“We pray for our brothers and sisters. Lord hear our prayer.”

On February 13 and 14, Cyclone Gabrielle lashed several areas across the North Island with gale-force winds and record rainfall causing multiple landslips and many rivers to burst their banks, devastating affected regions. Sadly, 11 people nationally lost their lives. A National State of Emergency was declared on Tuesday, 14 February and was lifted on Tuesday, 14 March. The regions are now in the recovery phase facing months and even years of repair.

WelCom April 2023

“E īnoi ana mātou mō ō mātou tūākana me ō mātou tēina. E te Ariki whakarongo mai ki a mātou.”

On February 13 and 14, Cyclone Gabrielle lashed several areas across the North Island with gale-force winds and record rainfall causing multiple landslips and many rivers to burst their banks, devastating affected regions. Sadly, 11 people nationally lost their lives. A National State of Emergency was declared on Tuesday, 14 February and was lifted on Tuesday, 14 March. The regions are now in the recovery phase facing months and even years of repair.

Gabrielle’s horrific impacts on Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa regions claimed lives and caused widespread flooding that washed away homes, and isolated communities, leaving thousands of people displaced. Homes and vehicles were destroyed, animals lost, and crops and pastures ruined. 

Three weeks after Gabrielle, WelCom visited people in parishes and schools in Hawke’s Bay, as part of the Palmerston North Diocese, to connect and to hear first-hand their stories. Road closures prevented access to Wairoa. While not all of Hawke’s Bay was physically impacted, the devastation, loss, economic affects and emotional toll has left its mark on many. People have been deeply grateful for prayers and support from around New Zealand and overseas. They ask that we keep them in our thoughts and prayers as they make their way forward, and that we to continue to donate to the flood appeals for much needed support over the weeks and months ahead.  

Photos: Annette Scullion, WelCom

Fr Paul Kerridge, parish priest, Holy Trinity, Central Hawke’s Bay: We’re lucky here in Waipukurau and Waipawa when you see what’s happened further north. But, the torrent of water from the heavy rain up in the back country brought a lot of slips and damage to farmlands and coastland areas. The main areas affected are Pōrangahau and parts of Waipawa. Blocked bridges and culverts caused damage and rubbish, debris and whatever else in the way of the flood waters ended up flattening fences. Waipawa River breached its stopbanks. Family and friends have helped clear up but costs of replacing fencing will be high. Some were able to harvest the crops in advance of the rains, others lost a lot of stock and their hill pastures are gone. Government and rural support has been generous and our local Church response has been through the local Mayoral fund, St Vincent de Paul and the Diocesan fund. The needs will become clearer once things have settled in six months’ time. It is important to see ourselves as community first and that our Church service is uplifting for people coming together.

Fr Paul Kerridge, parish priest (second left), Donna Te Amo, parish secretary (right), with Chris and Debbie Minehan, CHB parishioners
and farmers.

Betty Knewstubb-Brown, Principal and Ngatel Tiuku, Deputy Principal, St Joseph’s School, Waipukurau: From our perspective, we weren’t badly impacted in Waipukurau. Flooding hit Waipawa and some students experienced flooding. There were some road closures and trouble getting to work and school. Our school was closed for four days as there was no water supply. The CHB District Council’s response was fantastic with their communication out to people. They made sure everyone had water and once we were sorted here, they sent crews to Taradale to help there. There have been hidden stresses and trauma for people. During the week of the cyclone there was no communication for four or five days. Being cut off from people was hugely stressful. When we all came back to school it rained heavily and that brought more stress and the wind left people on edge. But the students here are quite sheltered and not aware of the level of devastation elsewhere as they can’t see it. We held a mufti day to raise money to go to the diocesan fund and we’ve tried to get back to normal quickly by having our swimming sports and the senior students attending the Grid Leadership conference. We have tried to just keep going but at the back of teachers’ minds, there is a level of anxiety. As a staff we have a messaging group and its good to share comments and light relief. All the principals in the area Zoomed in on a daily basis with aligned messages. We’re a tight community – that’s who we are.

Homes, buildings, orchards and farmlands were left in ruins by Cyclone Gabrielle, which will take months to repair.

Gerard Minehan.

Gerard Minehan, CHB District Councillor, Waipukurau Story’s Clothing owner, and local parishioner: After the cyclone just over 600 urban and residential houses were affected in CHB, including the Lower Waipawa and Pōrangahau townships. CHB set up evacuation centres and provided meals, clothing items and general flood support. Driving down the main streets you don’t see the damage but some of the rural areas were devasted with massive land slips, major bridges in farming communities out, roading, fencing and stock gone and some communities cut off for weeks. The immediate response was very good with volunteers helping in the evacuation centres and dealing with water, clothing, items, information pamphlets, and helping with the clean up. People were initially in state of shock, as they never thought Waipawa River’s stopbanks would burst. The Waipukurau River held to within about 3cms. The flow on effects from the damage to CHB and wider HB to the local economy are yet to unfold. The estimate for the total damage for CHB alone is looking like it will be well over $100m to get everything back.

St John’s College students, helping clean up out at Eskdale. Photo: Supplied

George Rogers, Principal, St John’s College, Hastings: Sunshine goes a long way after a storm and so much rain. Our school was closed for a week and to have everyone back was a good step forward. We’ve got families who lost everything but were pleased when we reopened. We’ve been trying to get back to normal as much as we can. We’ve had to adjust the term’s calendar to allow for extended travel times due to road damage.

It’s something I’ve never experienced. The hardest part was being disconnected from the outside world for several days. People in Hastings had no idea what had happened to the people in Napier and vice versa. We were literally standing still in time. 

To look around here, everything looks normal but half an hour from here there is absolute carnage. Some pockets have been very badly hit. The primary industry has been hit hard and an unknown is how long the disruptions are going to go on for. 

My concern has been the longer-term impact on the staff and boys. We have staff and about 100 boys coming over from Napier each day and they pass through the areas of devastation so that is highly stressful.

The Catholic community support has been unreal. Liam Greer and his team from Palmerston North Diocese office arrived with three loads of food, blankets and clothing. We’ve been getting support and calls from other schools around the country and everyone has been so giving. 

The St John’s response is for our staff, families and boys to go out and help others. For me, what is special about us as a school, is doing, but not being seen – that is important.

We’re immensely grateful for the support and the prayers for Hawke’s Bay.

Sr Helen O’Sullivan rndm,

Sr Helen O’Sullivan rndm, pastoral coordinator, Catholic Parish of Napier: Our sisters in Napier had no power or water for several days but were all safe and well taken care of. I and others in the parish were able to take communion to the sick and they were pleased to see us. Those I connected with weren’t badly impacted but I know of a few people who have been interrupted hugely. Our local radio station, Hawkes Bay Breeze, was a constant source of authentic information throughout each day and were able to negate some of the many false rumours circulating, by providing good intelligent interviews with the Prime Minster, Police, the Army and sharing personal human stories, such as the guy who cycled 15kms to get his daughter’s teddy bear left behind.

Fr Paul Finlayson ssc and Fr Trung Nguyen, parish priest and assistant priest, Catholic Parish of Hastings

Fr Paul Finlayson ssc and Fr Trung Nguyen, parish priest and assistant priest, Catholic Parish of Hastings: We were deeply touched and overwhelmed with people’s generosity at St Peter Chanel Church, with donations of food and blankets in the first weeks after the cyclone The ongoing needs remains and SVdP has also been very supportive with goods. Some have gone to Kainga Pacifica Services at the Aubert Centre in Flaxmere for seasonal workers. Several people helped clean up houses and properties and were out visiting people. It’s been amazing to see how strong people’s faith is despite the challenges – despite no house to live in, they have still come to Sunday Mass each week. There is overwhelming and ongoing support through prayer. People are looking out for each other and supporting one another in different ways. The vineyards and orchard people have been severely hit and they have been trying to get people in groups of 10 to remove the silt so their trees wouldn’t die. In times of trouble a lot more people come to Sunday Mass. We pray for the cyclone-affected people at Mass every Sunday. The hope is always there. Without that inner strength people couldn’t cope and persevere. 

Fr Barry Scannell sm, parish priest.

Fr Barry Scannell sm, parish priest, Catholic Parish of Napier: While the town area of Napier was not affected, some of our parishioners and families at our schools have been. Some lost their houses, and sadly, some lost their lives. We had two funerals in the parish for lives lost.

The biggest issue in the first week was living without power. The first couple of days people didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Everything went dead about 7.30pm on Tuesday 14 February and there was no power, no traffic lights, no lighting or heating for a week. Supermarkets and petrol stations were closed and some people waited two days to be rescued. Cooking was done with a BBQ, using food out of the freezer. 

There were some truly heroic responses. I personally know two young sons of some parishioners who, using their surf boards, rescued 14 people at Puketapu, off roofs or from clinging to a tree. The flood waters were about two or three feet below power lines. Another parishioner in Dartmoor on Swamp Road, looked out his window and saw a tsunami of water. He ended up with 150 people camped at his place.

People have been resilient and very giving, making sure they contributed to what was needed. We have really appreciated people’s help and so many groups have responded from around New Zealand. The best way to donate is through the Diocesan fund or through St Vincent de Paul who know what to do with the money at a local level.

The lesson for me is that this has happened in our history before and will happen again. The early Marists went to Pakowhai and got flooded. They then went to Meanee and got flooded again, so they moved up to St Mary’s. The very places that got flooded down the ages are the same places that have been flooded again.

Jemma McLean, Principal, St Patrick’s Primary School, Napier: It’s been important for us as staff to sit around and talk. Our response has been team collaboration. The strain we’ve seen on staff and families is immense, so we lean on each other. The cyclone was like something out of a horror movie – an apocalypse. One staff member estimated every minute, enough rain fell in Esk Valley to fill 72 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Those of us who live in Hastings and Napier were completely disconnected. We were totally reliant on AM radio for any communication those first few days. Every hour on the hour we sat in the car to hear the radio to find out what was going on. Roading was out due the huge amount of washed-out bridges. There was a big impact on families. Some didn’t know we had reopened, as there was no communication. We took to door knocking to connect with families. When the rain returned, children hid under tables and couldn’t sleep due to trauma triggers.

People have been very generous bringing items for people in need. Someone donated $500 for fuel to get a generator going. Others have given food for those out there day after day digging and clearing mud and cleaning. The clean-up was all being done by volunteers. The children at school have been worried about pets so they held a fundraiser to help. Other schools in the diocese in Taranaki and Dannevirke have donated money. St Margaret’s College in Wellington donated $7000 for three schools in Eskdale. Sacred Heart primary school in Wellington donated truckloads of food and had it transported up to St John’s College.

Once the initial adrenalin wore off, people became quickly fatigued, drained and on edge. Sleeping patterns were disrupted, and nerves were frayed with the noise of helicopters constantly flying overhead. Some of the donated money is being used for counselling.For all we’ve been through, we live in hope and gratitude and being united.

Deacon Tavita Faka’osi, Catechist Tonga and Pacific Islands, Hawke’s Bay Pastoral Area, and Kainga Pasifika Services: The immediate needs were food and accommodation for the RSE workers, cleaning up their flooded places and helping them get back to work and income. The cyclone interrupted their jobs all around Hawke’s Bay. If they’re not qualified to receive support through Work and Income we work alongside MSD for support for the workers. The Pacifica population in Hawke’s Bay is not that many so word-of-mouth referral comes to us quickly. People come to us for support and guidance and they know our place here at the Aubert Centre in Flaxmere and feel comfortable with us. Following the cyclone, a team from MSD is working here with us so we can connect with people quickly in a space they know, and not have the barriers that can be felt in larger organisations for people needing help. Pasifika Services has gained a lot of respect by Pacific people for Pacific people. 

Tavita Faka’osi (far left) with Kainga Pasifika Services and MSD teams working together to support people impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Farmlands, orchards, buildings, businesses and homes along Pakowhai road between Napier and Hastings have been devastated by the flood. Jo, a local resident has been working each day to do what she can to help clean up. ‘The road is looking a lot better than it was. But the ongoing challenges to people’s properties will be harder in a few months’ time when the money runs out and they don’t have access to digging equipment, or their properties remain yellow stickered. Everywhere you look, there’s a fence down, a straw hay bale in the wrong place, a lone digger hard at work. My faith has helped get me through day by day. If it wasn’t for my faith, I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning each day to face this.’

Jim Leogreen, St Vincent de Paul Hastings Area Council President: Many people who have been left homeless have been doubling up with other families. For example we have families of five living with another family of five. Our supporting these families is a priority in this disaster. We have been working with the schools to notify us of families needing food baskets. The donor aspect among the community has been wonderful, but there is such a thing as ‘donor fatigue’ and in six to nine months, we will still need bedding and clothing. Many people have lost their homes. People coming into Vinnies stores just want to be heard. We’re all here to help.

Jo Doyle, Principal, St Joseph’s School, Wairoa: Here in Wairoa, our threefold community of faith– school, parish and Tawhiti-a-Marae – is woven together. Our Tawhiti-a-Marae whānau were severely impacted by the flood. This is felt throughout our school and St Peter’s parish communities.

Our isolation is creating many challenges as we are cut off with a 10-hour drive to Hawke’s Bay. We have many children who attend boarding schools south of Wairoa and this puts financial and added stress to whānau. Our health and education services are all delivered from Hawke’s Bay and access to services is limited.

But we are a resilient community and are adapting to challenges as they arise. Our school charism is ‘never see a need without doing something about it’.

When we heard the nearby Nuhaka School needed support, we stepped in to help. Nuhaka is a small community about 20 minutes out of Wairoa. Nuhaka School was closed by the Ministry of Education due to repairs needed from the flood damage.

We had a building project coming up, so we had cleared two classrooms. We called the diocese, as they own the buildings, to see if we could help the Nuhaka school community.

They gave approval and Nuhaka School joined us on our St Joseph’s School site on 6 March. We had a pōwhiri in our school church where we welcomed the Nuhaka whānau community. Nuhaka School also joined in with our fun activities on St Joseph’s Day, 22 March.

We see the Catholic Social Teaching Principle – to protect the poor and vulnerable displayed throughout our community.

We would like to thank everyone for the many prayers, putea, cards and donations we have received from our wider Catholic community and throughout New Zealand. The support has been overwhelming and we feel blessed.

St Joseph’s School Wairoa supported Nuhaka School community while Nuhaka School was repaired after flood damage. Photo: Supplied

Charles Ropitini at Mary of the Crossroads, cnr Swamp Rd and Taihape Rd, Ohama, Hastings.

Charles Ropitini, Catechist, Hastings Pastoral Area, Councillor, Māori Liaison: The force of water, mud and silt coming through the Omaha area was huge and took out fences, buildings, machinery and gravestones at the urupa at St Peter’s Anglican Church on the corner of Swamp Rd and Taihape Rd. Across the road, the statue of Our Lady of the Crossroads stands quietly in an encased clear frame. I came down the day after the cyclone fully expecting Mary to have been lost to the floods. But she hadn’t moved. This was noticed by many around. The Omaha Marae diagonally across the corner intersection from Mary has been a hub for many whānau displaced by Gabrielle, providing food, welfare, clothing and shelter. Every night there has been an ecumenical church service at the marae where everyone is welcome. It is hosted by the Anglicans, the Ratana give the prayers of the faithful, I have been involved with the readings and the Mormons, whose church is along the road, close the service. The service is full every night and many people have been coming from all around to offer prayers. It’s been important to come together as one. I think of Matthew 24:40 –‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

St Peter’s Anglican Church on the corner of Swamp Rd and Taihape Rd, is across the road from the Catholic grounds where Our lady of the Crossroads stands. The urupa in St Peter’s Church grounds was hit hard by the flood.

Melissa Paul,Wairoa Catholic Marae: On the morning of Tuesday 14 February, the whole Wairoa town and district woke up to the devastation of cyclone Gabrielle. The initial power cut, water restrictions, road closures were bad, but worst of all, the phone and internet communication lines were down. 

Whānau that live on North Clyde side of Wairoa were directly affected – 100 families either had their homes flooded or they live in areas that were evacuated. These whānau found refuge with other whānau members, Wairoa War Memorial Hall and Taihoa Marae. 

Our beautiful little church on our Catholic marae was swamped. Flooding and silt of up to a metre high entered all four buildings of our Tawhiti-a-Maru Marae. We were blessed the Marist community of the Society of Mary responded to the clean-up of St Theresa’s church immediately with the support of volunteers and whānau of the Latter Day Saints.

The clean-up continues. The photos by Pā Rob Devlin sm of last month’s working bee on the Feast of Annunciation show many hands make light work. 

We continue to work with the Palmerston North Diocese about insurance and we have received monetary and koha from local government, iwi, whānau and friends near and far. It has been humbling.

Fr Rob Devlin, parish priest, Wairoa: At the Annunciation Mary gave her YES to God. Her ‘Karanga’ welcomed God into our humanity.

On the Feast of the Annunciation last month, almost six weeks after the initial clean up from the flood, another working bee was held –  with Karanga, Waiata, Karakia, Popoporoaki – as the whānau of Tawhiti-a-Maru Catholic Marae and St Therese’s Church farewelled their sacred taonga from the devastated buildings to the warmth and safety of St Peter’s Parish Church across the south side of Wairoa’s town bridge.

Large precious carvings were gently removed from broken walls, lovingly cleaned, and began their short hīkoi to safety.

Karanga, Waiata and Karakia welcomed the transfer of these ancestral treasures from church and marae to another for safe keeping until the journey of reinstatement is completed.

And Mary set out as quickly as she could to meet the needs of others….