16 Feb 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Growers appeal for support after businesses, homes destroyed

8:49 pm on 16 February 2023
Jerf Van Beek, Hawke's Bay grower

Jerf van Beek says the force of the river has carried away the bulk of his apple trees. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Hawke's Bay growers are pleading with the government for a recovery package after Cyclone Gabrielle turned vast swathes of fertile land into pulp.

One of New Zealand's fruit bowls, the region's orchards have been left devastated by the destruction of a storm that hit quickly and hit hard, potentially leaving a multi-million dollar hole in the industry.

Many have lost not just their businesses but also their homes.

Standing in front of a pile of trees that used to form part of his apple orchard, Jerf van Beek struggled to contain his emotions.

"This morning my wife and I ... we had a bit of a cry but we need to keep going and that's what we'll do.

"But I would say there will be times when it's all died down and all the help, because everybody's got day jobs to go, when we're on our own again it will really hit. Devastating at our age, 60ish, to have to start all over again."

That includes possibly rebuilding the house van Beek and his wife built themselves 20 years ago.

Their business, Riverside Cherries, was flattened by a torrent of water from the raging Ngaruroro River, which burst its banks and tore through growing operations near Hastings on Tuesday.

"So we've got 14 hectares of apples here and we've got another seven hectares of cherries and the apples are all flat on the ground or washed out, completely gone. There's only green grass left and the irrigation pipes sticking out of the ground.

"There's a mountain of apple trees behind me but there's far more, I don't know where they are. They've just gone down the road and with the force of the river they've just been taken away."

The cherries will probably grow again. However, in the meantime, Riverside Cherries has no income and will need to start the apple operation from scratch, costing millions.

"Nothing to salvage, absolutely nothing. We've just got to get bulldozers in, put it in one big heap and burn it and then we'll have a bare paddock and then we need to start again," van Beek said.

In Twyford, north-west of Hastings today, the extent of damage was clear - flattened trees and fences and fruit everywhere - on the roads and in the ditches.

SH2 just south of the closed bridge between Napier and Hastings. Apples are jammed between the cables where the water level used to be.

On SH2 just south of the bridge between Napier and Hastings apples are jammed between the cables where the water level used to be. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Catherine Wedd, National candidate for Tukituki and former director of New Zealand Apples and Pears, drove around for a look at what has been lost, just ahead of harvesting.

"So even yesterday when I came through here this was all flooded and now the water is receding but I mean look at these trees, they'd be about three years old, huge investment, you can see all the infrastructure and they're destroyed.

"It's cleanup mode. Usually at this time of year everyone would be out picking the apples. Instead they're now trying to just clean up all the mud and debris and everything else ... These trees are totally blown over."

Apples alone are a $1 billion export industry for New Zealand and most come from Hawke's Bay.

Hawke's Bay grower Leon Stallard - hit by Cyclone Gabrielle

Leon Stallard was up to his knees in water when RNZ visited. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

For some growers, such as Leon Stallard of Claremont Trust near Havelock North, it remained a waiting game.

The water was up to his knees and rising, he said. The rivers were so full the water did not know where to go.

Beekeeper Jeffrey Flanders from Hawke's Bay

Jeffrey Flanders says it is a massive disaster for his industry. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Beekeeper Jeffrey Flanders said his business, Flanders and Moffett, had 1700 beehives it could not get to yet, although he knew plenty of equipment had been washed away.

"It's just devastation and it's the unknown. You can't make bee boxes. You can't buy bee frames ... this gear doesn't come up on the shelf and turn up and you've got to have money. We've had a low crop, a low price and now a massive disaster."

Bostock New Zealand owner John Bostock

John Bostock says the region will need a lot of money to help with its recovery. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Bostock New Zealand owner John Bostock said assistance was required, although nobody knew yet how much.

"We do need some help, we need a recovery package support so we can help get Hawke's Bay moving again."

He said there had been an amazing response from the community offering help in the short-term.

Slash inquiry on the horizon

Forestry Minister and Napier MP Stuart Nash has acknowledged the problem of slash from forestry damaging land after Cyclone Gabrielle.

Tolaga Bay farmer Bridget Parker told RNZ on Wednesday forestry slash has caused a huge amount of damage to her farm yet again and she was furious about it. She said Nash needed to visit the region within the next week to answer to farmers.

But he would not be drawn on criticising the sector, saying an amount of slash would always be inevitable in severe weather events.

"My understanding it's about 40 percent from harvesting operations and the rest is indigenous," he said.

Nash said farming in the past was to blame for loads of silt pouring into Hawke Bay.

He confirmed he was backing an inquiry into land use on highly erodable soils in the Tairāwhiti district.

He said they had got three people suitable to lead the inquiry, but could not give a completion date.

National Emergency Management Agency advice:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you have evacuated, please stay where you are until you are given the all-clear to go home.
  • If you don't need to evacuate, support those who do by staying home, staying off roads and staying safe.
  • If you are not able to contact your whānau in the heavily affected areas go to Police 105 website and complete the inquiry form or phone 105 and remember to update if you reconnect through other means.
  • Throw away food and drinking water that has come into contact with floodwater as it is often contaminated and can make you sick.
  • If you are without power eat the food from your fridge first, then your freezer. Then eat the food in the cupboard or your emergency kit.
  • People should stay up to date with the forecasts from MetService and continue to follow the advice of civil defence and emergency services.
  • 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.

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