14 Feb 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Rural Hawke's Bay residents scramble onto roofs to avoid flooding

10:33 pm on 14 February 2023
the small township of Fernhill west of Hastings after the Ngaruroro River burst its banks.

Fernhill, near Pakowhai, underwater. Photo: Supplied / Dawson Bliss

A Hawke's Bay man who spent hours stuck on his own roof says he has never seen anything like the flooding that hit Hawke's Bay thanks to Cyclone Gabrielle on Tuesday.

After causing havoc in the upper North Island overnight, Gabrielle moved east, lashing Tairāwhiti and Hawke's Bay.

Kevin McCormack lives on Gilligan Road in a rural settlement called Pakowhai, just north of Hastings. He and his wife were not the only ones who scrambled to safety when water levels started rising at about 8am.

Speaking to RNZ's Checkpoint that afternoon from the roof of his single-storey house, he described how he could see his neighbours seeking refuge on top of their two-storey home, as well as others hundreds of metres down the road.

"We weren't really happy about it," he said.

"We're wet, it's raining. We can see the helicopters working, but they look like they're working out of Clive and I think they've got their hands full… there's a lot of people they haven't got to yet."

Clive is just to the east of Pakowhai. Fernhill to the west was also inundated.

the small township of Fernhill west of Hastings after the Ngaruroro River burst its banks.

Fernhill on Tuesday. Photo: Supplied / Dawson Bliss

McCormack said being rural, and hearing "lots of banging and crashing" through the "very windy… wild night", he expected a "fair bit of damage", but nothing like this.

The water began rising about 8am, and he and his wife scrambled to the roof sometime between 10am and 11am. His wife had just been rescued by jetboat shortly before he spoke to Checkpoint.

"We've got a pretty high spot where we are, and the water is at the edge. There's four houses here, they're completely inundated. The orchard is underwater."

Pakowhai is located between two rivers - the Tūtaekurī and the Ngaruroro. Both have breached their banks.

There was a glimmer of hope about 1pm, McCormack said, when the floodwaters appeared to be receding - but then it rose quickly, up to 2m in as many hours.

"Unbelievable," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

A couple of police officers were waiting with him for the next free boat. Where to from there, he was not sure.

Hawke's Bay Civil Defence on Tuesday evening said it was unable to cope with the scale of the disaster, which was not limited to the Napier-Hastings region, but also further north at Wairoa.

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