The Aftermath Of Cyclone Gabrielle, New Zealand

Because Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, the news broadcasted in the rest of the world only reported the damage Cyclone Gabrielle had done in Auckland (if they reported it at all) but in fact, the area that was badly hit by the storm was the place where I am staying at.

At the time I write this, I am still in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

I could hear the strong wind howling at night on 13 February, 2023 when I was doing some research at my desk. I thought to myself, ‘that’s like typhoon signal no. 8 or 10 if it happened in Hong Kong’. The next morning when I woke up, nightmare came. It was Valentine’s Day 14 February, 2023. I was supposed to have a driving refresher lesson that day but my driving instructor texted me at 6:37am informing all his students that all lessons would be cancelled as there was a Regional Sate of Emergency declared. A few hours later at around 9am or so, I couldn’t get any text messages or any communication at all because there was a power cut. Fortunately, it was summer. It got dark at around 9pm so that was ok. But that’d mean, there was no hot water, no internet, shops were all closed, motels with back up power continued to provide hot water to their hotel guests. The entire city was ‘paralyzed’.

Large supermarkets had generators so they continued to operate. Thank God, really. But shelves were almost empty.

My mentee moved to a house near mine so after I washed my face, brushed my teeth, etc., I walked to her house to see if she was ok. She was so surprised and happy to see me. She said the storm alone didn’t scare her but the darkness did. She was alone in a 3-bedroom house waiting for her family to fly from an Asian country to join her. The place she rented had a huge garden but the storm swept through it and some of the cabbages and broccoli slanted. Some were slightly uprooted but most of them were fine. She found so many feijoas on the ground. She then invited me to have breakfast with her. It was literally farm to table – directly from her garden to our dining table. I didn’t want to eat too much of her food initially but she was very generous and told me her friends came over from Auckland a few days ago and left behind a lot of perishable food – bread, cold meat, chicken, etc. So, we had to eat them. I stayed with her until lunch time and then we ate veggies sandwich again. Fortunately, there was still running water.

I remembered my other mentee who also lived close to us so I suggested we go to see her. We walked to her place which was a motel (her family members ran a motel) and checked if she was alright. They then told us the supermarkets still opened and they had electricity and free WiFi (yes, this is how you collect intelligence when there is no power – walking and talking to other humans) and petrol stations started to close. Some petrol stations were only open for emergency only. We immediately went to the closest supermarket. There was a long queue of people trying to get food. We didn’t need to as we had some food in the fridge. At the same time, there were also a lot of people outside the supermarket to use the WiFi.

One of the fallen trees we saw on our way to the supermarket. It was so weird to see such blue sky after the cyclone.
People queueing to get into the supermarket to buy some grocery.
On the other side of the supermarket, you can see people sitting outside to get the WiFi.
People sitting there trying to connect to their families.
That night, I got this message. So, were those residents in Taradale and along the River safe?

My neighbour asked me if I could stay in her house with her at night. Of course yes. Her house felt like a home.

Our daily routine for the next few days was to walk to the supermarket to use their free WiFi and to charge our phones.

A day or two later, she was joined by her friend from her country but we still went to the supermarket on a daily basis.

A free solar power charging station outside the supermarket. The vehicle was surrounded by desperate people. Each person could only charge their device for half an hour. At first, there wasn’t such a restriction but as more and more people waited in the queue, such rule was imposed.

While we were waiting for our phones to charge, my mentee met some other people from her country, the Philippines, outside the supermarket. They invited us all to their house and gave us some hot food! (They had gas stoves). We were so grateful!

Other than the friends from the Philippines, the Chinese community also donated a lot of things including food, clothes, and money to the needy. Some cooked hot food for the people in need. Butcher shops gave out meat for free… I saw so many people helping and supporting each other in the community, regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality… There was a time when I learnt about a place in the CBD offering free WiFi and charging service. If we walked, it’d take more than an hour to reach there. So I decided to hitchhike from our homes. My mentee was a bit sceptical about this idea. But I insisted. Not long after we started walking and hitchhiking, a car pulled over. The driver pulled down the window and I told her our situation. She then let us in. It was her first time to carry a hitchhiker and it was the first time for my mentee to get on a stranger’s car. Kindness exists in this world.

Believe in kindness.

One day, while I was walking to my mentee’s house, I saw a guy reading a newspaper. I stopped him and asked where he got it. He directed me to a dairy. The dairy was closed but there was a stack of newspapers outside. So, I went there and took a couple for myself and my mentee.

In other parts of Hawke’s Bay, the damage was really serious.

According to the reports, the power station was submerged. That’s why there was no power. That also meant it’d take a long time for the city to regain power. When there was no power, there was no WiFi and other communication means.

The Asian wisdom. When I approached her house, I saw some smoke. Then I saw them cooking their breakfast. When they saw me, they were shocked. They then later explained because they thought some strangers walked in.
I contributed the waffle and some sauces. Can you believe they were all cooked using that stove? Note this is year 2023. 😀
On 18 February, 2023, power came back. All of us and our neighbours cheered.
The road between two cities. All the land was flooded. I used to see green grass and some sheep here but now, you can only see mud and slanted grass and broken fences. The sad thing is there were many orchards here. Now, most of them are gone. Even if there are fruits on the trees, they could be contaminated so nobody would want to buy them. Nothing can be exported too. Food manufacturers won’t buy those fruits either. In other words, huge financial loss.

Until today, 25 April 2023, some areas in Hawke’s Bay still has no power.

Life goes on.

A month after the cyclone, I met up with my mentees and some other students and toured around Napier with the college. However, because of the cyclone, many hiking trails were closed.

Bluff Hill
Bluff Hill lookout
Cruise ships started coming back.
The sun still rises. Nature heals itself. What about humans and all the man-made things?
Still in Bluff Hill
I just like the sun and the clouds 🙂
The people on the cruise probably didn’t know about the devastating impact of the cyclone.
As we went downhill, I took this picture
We went to Ahuriri, which is a town near Napier CBD.
Hey, birds, what are you looking at?
I don’t know why some people or kids built this. 😀
Ahuriri. How can I go to that island? I wonder if they were affected by the cyclone.
It looks like it is quite sheltered but you’ll never know. Don’t underestimate the nature.
Don’t underestimate the nature like I said. In the morning, you can see the blue sky and the sun but in the afternoon, clouds started to accumulate.

After the trip, a few of them wanted to go to Te Mata Peak to see the sunset so I joined.

The landslides at Te Mata Peak caused by the rain brought by the cyclone.

An area in Hastings – two months after the cyclone. Photo taken in April 2023.
In Hastings Farmers Market, which is held on Sundays, you can find ATMs, in case some stores don’t accept cards. New Zealand is still not a cashless society yet.
Hastings Farmers Market

25 April 2023 (ANZAC Day)

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