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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the trip, a few of them wanted to go to Te Mata Peak to see the sunset so I joined.
25 April 2023 (ANZAC Day)
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