It’s hard for me to fathom what is happening across New Zealand right now. Here in Ohakune we’ve had rain, yes, but it was nowhere near as heavy as we had in January, or November. Yes, it’s been windy, but no more than an average strong wind; I wouldn’t say it’s been anywhere near gale force, and we have worse in Wellington on a regular basis.
Other parts of the country are in dire straits, Cyclone Gabrielle wreaking havoc. As I write, evacuations are taking place in at least four areas, and these aren’t maybe it’s a good idea to get out now before it gets worse, they are get out now because your life is in danger. One of them is where we spent the weekend before last. I’m following live news as I type and a video has just gone up of overseas workers in Hawkes Bay trapped on the rooves of their accommodation blocks with floodwaters merely a foot or so beneath them. Some are floating on mattresses to get to the highest rooves, cars and large wooden picnic tables – the really heavy ones with benches attached – are floating around them.
There are pictures of houses destroyed by the land behind them, which has slipped, knocking them off their foundations and crushing them. Bridges have been washed away, roads destroyed. Some areas are completely cut off – Tairawhiti has no communication except satellite phones. A firefighter, a volunteer who left his family to go and help others, is missing in Muriwai since the house he was checking for occupants was taken out by a landslide, another is in critical condition in hospital. Their colleagues are carrying on. Defence Force personnel are working alongside emergency services. Thousands of people are without power; many will have lost everything.
Weather maps show the storm around us whilst we, in the middle of the island and in the shelter of a mountain, are barely impacted. A national state of emergency has been declared, but a lot of the nation is unaffected by this cyclone or, like us, is just experiencing a few days of bad weather. I say this with fingers crossed – the cyclone hasn’t yet left these shores and we expect the weather here will worsen through the day and overnight. But unless something drastic happens, I can’t see us being forced to grab belongings and leave; I don’t think we’ll be in a position where we wonder if we have a home to return to. It all seems so far away. Yet it isn’t. New Zealand is a small country and this is all happening within a few hours’ drive from where I sit. All I and many others can do is send our thoughts and love to those impacted.