When Cyclone Gabrielle struck the East Coast, six tutors at EIT | Te Pūkenga dropped everything to help their community with the New Zealand Army.
Andrew McCrory, Todd Rogers, Campbell Johnston, Steve Spooner, Kristina Harris and Davey Forbes have spent the best part of three weeks serving in the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, East Coast Company, Napier as part of the initial response.
Campbell Johnston, a Carpentry Tutor, appreciates the willingness of EIT | Te Pūkenga to let staff use their time to go and help.
“They’re an understanding employer that allows us to drop everything and go and help and take aid.”
During the height of the floods, he was in the Esk Valley clearing houses and rescuing people.
“I didn’t know how bad it was until I came over Hill Road and looked into the Esk Valley and it was beyond anything I could have thought of really.
“The houses we were searching, they were three quarters full of silt and rubble and there were houses that were three or four hundred metres down the road from where they started. It was just phenomenal.
“For the first three or four days we were just doing evacuations and body recoveries and then after that it became more about getting aid to the areas that were still flooded or cut-off with our Unimog.”
For Sergeant Andrew McCrory, a Services Pathway Tutor, seeing the destruction “hits home a little bit hard”.
“When you’re trying to get into a house that’s been fully submerged underwater and it’s still half full of mud and you’re checking it to see if anyone’s in there, that’s pretty tough.”
While Andrew has been helping on the frontline, his wife, Kathleen, a Nursing Lecturer at EIT | Te Pūkenga, has been clearing silt at the Hawke’s Bay Campus in Taradale.
Although Army Reservists have now been stood down to return to their civilian employment, Staff Sergeant Todd Rogers continues to assist in the response.
Speaking of the devastation, and the contrast between the excitement of children, still in pamas and covered in mud, getting a ride in a Unimog, and the obvious distress of their parents, rendeyjrs Todd emotional.
Todd, Head of School, Trades & Technology, is no stranger to disaster zones, having been d
eployed in war zones overseas.
“I guess the landscape was similar. It was just deserted, and it’s just been hammered and the devastation. We’ve seen some of that stuff overseas, but nothing like that in New Zealand. It was mind-blowing.”
He served as an engineer in the Regular Force so his skills have been called on to assess damage and to relay the information back to NZ Army engineers so the right equipment can be transported to each location. He’s travelled far and wide during the response via helicopter.
For them all, the sense of community spirit and resilience of locals has stood out.
“It’s been heart-breaking with what’s happened but heart-warming seeing the way locals are all helping each other,” he says.
“I was absolutely blown away by the people who live furthest away from the main centres. When you fly out to people that are cut off, all they ask for is: ‘It’d be nice if you could get us some fuel for our generator and some dog biscuits so I can feed my dogs for the farm’. They’re not even worried about themselves. That blows me away.”
Dave Christiansen, Executive Director of EIT | Te Pūkenga, says: “we are very proud of all the EIT | Te Pūkenga staff who assisted in the aftermath and recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle”.
“We have been a part of the fabric Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti for many years now and are pleased we could support our communities when they need it most.”