A Gisborne farmer who survived cyclone Bola 35 years ago says the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle is as bad as it gets.
Mark Harris said Bola and Gabrielle took different routes, but both caused widespread damage to the East Coast.
He now helps out Beef and Lamb NZ as an extension manager for the region and on Thursday hopped in a light aircraft to fly over back country from Central Hawke's Bay to East Cape.
During the flyover, Harris said he saw areas that suffered what he called "top end (Cyclone) Bola damage".
"Then it's graded down from that. Any damage is a disaster because we love our land, our whenua. So there are certain areas that I would say are Bola damage at the higher end," he said
"Now we know where the damage is, we can go touch down with a chopper and check we are getting it right and check with those communities what they think their needs are."
When Cyclone Bola hit in 1988, Harris was farming in the Haungaroa, behind Gisborne.
"We got smashed, so we were in pretty much the same situation, we couldn't go to Gisborne for three weeks because of access," he said. "So we just had to make a plan and do what we could."
Harris said his key message to those affected by Gabrielle was to look out for each other.
"Don't get isolated. Once you can interact with people, it makes it easier," he said.
"Let's hope we can get some support in to help those people working together."
He also encouraged people to make a plan, tick jobs off, and take it day-by-day.
"Take your time, don't get insular, and look after yourselves."