By Pam Ferla
“Absolutely marvellous” is how Tairua fire chief, Chris New, describes the actions of emergency response volunteers and locals following the devastation caused by cyclone Gabrielle last week.
There were flooded homes, fallen trees and “a few holes in roofs”, while residents coped with no power, food shortage, and some without water for nearly four days.
“Our station had no power or telephones, just a generator for radios and this was going about 90 hours and used up a lot of fuel. For us the main problem was getting fuel because the petrol station was shut as it also had no electricity. Our individual cellphone pagers were out and the fire siren was not going because it is 3-phase. We had one lady on an oxygen machine and we took her a spare generator and fuel to operate it. The boys went continuously from one incident to another.”
The brigade made 15 welfare checks to residents following concerns by people out of Tairua who could not make contact with a family member. Mr New said he was very impressed with the way the local police, Dylan Curtin, Fraser Simpson and Jenna Arnel, responded to the emergency.
“The emergency team at Pauanui and also our council contractors were marvellous. The people in the emergency management centre, based at St Francis Church were a huge support and provided food and essentials for the community. It was so heartening to see our shop owners providing pies and sausage rolls for our team, and everyone pulling together.
Adding to the drama was the beaching of the launch Herbert Levy, which broke its mooring and ended up stuck on a stopbank. Residents tied it to a tree and at high tide about 30 men turned up to heave-ho the vessel back in to the harbour. A huge pine tree and a magnificent pohutukawa were among the many trees down and blocking accesses, with the roar of chainsaws across the town and piles of damaged good in residents’ gardens as the clean-up began. “But I think Tairua got off lightly compared to other places. And when I heard of the deaths of two of our colleague volunteer firefighters I just felt sick.”
Mr New said he had a full crew responding to the situation because all the road closures meant people were still in town. Reflecting on this event, he said a lot of things were learnt, including the need for more generators in the town and a bigger one for the fire station.
Caption: Cyclone Gabrielle made a big impact on Tairua. The photo was taken at Pacific Harbour Motel soon after the worst of the weather went through.