Community spirit to the fore in unprecedented weather

The floods of Anniversary Weekend and the ferocious gales and driving rain associated with Cyclone Gabrielle really knocked Franklin for six. 

Roads were closed, especially on the Āwhitu Peninsula, due to numerous landslides and slips; lines were down with thousands of people stranded without power; cropping and horticulture land was underwater and crops went to waste; and lots of families faced the unwanted task of having to clean up after floodwaters invaded their homes and damaged property and possessions.

Sadly, an Onewhero resident lost their life. Three other people were lucky to survive when the bach where they were staying fell 15 metres down the cliff at Orua Bay. Were it not for the fast-acting local emergency responders, plus some willing volunteers and residents, the outcome could have been much worse.

The Anniversary Weekend floods caught everyone out. No one expected the tremendous amount of rainfall that fell in such a short period of time. Low-lying areas, such as around Otaua, on the Puni Flats, and close to the Waikato River, suffered extensive flooding.

Sadly, an aged-care facility in Pukekohe was flooded out, and its vulnerable residents had to be evacuated by emergency services overnight. That event alone could have had fatal consequences.

It concerns me that Auckland Emergency Management failed to support the Franklin district following the January floods. While emergency evacuation centres were set up in west, south and north Auckland, there were none established here.

Likewise, the emergency alert issued as an SMS to people’s cellphones by Auckland Emergency Management was received by some in our region, but not others, which is very disappointing. This is an issue I will be raising with Mayor Wayne Brown in the future.

Thankfully, we were far more prepared for when Cyclone Gabrielle tore through, with numerous emergency alerts ahead of the storm, high wind and rain warnings from Metservice, and reminders from Civil Defence to be prepared.

Auckland had already extended its state of emergency, established after the Anniversary Weekend floods, and thanks to the efforts of local councillor Logan Soole, community hubs were promptly set up in Pukekohe and Waiuku. Tāhuna Pa Marae at Waiuku opened its doors to offer a safe, dry place to stay plus warm food, as did Te Kura Kaupapa O Te Puaha at Port Waikato.

I spent much of my time visiting affected residents and local businesses around Waiuku and on the Āwhitu Peninsula. I saw many people and local organisations who stepped up to help – from providing a bed for the night and a hot meal, to helping with the clean-up, to providing trucks and tractors to help move stock and clear rotting crops, from removing rubbish and other debris from our waterways and beaches, to cutting back fallen trees. These are our true local heroes.

Our emergency volunteer groups went out of their way to help, particularly the fire brigades, St John emergency services, and surf lifesaving groups, who worked tirelessly throughout the ordeal. These groups – mostly volunteers – selflessly took time away from their own families to help and support our wider community.

A shout-out also to the crews from Counties Energy who faced the extraordinarily difficult task of restoring power to thousands of affected properties in the fastest time possible.

It is easy to say that clearing drains, parks, waterways and beaches should be done by the council, but we all need to take responsibility for our wellbeing. Do your bit as best you can. Look out for and support one another. Our communities are so powerful when everyone pulls together.