Hawke’s Bay communities devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle are planning to support each other and mark the anniversary – many in their own quiet way.
Rissington farm owner Jeremy Absolom’s reflecting on the past year has included a grieving period during which locals took stock of what was lost in their community and also considered how the area should recover.
“That’s been the difference between this event and previous events is that we couldn’t rebuild the way it was so we had to think differently and come up with new ways of doing things and that’s probably been one of the biggest challenges for everyone,” he told 1News.
A bridge over the Mangaone River was washed away, disconnecting the community, and houses were flooded and smothered in silt. Some properties are now in category three — designated too dangerous to live in because of their flood risk.
Properties on Absolom’s land were flooded when vegetation blocking the river further downstream pushed water back upstream and over land. Now his focus is securing a plan for improved management of the land near the river and says he’s in regular communication with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
‘Consequences of a good deed’
“River management, going forward, is going to be critical,. We excluded stock from rivers for a reason from a water quality perspective many decades ago, but then obviously we’ve learned that letting the vegetation just build up and build up over decades doesn’t work.
“It’s one of those unintended consequences from a good deed.”
He says both clean rivers and having waterways that could deal with large volumes of water instead of getting blocked were now priorities.
“The bridge behind us was taken away by a massive debris that was built up over a kilometre up stream before it finally broke. That wasn’t forestry slash or anything, that was wild vegetation, wilding pine, just growing in our waterways that have been fenced off,” Absolom said.
He said tomorrow, a year on from the force of Cyclone Gabrielle, there will be moments of reflection and discussion between locals but they’ll also be “flat out doing what they need to do”.
The community will get together to commemorate what they’ve been through in the coming months. For some what happened is still too raw.
Absolom said he hopes the spotlight being back on Hawke’s Bay a year after Cyclone Gabrielle reminds authorities and residents of the issues at hand.
“We’re dreadful at forgetting quickly and not learning so hopefully this attention again will just remind us that, ‘Hey we’re getting on and while we need to look forward we don’t want to miss the lessons that we learnt during this disaster,'” he said.
Pub that became a refuge
A 15 minute drive away in the hard hit community of Puketapu, local pub owner Mary Danielson is preparing to hold an event tomorrow night for locals to reflect on their resilience in the past year.
The Puketapu has been a refuge for the community.
“The losses of houses, the losses of income, their orchards, not knowing what to do.
“Those people in the first few days had lost everything, their wallets and didn’t know where to go or what to do. A lot of older people, that have worked hard all their lives and lost everything,” she said.
Danielson hopes getting people together once more will help lighten their load on a hard day.
“Mental health has been has been one of the big issues, we’ve always felt that bringing people together here is a way that people can talk about their worries and have a laugh.”
The guardian angel midwife
A Havelock North family are also going through a week of reflection a year on, but for different reasons.
Their daughter Tilly Kershaw was born the day after Cyclone Gabrielle struck, with mum Sam going into labour at home with the power out. The couple were rationing use of their candles and cellphones in case they were disconnected for longer than what eventuated.
“It’s going to be a big week for us… we are looking forward to celebrating her birthday, but also remembering all the amazing people who helped us bring her safely into the world,” Sam Kershaw said.
That included a midwife that stepped in at 4am once the couple got to the hospital.
“Sadly our midwife was stuck in Napier so she wasn’t able to be there but there was an amazing midwife, she lived in Napier so she wasn’t able to get home to her family.
“She’d worked long hours and the hospital staff woke her up at 4am and said ‘Can you help this family?’
“She was just phenomenal… our guardian angel that day I think.”
Sam Kershaw said she’s also remembering the acts of the wider Hawke’s Bay region, with many stepping up to support those who lost so much.
Services on Wednesday, February 14
Hastings District Council will hold a commemoration service at 11.30am tomorrow at Civic Square in Hastings.
‘We acknowledge the deep losses felt right across our communities, including those whānau who lost loved ones, and those whose lives, livelihoods, homes and communities were impacted in unimaginable ways,’ the council posted on their website.
A commemoration service will also take place at Napier’s Soundshell at 11.45am with a minute’s silence at 12pm.
There will also be commemoration events in Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay.