19 Jun 2023

Disability care home still in need of repairs four months after Cyclone Gabrielle

7:05 am on 19 June 2023
Household Items piled up on a roadside

Flooding in Taradale on 16 February, 2023. Photo: Sally Murphy

Residents of a disability care home damaged by floods in Hawke's Bay survived a dramatic rescue, but some are still waiting to get back to their rooms.

As the Tūtaekurī River rose on 14 February, the inhabitants of Rowan House were driven to safety through the streets of Taradale on the back of a tow truck.

Now - four months after Cyclone Gabrielle - residents were living off-site, sharing sleeping quarters or using offices as bedrooms.

Enliven disability service manager Andrew Wordsworth said when the floodwater rose, it happened fast.

"When the river overflowed, it went from there just being a little bit of surface flooding outside on the road, to being knee-deep current within about three minutes."

The home had its own vans to transport its 22 residents, but those were quickly in knee-deep water.

Wordsworth said the solution presented itself in the form of a tow truck, which had been turned around at the bridge and was now parked nearby.

"I just said, 'Look, the only way we're getting the guys out of here is on the back of that tow truck.'"

The truck was commandeered by police, and the residents lifted onto the back. It took two trips, but everyone made it safely to an evacuation centre.

In the aftermath, they found nine of the 22 bedrooms had been affected by the flood, and Wordsworth said there was $500,000 worth of damage in one four-bedroom unit alone.

But it was rated only category one - meaning "repair to previous state is all that is required to manage future severe weather risk event" - and all residents were now back on-site but one.

They were feeling a little cramped.

"Where we would usually only have 12 people living in our main building, I think we have 15 at the moment," Wordsworth said. "That's not a normal living environment for anybody.

"We're trying to stage the work so we can keep as many people living there as possible."

Insurance would cover most of the work, but there was a deficit of $100,000, on top of $40,000 that had already been contributed by donors and the Hawke's Bay Foundation.

"We have to upgrade everything to the current standard," Wordsworth said. "We're also having to think of things like alternative power supplies and emergency water storage - all this stuff that we hadn't considered before."

They were also taking the opportunity to upgrade many of the facilities. In the kitchen, for example, new benches would be able to be raised and lowered for wheelchair users.

Resident Duncan Pollock, who uses a wheelchair, said the proposed changes would make a huge difference, as would the peace of mind that came with knowing there were emergency water and power supplies on-hand.

Fellow resident Evelyn Churchill said living without electricity for nearly a week had been difficult. She and flatmate Vicki Jones had seen two of their rooms flooded, and their third flatmate moved into the main building.

Churchill said as her bed was electrically raised and lowered, it was a hard job for her support workers to get her into it without power.

They agreed it was good to be home, though. Pollock said Rowan House allowed them to live independently, while supported. "Home is where the heart is."

Henry Nancarrow was the only resident unable to return to his room at Rowan House after Cyclone Gabrielle caused damaged to the care home.

Henry Nancarrow was the only resident unable to return to his room at Rowan House after Cyclone Gabrielle caused damaged to the care home. Photo: RNZ / Kate Green

Henry Nancarrow was the only resident unable to return to his room at Rowan House.

"When we got back to Rowan that night, I had to stay in my mate's room," he said. "My house got destroyed in the floods."

He was now living at another home, also run by Enliven, a company which provides services for older people and those with disabilities, through Presbyterian Support in nearby Havelock North - and it had its upsides, he said, like being closer to his family.

Before her heath a year ago, Henry's partner Candice also lived at Rowan House. Now, her brother-in-law Tiwai Wilson was stepping up to help raise money.

He was recently one of three recipients of the Iron Māori Toa scholarship, which included race entry for the upcoming triathlon in December and a six-month training programme set to kick off on Monday.

"As part of that journey, [I'm] trying to raise awareness of the needs at Rowan House, also celebrating Candice's life as well, and hoping to raise some funds to go towards this rebuild," he said.

He had started a Givealittle page, which had so far raised nearly $3000, all of which would be going toward Rowan House for the rebuild.

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