I remember standing on the back of a truck in my muddy Leo’s on a beautiful sunny day on the side of the road with a couple of cops and a couple of fellow trained Civil Defense Rescue people.
As I looked out over the Riwaka farmland, all I could see was river silt that was glittering with specs of gold in the sunshine. I remember thinking if there was a way of using a magnet to suck up all the gold dust that had flooded down the river and over the banks, inundating the house we had just emptied of muddy furniture, I could be wealthy. It was stunning and it was devastating.
Two days earlier it was a different story. I had been standing next to the house I was staying in, getting drenched in torrential rain on a hill overlooking a farm which was under at least 2 meters of water. The road next to my house had become a river. I wanted to go down to the farm to help the people whose homes were underwater try to recover their precious belongings. Unfortunately the torrent on the road was such that there was no way I could safely cross it. This was evidenced by an elderly person who drowned that morning trying to cross the road and lost their footing. I felt helpless, pacing up and down the hill trying to find a safe way across.
Other than losing all their furniture, all their food, all their photos and memories of good times gone by, their clothes, their cars and other material things (and their crops), the families on the farm were OK. They were hardy souls, a bit like the West Coasters. However, not everyone was the same.
On that sunny day and for a week afterwards, we worked tirelessly emptying muddy carpets (after digging 20 or 30cm of silt from them), furniture, bedding, appliances, food and other items. We tried to tell the residents to count their blessings, that they were still OK, which was easy to do with my own possessions being high and dry.
Many of them were devastated, some in shock and some just grateful that we were there to help them. None of them had expected the storm and the river to sweep right through their homes.
Cyclone Gita might come to nothing major, or it might become a serious storm. It’s great to see some people getting ready, keeping kids home from school, staying home from work if they don’t need to be there. It is also crazy to read about people still going to campgrounds in at risk areas. They obviously haven’t got first hand experience and what would be really frustrating would be if those people then need rescuing at the cost of looking after people who have taken reasonable step to make themselves and their properties safe.
Having been one of the rescuers in the past, I’d like to spare a thought to all the road crews, the linesmen, the emergency services and others who will be out selflessly in the wet (maybe even cold in some places), when they could be protecting their own families and properties. Where would we be without the ‘trained’ volunteers as well as the locals who just pitch in and do what is needed?
I hope everyone gets through this safely. That they have stocked up on all the essentials and are ready for the storm. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for Gita.
Finally I remember going to the local pub and having a beer with the locals. It was cool to see how the community rallied together and became stronger after the event. And I remember the gold flecks for miles, glittering in the sun as if there had never been a storm and the ground had always been flat and covered in silt.