Community reflections – a year on from Cyclone Gabrielle

Published on 4th Mar, 2024

WelCom March 2024

Throughout the Hawke’s Bay, Wairoa and Tai Rāwhiti districts, on 14 February 2024 thousands turned out for dawn hīkoi, services, karakia and community events to remember the devastation Cyclone Gabrielle caused one year ago – turning lives, livelihoods and homes upside down – and the ongoing impact it has had on people. Members of affected parish and school communities share their reflections below. 

A dawn hīkoi in Wairoa marked the first anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle as over 250 people journeyed along the path where the flooded waters engulfed the land a year ago. They reflected on the past year, progress made and challenges still ahead. Photo: Wairoa District Council Facebook

Wairoa – Br Denis O’Brien sm, assistant to parish

Wairoa is a town of two halves, south of the river to the sea was virtually untouched by the flooding that inundated the northern side of the town, North Clyde. But all were impacted by the isolation caused by lack of any means of communication and power for days as well limited road access out for weeks. Since the cyclone there have been many road closures after heavy rain and people worried by threats of rain.

Over two hundred houses are still red stickered in North Clyde, most uninsured, uncertainty over future land classification and the slow tedious work on trying to rehabilitate all these.

Our marae, Tawhiti A Maru, is looking at a complete rebuild and work needs to be done on our church St Theresa’s [at the marae]. While we would like remediation to start, there is a long process of plans, resource consents and applications for funding to do the work. So, our Catholic Māori community will be without a home for quite some time.

Schools are finding children have been affected by the experience of the flooding and displacement from their homes. Many of the families that have lost their homes are living with other families and that brings stress of its own on both families.

Hastings – Fr Marcus Francis, Parish Priest, The Catholic Parish of Hastings

The cyclone which ravaged the East Coast and Hawke’s Bay in February 2023 fortunately did not affect suburban areas of the CPH. Nevertheless, individuals and families living in those areas adjacent to rivers suffered the loss of property and were affected physically and emotionally by the ordeal.

Jake Smith from St John’s College illustrated this powerfully with his Junior Prepared Speech from the O’Shea Shield [2023] at a combined Ash Wednesday and remembrance of the cyclone service at St John’s College. His testimony of the life-threatening flood, courage of rescuers and sense of gratitude clearly resonated with the staff and students.

Mike and Sharon Flynn, regular parishioners at CPH, also had their house ruined in the cyclone. Mike, rather than dwelling on the loss and the ongoing struggle to rebuild, speaks of the witness given by the community to reaching out. This was not centrally organised but arose spontaneously: many phone calls from fellow parishioners offering both practical and prayerful support, the delivery of food and beverage for people assisting in the cleanup, an offer of assistance from teaching staff from St John’s College involving students, local St Vincent De Paul overwhelming financial support to remediate essential infrastructure to the property, then assistant priest [Fr Trung Nguyen] helping with the cleanup, ongoing genuine enquiries as to progress of remediation and continued prayers.

As a result, one year on, much remains to be done but the fruit of charity and solidarity are also manifest.

Napier – Maria Neville-Foster, Principal, Sacred Heart College 

Sacred Heart College was filled with aroha as students came together to commemorate the first anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle. The cyclone devastated the region, with a number of students, teachers, and the wider school community personally impacted.

The Napier Community Commemoration Service at the Soundshell, which I attended with our student leaders, was a poignant occasion where we stood together as a region to remember and reflect.

We acknowledged the deep losses felt across our communities, including whānau who lost loved ones, and those whose lives, livelihoods, homes and communities were impacted.

Back at school, a minute of silence was held, followed by a prayer service and shared reflections.

The day coincided with Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us when we help those in need, we help Christ. This was evident last year, when those in need received ‘aroha’ from around the country, particularly from the Catholic school community and from the Palmerston North Diocese, which we remember with gratitude.

As a community we continue to support those impacted from the cyclone. While the bridges are fixed, and we can move freely between cities we recognise the hearts and minds of some members in our community remain broken.

I hope the remembrance day will become a day of love moving forward and always be a day of love.

Central Hawke’s Bay – Donna Te Amo, Parish Secretary, Holy Trinity Parish

A year on … it has been a time of emotions, reflections, contemplation, frustration, sadness, anger but also a sense of hope.

Our small rural community was impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle in ways we would not have imagined 13 months ago.

The small community of Porangahau was affected the most with people losing their homes and businesses as the floods washed away their possessions and memories. Waipawa’s river burst its banks taking with it homes and affecting businesses. Farms and rural properties lost stock, fences and land.

Our people came together to help each other out in their time of need – rescuing those who did not have a chance to escape the rising river levels, the removal of silt and mud, cleaning properties and businesses, food donations, donations of clothing and furniture, insurance claims and guiding people through the process of moving out of homes and into temporary accommodation.

We are considered the lucky ones, as we did not lose anyone to this disaster. We thank those officials and community members who worked tirelessly during those months after the cyclone and who continue to do so. I think this whakatauki sums it up perfectly.

He waka eke noa, kia eke panuku, kia eke Tangaroa
We are all in this waka together, through our efforts, we will succeed.

Hastings – George Rogers, Principal, St John’s College

One year on and life for many is still filled with uncertainty. On 14 February, we recognised the anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle and it is evident feelings are still raw for many. One student who delivered a speech last year at the O’Shea Shield competition shared that with us during the service.

Unrelated to the cyclone, there will be upcoming road closures for ten days, which have a significant impact on transport for our staff and students from Napier to Hastings; this reminds me of the difficulties we faced for much of last year. It was very stressful for the entire community.

That being said, it is great to be back at school, and to see the students and staff settling in to a new academic year. In many ways this reflects a new beginning for us all.

We are now able to experience events that were cancelled last year, and through these experiences, we are getting back to what is deemed to be normal. We will never forget the impact the cyclone had on our community, we will never lose sight of those who continue to be impacted, but we will remain strong knowing we are able to navigate through difficult times as a community.

Funds are still open for people to apply for financial assistance – contact Nick Wilson for more information.

On 13 February 2024, the eve of the Cyclone Gabielle commemorations, Bishop John Adams wrote a pastoral letter of prayer to those in the Diocese of Palmerston North impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Read his letter here.

The post Community reflections – a year on from Cyclone Gabrielle first appeared on Archdiocese of Wellington.


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