The following is the 6,100-word (very long) original draft of my piece that The Spinoff very professionally trimmed down to a more readable 4,000 words and printed as their Sunday Essay on 5 March 2023 as “Napier in the Dark”.
Thanks to Jolisa Gracewood and Toby Morris for the encouragement and advice to send it in and The Spinoff’s Editor, Madeleine Chapman, for agreeing to commission the piece.
The rain chases me into my car.
I left for work at 4am on the morning of what could later be called “Cyclone Eve”. It was dark and the weather was fine. I could hear the sea roaring off in the distance – not unusual, considering Cyclone Gabrielle was approaching the north-east coast of New Zealand.
But as I closed the gate with the car idling at the curb, I heard another sound.
This was closer than the sea. And getting closer still.
Then I see it – The glow of the bulb three streetlights away is suddenly blurred by a fog of heavy rain, then two lights away, then right next door.
I jump into the car, slam the door shut and buzz the windows up just as the squall hits my car broadside. Sheets of wind-driven rain lash the car as I drive to work through Marewa and Pandora, making vision difficult.
Rain is intermittent as I spend the next few hours at work. Gabrielle’s arrival was forecast weeks ago and management have engaged a cyclone action plan whereby staff at our site, just north of the Esk River, are to leave work by 4pm Monday and those who can are expected to work from home on Tuesday.
As the weather in Napier hasn’t improved and the bulk of my work is done by 8am, I leave earlier still to take my nine-year-old daughter to school in the rain.
Oddly, while all the city’s high schools have already announced over the weekend that they would be closed on Monday and Tuesday, many primary schools still run as normal on Monday.
School run done, and home to work from my couch as reasonably persistent rain falls outside. We keep a cautious eye on the creek across the road, which almost spilled over in the disastrous floods of November 2020. It’s up, but not by much.
So far, so good.
School pick-up is unremarkable in reasonably steady rain, but the wind has started picking up. It escalates even further in as Gabrielle nears.
The trees in our front yard twist and bend but remain upright and intact. Across the road on the creek reserve several branches have fallen from the willows and other trees.
We hunker down and go to bed, the falling rain barely audible over the sound of the wind.
I wake early and do some paperwork remotely as the rain and wind’s severity just keeps elevating outside, peaking around dawn.
I am keeping an eye on social media to see what is happening weather-wise around the region. Lots of trees are down, lots of rivers are up.
The Esk River has broken its banks, and the already rather feeble Esk River bridge, which I have written of before, is allegedly damaged.
Not long after 7am I lose working from home connectivity. Not unusual, as losing power at work would naturally cut off remote access.
I see pictures of Esk Valley on Facebook/Twitter. It’s no longer a valley, it’s ALL Esk River.
I learn later that by the time I lost connectivity my entire work site is under about two meters of water.
Other reports start coming in.
The Puketapu Bridge over the Tutaekuri River is damaged (we learn later that it has gone completely).
This bridge is (WAS) about ten meters above the regular height of the river. At intermediate school, we conducted nature studies underneath it, measuring river water for clarity and speed. We measured how fast it was flowing by timing how long it took to float tennis balls downstream a given distance in a controlled situation.
But this situation is anything but controlled.
A Facebook friend posts that the Tutaekuri river has overflowed its banks near Waiohiki Bridge, by the Pettigrew Green Arena. It flows into the EIT Te Pukenga campus, the area surrounding Waiohiki Marae across the river and into the streets of Taradale.
Taradale is flooding!
My In-laws, who live in Howard Road – the last cross-street between Murphy Road and Taradale’s main arterial route of Gloucester St – had become increasingly concerned about the river’s height throughout the morning watching social media updates, so they come to our place “for a visit” around 9am, just as the evacuation notice is given. They see the river water coming down Gloucester Street towards them as they head east to our house with police and buses going the opposite direction to evacuate people.
We lose power before they arrive.
Redclyffe Substation, which provides Napier’s power from Wairaki in Taupo is underwater.
The Substation is on the banks of the Tutaekuri River, on Springfield Road out past Taradale and the EIT campus towards Napier’s Transfer Station (the city’s old rubbish tip) and Puketapu, in the foothills beyond.
When I was in primary school my dad worked for the NZED (New Zealand Electricity Department) before Rogernomics filleted, gutted and asset-stripped it to sell to private interests. He took us to Redclyffe on the way to or from the dump one day. We sat in the control room – it had a very 60s-70s civil servant aesthetic, even in the late 80s – and looked out through big windows at the mass of transformers and power lines corralled in meters-high chain-link and barbed wire beyond.
The defensive fences are there for a reason – millions of volts buzz just outside the window. Dad’s friend, who was the operator on duty, warned that anyone who went outside into the caged area risked being “instantly fried”.
But millions of litres of water flooding down the Tutaekuri river don’t care about fences of electric volts.
Power goes out and a city goes dark.
It’s not just power that leaves Napier in the dark.
About four hours after losing mains power, the city’s cell towers, running on back-up batteries, start dropping out – and a society so inseparable from its cell phones and internet access loses connection with itself and the rest of the world.
With the networks down and cellular devices straining to get a signal, phone batteries start running dry and dying across the city by the end of the day.
Napier started life on and around what was at the time an island: Mataruahou, later known as Napier Hill, where the settlement grew into a town and then a city.
In February 2023, it reverts to being an island again. The flooding Esk River to the north and Tutaekuri and Ngaruroro Rivers to the south cut off all state highway access to the city, and almost all communication links are broken.
Along with Coromandel, Tairāwhiti and a number of other regions where Gabrielle’s force is being felt the worst, Hawke’s Bay declares a State of Emergency midmorning on Tuesday, and soon afterwards, a National State of Emergency is also declared, but many of those under the state of emergency only learn of this on transistor radios and car stereos, listening to RNZ National Radio and some, but not all, of the region’s many commercial radio stations.
RNZ: The National Broadcaster does its national duty
. The Morning Report presenters and Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon are across the flooding coverage speaking with reporters and officials where and when they can contact them.
The Hits HB: Based in Napier, local breakfast pair “Adam and Megan” are on air thanks to generator power for an extended period, not just the usual few hours of their breakfast show.
The Breeze HB: The Breeze’s breakfast pair of “Martin and Jacquie” and on-air boss Justin Rae (apparently, they have no other on-air staff either?) are also on extended hours providing updates, information and interviews when and how they can.
A very “civil” Civil Emergency
With my in-laws temporary evacuees at our house, we hear from neighbours that Pak n Save Napier is open with generator power, so my mother-in-law, her sister (who happens to be visiting form Australia) and I gingerly make our way there – no power equals no traffic lights and Hawke’s Bay drivers are far from the best in optimal conditions, let alone emergencies – to acquire some supplies,
It appears around a quarter of Napier are doing the same.
It’s organised chaos.
The bare minimum is understandably operating – Lights, checkouts and, thankfully in a cashless society, Eftpos.
Freezers and chillers are no longer freezing or chilling and have largely been emptied or shuttered.
Everyone is stressed, but this is also a very “civil” Civil Emergency.
Queues are very long, but orderly. People say please and thank you and are helping each other.
Tension and stress are evident, but everyone seems to realise we are all in this together.
Along with the queue for the checkouts there is also a queue for Lotto, just not as extensive.
We make it home safely in time for lunch with a hint of blue sky between occasional showers the in-laws go back to see if they can access to residential Taradale.
They set off and due to the communications black-out we don’t hear from them immediately. We assume they made it home safely. They confirm the next day they did, though Civil Defence’s text notification for the all-clear doesn’t reach them until hours after the actual all clear is given.
We go over to our neighbours’ house to utilise their gas bottle and hob to boil up some two-minute noodles and broccoli for dinner.
They are fostering two puppies, whom my daughter absolutely adores and spends the time playing and running around with them.
There is some light in dark times.
From early evening news reports on the radio, it appears most of urban Napier has gotten off relatively lightly. While still without power or communications, our drinking water is safe and secure, and remains so for the duration of the emergency. To our north, Wairoa and Gisborne aren’t so lucky. Due to damage to their water system Gisborne’s supply will almost completely run out just as the Navy arrives with filtration equipment and suppliers a few days later.
We move our mattress into the living room, so all three of us can sleep close together in the powerless dark.
Our day of disaster ends with the setting of the sun.
I am up just before the sun and into the car to listen to our one guaranteed source of information – the radio. I periodically turn the car on and leave it running in the driveway to refresh the battery and occasionally get some charge in my phone.
Newstalk ZB: has taken over Radio Hauraki’s Hawke’s Bay FM frequency. A smart, informative move. But when I tune in, Mike Hosking is moaning from his Auckland studio about unemployed people in Bay of Plenty. Seriously?
There will be more Hawke’s Bay coverage later in the day when the actual talkback part of the network opens to callers and texters, but for now, Napier’s lack of power and coverage still make for a giant black hole of information.
The Hits HB: Is off the air. According to ZB the station’s generator has run out of diesel and finding supply/fuel pumping capabilities is obviously very difficult.
The Breeze HB: The breakfast pair and “J-Rae” are still on air. Martin and Justin will be on air for 13 hours today – a mammoth effort in such conditions! Not that they have anywhere else to go – Both live in Napier and, with all bridges currently closed, they are trapped in Hastings, unable to return home.
RNZ: The forces of nature that are Kim Hill and Kathryn Ryan are raging like Tuesday’s winds. When a spokesperson from Transpower, New Zealand’s national electricity infrastructure company, says that Redclyffe is still underwater and restoring power to Napier could take two weeks, Ryan’s shocked response is like the crack of a lightning bolt. Kim Hill’s pen clicks with the speed of an anemometer in a tornado as she grills officials.
The Rock: Simulcast Auckland jocks are jockulating obliviously.
With such limited communications and no power, the repeated phrase “check out our Facebook page / this website for more information” on radio becomes torturous.
The effects of Gabrielle’s flooding have yet to cease causing damage a day later. The rain has stopped but the sheer volume of water still coming down the regions rivers hasn’t, causing residents of the low-lying Napier suburb of Te Awa to be ordered to evacuate when there is another breach of the Tutaekuri river, closer to the sea this time, inundating the Awatoto industrial area, Napier’s sewage treatment plant, and golf course before heading towards the neighbouring suburb where our daughter’s best friend lives. Her family safely evacuate to a centre at Napier’s McLean Park.
I see pictures of Te Awa streets later that look almost identical in almost identical parts of Napier South to the scenes after the 2020 floods.
We go to check on my in-laws in Taradale mid-morning and we just miss them as they have gone to check on my sister-in-law.
No comms means all cars.
The sheer volume of urban traffic is quite amazing, but also concerning. With no power there are few to no petrol stations open, meaning fuel tanks will start running as dry as cell phone batteries if people don’t limit travel.
Despite Hawke’s Bay drivers not being the most diligent at the best of times, and lots of traffic combined with no traffic lights, we see the aftermath of only one intersection crash. Most of Napier’s main arterial route intersections normally governed by traffic lights are quickly transformed into roundabouts once road crews have been out with cones. There is more giving way and indicator use in these days of blackout than entire previous years.
Taradale’s western suburban side looks like footage of Christchurch’s post-quake liquefaction in 2011.
The Tutaekuri’s overflow is everywhere and unmissable, with several centimeters of silt and mud across the streets, clogging gutters and evidently in some homes.
The smell of wet carpet is unmistakable.
We venture to Greenmeadows New World for supplies on the way home. There appear to be long queues outside, but they are all people just trying to connect to the store’s free Wi-Fi.
Access to the supermarket is easy, but the queue for the checkouts goes around the entire shop and then some. While those outside @ others on social media, those inside form the same symbol in a giant, orderly human-and-trolley conga line.
Everyone is still so calm and civil. No panic buying. Politely giving access to others and moral support to the staff, who must wonder just what the hell is happening. They too smile, but there is a look of tiredness and shock in many eyes.
A staff member stacking produce says “there is always someone out there worse off than you are” – a concept I am all too familiar with.
Despite some essential products already being sold out (eggs, toilet paper, tinned baked beans and spaghetti) and the freezer/chiller sections blocked off and being emptied a day after their power was lost, we manage to get everything we need.
While we treat ourselves to a block of Whittakers chocolate, many trolleys appear to contain dozens of cans or bottles of beer. Can’t really blame them, to be honest.
Later in the day, we reconnect with the in-laws for dinner. They need yet more supplies, so I go to Pak n Save in my old neighborhood of Tamatea.
Again, there are rows of people seeking Wi-Fi access outside.
Inside the shop it’s like Christmas Eve – not celebratory, of course, but that same level of urgency. The supermarket’s generators provide light, electricity, and working chillers.
For a moment you could have forgotten it was the modern Dark Ages outside.
The first deaths are confirmed on the radio during dinner, including a child in Eskdale, which my daughter overhears. You naturally want to shelter your children from death, doom and destruction, but I also think she needs at least a little exposure to it to acclimatize to life’s perils.
Inspired by those alcohol-laden New World trolleys, I liberate a few short-dated beers from my father-in-law’s now room temperature beer fridge with his permission.
Others won’t be so polite. On the way home we pass a local liquor store, using its delivery vans to barricade the big glass windows at the front of the shop. It won’t work: that night they are broken into and burgled.
It won’t be the last occasion of burglary or looting, with security systems down due to the power outage. Police presence will ramp up in the city and we will have the “Eagle” helicopter circling over our city regularly for the next few evenings and nights.
The shine is coming off the Civil Emergency’s civility.
We empty the contents of our fridge into the bin.
The coastal route between Napier and Hastings via Clive along State Highway 51 reopened late yesterday to emergency traffic and essential travel, but with speed restrictions and stop-go points along the way. It closes for a time again amidst safety checks to the bridges.
Many Napier people have self-evacuated to Hastings to be with friends, family, or just to get fuel and power for charging devices. Some are trapped there overnight when the road temporarily closes again.
The queue of vehicles attempting to head out of Napier stretches along Marine Parade and George’s Drive, but they’re not getting very far.
We’re staying put despite some anxiety starting to creep in about fuel and food supply levels.
Morning Media watch:
If every media network had to donate $5 for every time I hear the grammatical ulceration of “the Hawke’s Bay” (it’s “Hawke’s Bay”, no “the”) during this emergency, recovery efforts would be flooded with cash, not water and silt.
Newstalk ZB: Hosking is celebrating the resignation of Scottish PM Nicola Sturgeon and playing political soundbites of some US Republican presidential hopeful decrying the evils of socialism.
Not for the first time I wonder how could any media network allow itself to be cuckolded by a handful of opinionated announcers radicalised by conservative capitalistic cant?
The Hits HB: Is back on the air. Content is much the same as The Breeze. Spark supplies their communications, so they have better phone / text coverage and access to the internet than the majority of Napier it appears. They don’t seem to get that, no, we still can’t check your Facebook post, or link to that website.
The Breeze HB: Martin, Jacquie and Justin are still doing the mahi. Martin and Justin managed to get back to Napier and see their families last night. The emotional toll is understandably starting to show. We hear that full power connectivity for Napier could still be up to two weeks away. The news hits hard.
RNZ: Corrin Dann and Kim Hill are still doing what Morning Report does best – asking hard questions and getting answers. While Transpower still says full power could be weeks away for Napier the spokesman for Hawke’s Bay power provider Unison’s back-pedalling of the statement could just about generate enough power to light a small suburb. Unison is already working on a way to essentially hotwire Napier’s power grid to Hastings’ which is more secure and fed from the south.
The Rock: The Auckland jocks are still jockulating obliviously <Click!> There’s some power saved!
I crack one of my father-in-law’s beers while listening to updates not long after lunch.
We don’t need the radio to know there’s a lot going on today – sirens are constant throughout the day.
We live one of the main access roads to the Civil Defence centre based at the Napier Fire Station and see some, but not all the emergency vehicles going past. Fire engines mainly, but other rescue vehicles as well. A convoy of four-wheel-drives pass our house towing trailers stacked with Surf Rescue IRBs (Inflatable Rescue Boats) heading AWAY from the beaches. It’s all we need to know that things haven’t improved much.
Helicopters have been droning back and forth overhead for the last few days, too. The big RNZAF NH90s make a notably deeper “thud-thud-thud” as they fly overhead.
I give an excited “whoop!” when an Air Force C-130 Hercules passes over Napier, as I’ve been hoping airlifted supplies would start streaming in soon. It’s just doing reconnaissance and the bulk of defence force emergency supplies will, in fact, come via sea on board Royal New Zealand Navy vessels that start arriving on Saturday later news bulletins tell us.
There is even a privately-owned Sikorsky Blackhawk – a rare sight in New Zealand. We later learn it’s here to help re-establish power with its heavy-lift capabilities.
We spend most of our day at home, go for the occasional walk around the block, and visit the puppies next door.
I establish some degree of communication by borrowing a Spark cell phone from our neighbour. I text a friend in Christchurch to get updates and let people know we’re OK.
Vodafone is going to lose a region of customers after this.
We help our neighbours clear out their freezer by going over for a BBQ that evening. Our typically finicky nine-year-old daughter discovers a new favourite food in honey soy chicken kebabs.
Small bits of normality in abnormal times.
We listen to damage reports and updates on the radio during dinner.
We still have no real idea of the extent of this disaster three days after it began – and we’re at the centre of it!
With the speed the media world cycles through news, there will be events and images from the worst of the initial flooding that some Napier people will likely never see or know about.
We read in the twilight and go to bed with the sun again, but I wake up at 1am and lie there wide awake for some time. This will be something that continues over the next few days.
Is it Friday? Who can tell?!
Up before dawn. Still no power.
But after going social media cold-turkey for three days, I finally have limited data connectivity on my phone again!
I scroll and scroll in the early morning darkness as my daughter and wife sleep and the load on local cell towers isn’t high enough to lose signal or drain my chronically low battery.
Looks like I inadvertently caused a bit of panic yesterday: The last tweet I sent, about Taradale flooding on Tuesday morning, was stuck in the ether when the networks went down and wasn’t posted… until data coverage was restored on Thursday afternoon. Luckily several people quickly picked up on the glitch, assuring everyone it was old news.
I also have an email from a TVNZ Breakfast producer (from Tuesday) and a Twitter direct message from an Australian New York Times reporter (from yesterday), both requesting insight into the situation in Napier. But the cyclone’s news cycle is spinning so fast that when I finally have sufficient phone coverage to see their messages and send a reply, I never hear back from them.
Lots of messages of support flow in, but we don’t need it – those in the areas surrounding Napier do.
I finally get to see some of the pictures of devastation.
It looks like the entire Esk Valley is buried under one to two metres of silt and mud. From aerial photos, my workplace appears to be a big, wet, muddy mess. We won’t be going back there any time soon.
Bridges are out everywhere – Puketapu, Waiohiki, Brookfields Bridge, linking Meeanee with Pakowhai in between the Tutaekuri and Ngaruroro rivers. All gone.
Aside from the wholesale destruction in Esk Valley, State Highway 5 – the Napier-Taupo Road that runs through the valley – looks to be wiped off the map and hillsides in several places further up towards Te Pohue and Taupo
The rail bridge at Awatoto – the main East Coast line – is gone.
This is going to require engineering and construction on a national scale. Reinstating the Ministry of Works really looks to be a valid concept. Formally reconnecting Hawke’s Bay to the rest of New Zealand is just too much for one region, or one contracting company, to achieve.
I don’t listen to the radio as much today. We play family games and go for walks, getting weary of news while we’re still in the dark.
Newspaper: A special, free edition of local paper Hawke’s Bay Today is delivered to dairies and other sites around the region. We walk down to our nearest dairy to get a copy and see the queue of cars for our nearest service station, now open on generator power for the first time since Tuesday, is nearing a kilometer long down Taradale Road.
Newstalk ZB: Reverts to Radio Hauraki sometime during the day. When I flick through the channels trying to find new information in the afternoon, their regular “matey-mate-mate-mates” on the afternoon show are blathering away as arrogantly and irrelevantly as ever.
The Hits HB: Are doing good mahi, but with phone coverage still so bleak it is hard going. Their interview with visiting Prime Minister Chris Hipkins cuts in and out and eventually drops out altogether. Local coverage gives way in the afternoon to the Auckland-simulcast drive time show, so I don’t bother listening to that.
Both The Hits and The Breeze are playing various versions of “Your official /number one Civil Defence radio station” self-promotional ads. Their networks’ execs in Auckland HQ, never attentive to the regions at the best of times, apparently think disasters are another great opportunity for some sort of ratings war.
The Breeze HB: These guys have set the standard, but boss Justin Rae is the star.
He has been venturing out to get information in the mornings and hosting most of the afternoons. Authorities have finally twigged that everyone is getting their information through radio (it has been the most reliable, least interrupted source all week), so they start funnelling more information out through it.
Rae is finally joined by an additional on-air voice – Max, a younger member of staff is providing updates and information.
Justin breaks down a bit on air, saying he “feels guilty” he can go home and be with his family when they finally get out to visit him at the station in Hastings from Napier.
The Breeze opens their land line phones up for information in and out – This is taking me back to the awesome days of 90s regional radio where stations had local staff on-air 24/7 and were a real community hub!
I do hope these events trigger some sort of longer format, live and local, relevant regional radio renascence in Hawke’s Bay at the very least.
We hear on an afternoon news report that power has started being restored to Napier via Hastings. The CBD and Napier Hill have electricity again. Hopefully the rest of us can’t be far off.
In the evening a police car passes our house at barely subsonic speed. There is a major, armed incident on the other side of our suburb. Eagle circles the scene. The police are not messing around.
I am awake again at 2am.
After half an hour of darkened doom-scrolling I go back to bed and get a few more hours’ sleep, but not without lying awake again for some time.
As the Saturday sun rises, I go out to the car to pass an hour listening to the radio.
Newstalk ZB / Hauraki: I simply don’t bother.
RNZ: Corin Dann is hosting a special Saturday edition Morning Report, but there isn’t anything new or crucial to report. The rescue aspect of the emergency has been largely completed and now it’s into recovery mode. The confirmed death toll is slowly rising.
The Hits and The Breeze HB: The local hosts appear to be having the weekend off (I only listen around 7am, so they could have been on later), which is reasonable given their recent workload.
But with most of the hour being largely uninterrupted music and ads, this feels like the commercial media’s news cycle has turned and passed us by after their ever-present updates during the week.
To make things worse The Hits are playing the oxymoronic “Best of Jono and Ben”. <Click!>
We finish cleaning and clearing out the refrigerator, leave the door open to dry it out, and go visit the puppies next door.
We need petrol and some more food so, with power now on in town, I head to Countdown.
But first I go into the CBD.
It’s been almost a whole week in our state of powerless lock-down and I need space and sea air. I wrote some time ago that Napier’s CBD revitalises me. Even when it’s almost completely deserted and most of the shops are closed like today, just being in town lifts my mood.
I park on Marine Parade and take a short walk along the seaside Rotary Pathway, from Tom Parker Fountain to the Veronica Sun Bay and Soundshell.
There is storm-washed driftwood on the high tide mark and most of the way down to the waterline. Nowhere near the volume seen in Tairāwhiti, but it still goes on for as far as the eye can see.
This is also different to the wood clogging Tolaga Bay and other East Coast beaches. Rather than cut radiata logs and forestry slash, these appear to be whole and shattered willow and poplar trees and other riparian plantings. Knotty branches and root balls torn from riverbanks and hillsides by Gabrielle’s deluge and raging rivers.
As I walk towards the Soundshell a completely different sight catches my eye: two women fully dressed in 1930s “flapper” dresses are sitting on a blanket having a picnic.
With everything else going on (and off) I’d completely forgotten it was supposed to be Art Deco Weekend!
The event was understandably canceled on Wednesday when the practicality of receiving and hosting tens of thousands of tourists in the city looked as likely as instantaneous power restoration and bridge repairs.
The weekend usually includes the New Zealand Defense Force in a ceremonial capacity because when the 1931 earthquake struck the navy’s HMS Veronica was in port. Sailors from the ship were key participants in immediate rescue and recovery and humanitarian efforts. Neither Napier, nor the Navy have forgotten this partnership. The Royal New Zealand Air Force Display Team is also usually present doing aerobatics and fly pasts, along with privately owned vintage aircraft.
This weekend all three branches of the New Zealand Defense Force are back, just in a more practical format, providing aid, assistance, and supplies to a region recovering from disaster, just like the crew of the Veronica 92 years ago.
My intended short supply trip stretches into over two hours. Not because of supermarket and service station queues – there is next to no waiting for either – but because I keep meeting people I know, and every time we spend about ten minutes each filling each other in on the week’s events that we haven’t been able to share the (up until Tuesday) “regular way”.
I am in trouble with my wife for my unnotified tardiness when I get home, but the criticism is cut short when there is a beep and a buzz.
Power has come back on!
We use it sparingly, lest its return only be temporary – and it is on Sunday, with power dropping out a few times, most likely as other areas had their supplies safely switched back on.
Power won’t be fully restored to all of Napier until Tuesday afternoon – over seven days since it was lost!
My In-laws’ house is one of the last areas to get power back, by which time some people have already returned to work, while many others continue to work to help friends, loved ones and strangers recover from the floods.
For some of us at least, life will quickly return to a relative “normal”. For others it will take a longer time, and for others it will never be the same.
Thousands of cubic meters of mud, silt and debris will be removed over the coming weeks around the region. As Hawke’s Bay’s weather returns to its more traditional summer settings after Gabrielle departs, all the silt, mud and entombed particulates will start to dry, harden and blow away as dust when moved.
By the following Tuesday you can already smell, taste and even see it in the air around Napier. The immediate health threats of flooding may have passed, but others will remain for some time.
Hawke’s Bay schools start reopening on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I go back to work remotely and sparingly on Sunday, catching up to where I should have been mid-morning last Tuesday a week later.
I see aerial photos of my work. It’s a mess. I am told our office is flooded and likely little will be recoverable. But they are fully insured, and our company’s Japanese owners have pledged full support for rebuild and recovery. The site suffered a similar fate during Cyclone Bola in 1998, and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami wrought even greater levels of destruction to facilities over there, so the owners have experience with this. Their support also gives job security and income stability to those working for one of Hawke’s Bay’s biggest employers.
It won’t be the same for everyone.
I feel guilty having gotten off so lightly. We were only powerless, but I have friends whose houses are a mess, uninhabitable, or gone completely. Others whose businesses are wrecked, or jobs and income no longer secure.
We go to an appliance store on the Tuesday to get something our daughter needs for her return to school on Wednesday, and see an old acquaintance leaving. They are there to replace their fridge, washing machines, and more after being flooded out. Unsurprisingly, even while we are still in a National State of Emergency, there already aren’t any left in stock in Hawke’s Bay.
Restocking and relacing all these key household appliances for all those households will take some time, with basic household tasks potentially remaining as if the power was still off for months.
Building products like plaster board, already having run out in New Zealand last year due to staffing and logistical issues brought on by Covid-19, will be in high demand and short supply.
New Zealand doesn’t have enough builders and tradespeople for new builds and repairs as it is. What will this do to that situation?
I hear from friends who usually commute between Napier and Hastings that the usually 15-20 minute trip along the SH2 Expressway now takes a minimum of 40 minutes with speed restrictions, detours and congestion, and a maximum of over two hours!
Travelling north by road from Napier to Taupo and Auckland will have to be done via a major southern detour through Palmerston North and the Central Plateau.
We aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.
With numerous stretches of rail and bridges out, no Kiwirail freight will be going to or from Napier or its port for some time.
Freight logistics will be a nightmare.
While many of us weren’t overly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, the after-effects could well have many long-term detriments for the region and its inhabitants.
Hawke’s Bay will be tested.
Like C.S. Lewis’ Pevensie children most Napier people find ourselves emerging unscathed from the wardrobe seemingly just an instant after we entered. We have power, internet, work to do, school runs to make, just like any other day.
Yet we are older, wearier, and more jaded having gone through so much, and not quite sure what to make of ourselves. A week of our lives has both vanished and been burned into our memories.
We feel guilty for not being as badly affected as so many surrounding us, but also feel thankful for the exact same reason.
I would like to think we are more tolerant, kind, and considerate having looked after each other for that week – Smiles and elevated levels of politeness are still evident some days after. But tensions, trauma and nerves are starting to crack cheery facades.
We look forward hopefully to the future, but also realize that this severe weather is likely only one of the first such events we will witness or be impacted by as our climate changes.
But it may take a while to fully process and understand what a week in the dark meant to our region and ourselves.