15 Feb 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Muriwai community grieves firefighter killed in slip

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 15 February 2023

The west Auckland community of Muriwai is reeling from the loss of a local firefighter, while also grappling with questions of where to live, and when they might be allowed back in their homes.

Jacco Foote lived beside some of the homes swept away in a landslide.

"We're about two houses down from two of the houses that got completely washed away by the slips," he said.

"One of my really good friends was living in one of them and they managed to escape.

"He was actually outside trying to divert water with a shovel away from his house and then he heard it give way and had to run.

"Luckily his partner ran as well and grabbed their two kids."

Foote said his own house appeared to be unscathed, although it was yet to be assessed.

"I got in there this morning - I wanted to grab my van and my tools because I'm a builder, and I figure there's going to be some houses and some retaining that needs building in the coming weeks.

"I want to be useful. I probably shouldn't have gone down there but I grabbed my stuff and got out."    

On Wednesday morning, a search team found the body of a volunteer firefighter who had been missing since Monday night.

This firefighter and another - who is currently in a critical condition in hospital - were assessing a home for flooding in Muriwai when the property was hit by another house that had collapsed.

Muriwai residents like Foote showed their support for the family of Craig Stephens, the firefighter still in hospital.

"He's got a lovely wife and young children, and his mother was here," Foote said.

"I saw them that night and they were doing pretty well to hold it together. But I would say they're still pretty worried."

Police established a cordon at the corner of Muriwai Rd and Motutara Rd, near the slip that trapped the firefighters.

Quinton Fisher lived on top of the hill at Motutara Rd, directly in front of a house that fell in this slip.

On Monday night, he woke to the sound of a landslide and immediately got his family out of their house.

"As we drove out our driveway, we got told to turn around and move to the other side because we needed to evacuate and as we did that, the other slide happened.

"It's been pretty horrific. There's lots of damage, and it's been a bit apocalyptic the last 48 hours or so."

Access to Muriwai remained tightly controlled while building inspectors carried out safety assessments on properties.

However, Fisher and his family were allowed in to collect a few essential belongings before heading on to their temporary lodgings.

"We're going to stay with some mates down in Muriwai Valley.

"We hope that they [building inspectors] will assess our property in the next two days, and get some power back there, then we'll see if we can help anyone in the community that's not as fortunate as us."

Geoff and Jackie Kindred lived down the bottom of the hill on Domain Cres.

Another landslide came hurtling through their property, sparing their house but sending their garage crashing into a neighbour's unit.
"We walked around the house in our ski jackets and pants and didn't know if we were safer in or out," Jackie said.

"In the end we went out, tried to get down our road, and there'd been a slip," Geoff said.

"So, we had to go back up the hill, down some steps which were pretty much like the Niagara Falls, and got out.

"This is at one o'clock in the morning; the winds were probably hitting 100 k's."

The Kindreds will stay with Jackie's mum in a retirement village while they wait to learn the fate of their home.

"We've been in our house for 30-odd years," Geoff said.

"We had it looking really good. The journey ahead is going to be pretty tough."

Geoff, formerly a builder, said it could be many months before their access was restored.

A statement from Auckland Transport also suggested a long road ahead, saying that the damage to West Auckland's roading network was the worst they had ever seen.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 75 roads were closed across Auckland, and Auckland Transport could not yet provide a timeframe for access to be restored to its western beaches, including Piha, Karekare, and Muriwai.

National Emergency Management Agency advice:
[LI] Put safety first. Don't take any chances. Act quickly if you see rising water. Floods and flash floods can happen quickly. If you see rising water do not wait for official warnings. Head for higher ground and stay away from floodwater.
[LI] Do not try to walk, play, swim, or drive in floodwater: even water just 15 centimetres deep can sweep you off your feet, and half a metre of water will carry away most vehicles.
[LI] Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater as it is often contaminated and can make you sick.
[LI] If you see a downed power line or damaged power equipment please stop, retreat and stay well clear.
[LI] Stay at home if it is safe to do so and have an evacuation plan in case your home becomes unsafe to stay in.
[LI] If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
[LI] People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services.
[LI] A National State of Emergency is in place for an initial period of seven days and applies to regions that have declared a local State of Emergency.