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“A real tragedy”: Hawke’s Bay Pacific leader describes aftermath of Cyclone Garbielle

Cyclone Gabrielle made a short but brutal visit to the region and now the community is banding together to pick up the pieces.

At least five people have died in Hawke’s Bay, including a child. As of today the government estimates 10,500 people have been displaced and 1442 are uncontactable in the region.

Tagata Pasifika reports Napier is expected to have no power for at least two weeks and the communication line is not fully restored. 

However, emergency power has been provided at a medical centre where community leader, Tofilau Talalelei Taufale is able to provide an update on the situation. 

A Pacific community leader in the region, Tofilau says everyone is doing their best to support everyone.

“Our community leaders and church groups have stood up a response to strengthen the Civil Defence response which is much needed, especially for the large volume of RSE and Pacific community who needed support.”

“The infrastructure, the roads have made it even more difficult for us. But in saying that now we do have road access to Hastings now which is already full on – it’s like an expressway.

Tofilau grows emotional describing seeing people stranded on rooftops and the dramatic rescues that took place. 

“We felt for our displaced families…it wasn’t just RSE workers on roofs.

“There were many in those rural areas that were on their roof and our emergency services turned themselves inside out to get the helicopter out to pick them up and bring them back.”

The Hawke’s Bay is home to thousands of Pasifika workers who are part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. 

Many of them were stuck on the roof of their accommodation after nearby rivers burst their banks due to the unprecedented weather. 

The men are now safe in temporary accommodation with support from the local Pasifika community. Tofilau says some of the RSE employers are working together with church leaders.

“The RSE employers I can tell you now, they worked really hard and I know even they were impacted as well,” Tofilau says.

“They lost connection and the bridges were washed out and they couldn’t come across and pick their boys and take them back. That’s where the community has stepped in to support.”

As the clean-up continues the priority is coordinating the aid and support for the flood victims.

“From a health perspective, we are always worried about our families who have pre-existing conditions or diabetes and all that sort of stuff making sure that they have access to their medication so our clinical team, public health, and Pacific health team are doing their best to reach out,” Taufale says.

Evacuation centres are in operation in central Hawke’s Bay, Hastings, Napier, and Wairoa with additional sites being added to provide food, water, and clothing. 

The Pacific spiritual leaders have offered counselling to the evacuees who are there.