16 Apr 2024

Search for Joseph Ahuriri: 'We all hope something is found'

7:09 am on 16 April 2024
Joseph Ahuriri, 40, went missing during Cyclone Gabrielle, after leaving home in Gisborne on 13 February heading to Napier.

Ahuriri was last seen when Cyclone Gabrielle hit early on 14 February last year. Photo: Supplied via NZ Police

A woman who lives near a beach being searched over the disappearance of Gisborne man Joseph Ahuriri says she hopes it will result in closure for his whānau.

Ahuriri was last seen refuelling his white Toyota Hilux at the Waitomo petrol station in Bay View, just north of Napier, when Cyclone Gabrielle hit early on 14 February last year.

There has not been any sign of him since.

But police and excavators on Monday began digging up the beach north of Napier, near the Esk River mouth, as part of their investigation into his disappearance.

Whirinaki resident Lynn Noanoa told RNZ she was walking her dogs on the beach about 8am on Monday when she saw a policeman putting up a cordon.

"I did say to him, 'we're a bit curious', and he said, 'yes, I bet you are'. He said 'we're just looking for Joseph'."

The scene was a hive of activity, with police officers and people in high-visibility gear, as well as two diggers, said Noanoa.

"They've dug a really, really big hole," she said.

"We could see the diggers, see lots of people, busy, coming and going, and yeah, it was all day."

The Whirinaki community hoped Ahuriri's whānau would soon get some answers, said Noanoa.

"We all hope that something is found - his car, him - just so that the family gets closure."

The search would continue on Tuesday, police said.

Late last year, police and GNS Science searched the Eskdale area with a magnometer drone system - which can identify large metallic objects buried underground.

GNS was reviewing the results, and police were expecting to receive them last month. But they would not say whether the current search was related to those findings.

Ahuriri - a father of eight - had been trying to head back to Gisborne from Napier, but his family previously said they feared his ute was washed away by the floodwaters.

Last year, police searched Whakatu, Clive, Esk Valley, the Napier-Taupō road, State Highway 5 and State Highway 2 for the 40-year-old.

Police divers and personnel from the Navy's dive and hydrographic unit, HMNZS Matataua, also searched the coastline near Esk River.

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