22 Feb 2023

Gisborne water crisis: Washing helpers 'literally taking a load off shoulders'

7:04 pm on 22 February 2023

Water is a sought-after resource in Gisborne where restrictions mean many on town supply are going without showers, and turning the washing machine on is a distant memory.

It has been more than a week since Cyclone Gabrielle tore a path through Tai Rāwhiti, damaging the city's water supply. Civil Defence said the rationing would be in place for at least another five days.

Those with tank water are stepping into the void, offering to do a spin and take a load off.

Looking after her four children at home, Jo McKay wanted to do something, anything, to help.

"I ended up taking some food and iceblocks around to a family that had been really affected and I saw this huge pile of washing that they were trying to dry out to stop it going mouldy. So I said to them 'I can do that for you'."

It was a welcome offer.

"I grabbed this bootload of wet, muddy washing and took it home and then once I unloaded it and looked at this massive pile I was like, wow, this is quite daunting, I bet there's a lot of people that are in my similar situation that want to be helping but are home based."

McKay put a call out on a local Facebook page and 25 people offered to do loads of washing with their tank water.

Together, they had done more than 50 loads.

"I set up a tub of water and just was stomping and trying to get as much of the silt and mud out. Mud permeates all the clothing, it's just phenomenal. I ended up scrubbing all the coat hangers as well, because it just goes everywhere."

Raipoia Brightwell and her family have been displaced by the flooding, their home by the river yellow stickered. They have since found a short-term rental up the road.

On the night of the cyclone, they fled to an emergency shelter and it was a timely escape.

"We came back at 6am and half of the house was in the water. I just couldn't imagine what we would've done if we'd stayed, we would have been the ones on the roof waiting to be rescued," Brightwell said.

Washing an impossible task, McKay and her volunteers took a load back to their houses - it took six people to do all the loads.

"In a time of water restriction, it was really hard, you're trying to make the most of the water you have, so when people volunteer to take away some of the clothes, oh the relief," Brightwell said.

She was doing what she could to save precious memories marred by the mud.

But neighbours were banding together.

"From day one, we had people just turning up with their brooms and saying how can I help. Perfect strangers that you see everyday walking their dogs or you wave out to, but never talk to, they were all there," Brightwell said.

Over the river in Gisborne, Andrew Bryant's house is drying out, with the help of fans donated by a local bouncy castle business, after being flooded.

"The night of the flood we bailed out over our fence down the end there into [a neighbour's] house and took shelter there because they've got a two-storey house."

With so much going on, he was thankful to have clean washing delivered.

"I thought that was really awesome that someone was able to do that out of the kindness of their heart."

The job was not done - McKay said anyone with tank water at home could reach out to friends and family who needed a load taken off.

"This feels lovely to be able to return all their clothes, washed and folded and the sense that I got from the families is that we were literally taking a load off their shoulders."

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