, kai, reflections and thank yous to community members, emergency services, volunteers and support organisations along with a regional minute's silence at midday.

By local, for local was a theme at both gatherings, with speakers talking about the amazing local response when the rivers burst, the cell networks were down and access in, out and around the region was cut with 100 roads closed and 69 bridges gone or broken. 
Addressing the group that gathered at Pōrangahau Mayor Alex Walker reflected on the unfolding events after the rain had stopped. 

"The morning cleared – the rain had stopped and the sun came out at about 8.30am. There were a few sighs of relief with people thinking that we had missed the worst. But it wasn’t the worst. The walls of water were gathering in speed and size, joining together, and surging into our rivers from Mangaorapa, Wanstead and Bush Rd into the Taurekaitai; from Wakarara, Makaroro and Mangaonuku to Waipawa; and from Tukipo and Maharakeke to Tukituki.

"From there, it turns from surreal into a blur. Finding out that our civil defence network had no data and comms coming to us from the river monitoring equipment. Finding out that cell networks were down, making it near impossible to talk to Police. 111 was overloaded, they weren’t coming. Fire and Emergency teams in CHB were not able to make radio contact with their command officers in Hastings. 

"Our response had to be, and was, by local, for local all over Tamatea Central Hawke's Bay."

Mayor Walker went on to thank the many people in the Pōrangahau community who have helped, including those who helped evacuate the marae, flats and village; farmers who helped open roads, clear trees despite extensive damage to their own farms; local businesses; marae; tradies and more. 

"We have got to where we are in 12 months from incredible community spirit. Where every person was a hero in some way."

Councillor Kate Taylor who attended and spoke at the Waipawa gathering said the stories of community spirit and local heroism stood out for her too.

"It was moving to hear Waipawa Primary Principal Paul Jamieson speak about the responsibility he felt to ensure the flooded school could reopen as quickly as possible. We also heard firsthand accounts from the bowling club and the holiday park, which took some of the full force of the floodwaters.    

"Everyone helped someone in whatever way they could. The strength of our community has got us so far in the past year. As we continue to re-plant, re-grow and re-invest, this same community spirit and optimism will take us through the next chapter in our story. One that is focused on building back better, stronger and more resilient. Together." 

7 June 2024

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