Utter devastation in New Zealand

A massive clean up operation is underway in many parts of the North Island of New Zealand reports Columban missionary Fr. Pat O’Shea, who lives and works in Lower Hutt.

Cyclone Gabrielle caused the third national state of emergency to be declared in New Zealand.

A combination of heavy rain, strong winds and ocean swells stirred up by the category 3 storm have devastated many communities. The worst affected areas are on the East Coast of the North Island around Northland, Auckland, Coromandel, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay but there has also been damage to the coastal areas of Piha and Muriwai on the West Coast.

Areas of Waikato and Manawatu have also been affected.

Slips and flooding have isolated many communities. Many roads, especially those in and out of Napier, have been damaged and deemed unsafe and a number of bridges have been washed away.

Thousands of people, perhaps as many as 10,000, have been displaced as their homes were severely flooded or totally destroyed by landslides. It is estimated that 7 metres of water went thought the Esk Valley in Hawkes Bay. People there had to be picked off the roofs of houses that were barely above the water line.

In Gisborne the water system has completely failed and people have been warned not to use or drink the water. Many areas are without power and are likely to be for some time. With no power or internet connection people were unable to contact each other which just added to the distress and worry about friends and relatives that people were feeling.

Seven people have died including two volunteer firefighters in Muriwai but the toll is expected to rise as contact has not been established with a number of people.

The cost of the clean-up will be massive given the extent of the damage caused. Hawkes Bay is the fruit bowl of New Zealand so it will take a while to assess the damage done to fruit crops. Workers from the Pacific Islands who came to harvest the fruit are now helping with the clean-up.

Appeals for help are going out and people are rallying to provide relief. Columban Fr Paul Finlayson who had just moved into the Hawkes Bay area to take up a new appointment, has reported as being safe, and he will no doubt be helping with the relief efforts. An online page for donations hoping to raise $100,000 this morning had reached $1.5 million.

The resilience of people in the face of disaster as well as the generosity of people in coming to the aid of those in need has been very evident in the past few days.

Much more will be needed as it will take many months or even years to complete the recovery process given the scale of the damage done.