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Stranded journo sees massive loss and devastation

Tuesday 21 February 2023 | Written by John Woods | Published in Local, National

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Stranded journo sees massive loss and devastation
Derek Fox is among those caught up in the disaster zone in New Zealand. 23022101

‘Probably fewer than 20 per cent of the damaged homes here are insured’ Rarotonga resident and prominent Kiwi journalist Derek Fox became stranded in New Zealand during the storm from Cyclone Gabrielle which caused widespread devastation in the Hawke’s Bay, and especially Wairoa, where Fox is originally from.

A former Mayor of Wairoa, Fox is currently at his home at Opoutama on the Mahia Peninsula north of Wairoa and south of Gisborne.

On Sunday, in reply to a friend asking how he was, Fox wrote: “I’m home at Opoutama but apart from being without power for about 48 hours and still not having any connectivity from home here, I'm fine. 

“I've got plenty of tucker. I've been given a satellite phone which I'm coming to grips with, and around the bay at Mahia Beach there is access to Starlink.”

Fox said there are properties in his area that had water through them, but not too many. 

“We had surface flooding in all the usual places. Because there hasn't been any connectivity there hasn’t been any Eftpos, so we've haven't been able to access fuel from the self-serve pumps just down the hill from me. But they sorted that out yesterday.

Wairoa on the other hand has had a terrible time, he said.

“There are hundreds or homes and commercial buildings that have been flooded and there is silt everywhere. 

“It’s going to take months to sort out; and probably fewer than 20 per cent of the damaged homes are insured. The damage runs into many millions of dollars.

“There's been an outpouring of support with planes arriving at the Wairoa Airport with food and other supplies. 

“So much so that the authorities are having a storage problem and they're urging people to send cash for use later, rather than bring more supplies right now which might perish.”

Fox said authorities have said they are fine for now, but in a couple of months, when the initial burst of help subsides, “that's when they're going to need cash to keep supporting people”.

One of the marae in Wairoa had become the cooking centre for the town. 

“Because houses are so damaged or uninhabitable, they cannot be reconnected to the power, so even if the people who own a house are still trying to live in it, they can't or don't have any means of cooking there. 

“So there is no point in supplying them with food. 

“Instead, one of the marae that was undamaged, and was built on higher/safer ground, has been doing all the cooking, and the cooked food is being distributed, or else people are going to it for food. 

“There has been a problem with that too, in that it is a little bit out of the centre of town, and with little or no fuel, access, or cash for fuel, getting to it has been difficult.”

Food is being taken into a council owned hall in the centre of town.

Local iwi had stepped up in both Wairoa and the Mahia and Opoutama areas. 

“In both places they're managing the food supplies and feeding anyone who needs it. 

“At Mahia, the iwi and locals are cooking two meals a day, and have food and hygiene supplies for people to take home if they need them. 

“These supplies are brought in mainly by helicopter because road access from the south is still not possible, and access from the north is a very long and roundabout route with ongoing slips and road blockages.” 

Medical and veterinarian supplies are matters that need special attention. 

“At Mahia there is a doctor who just happens to be here, and a nurse who got trapped here by road closures has become a prominent part of the community.

“In Wairoa a surprisingly large number of people, when asked what they most urgently needed said food for their dogs or cats. 

“Similarly when people who have holiday homes here were given access to Starlink, of course they checked on relatives and assured them they were okay. 

“But the next highest priority was to check that friends or family were feeding their pets at home. 

“I'm writing this in the early hours of Monday (NZ). 

“I think that'll do from me now. I'll head around the bay to send it.” 

A public appeal to support victims and aid recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle damage in the Tairawhiti and Hawke’s Bay regions of New Zealand has been launched in the Cook Islands. 

Dubbed “Operation Tauturu Aotearoa” the appeal will include a national radiothon fundraiser in Rarotonga and all outer islands where Radio Cook Islands is broadcast and a callout for volunteers to go to New Zealand to help with recovery work in rebuilding important facilities and infrastructure.

Organiser Norman George is campaigning and lobbying in the community to mobilise support for Operation Tauturu Aotearoa, asking interested people to attend an open meeting to promote the cause at The Islander Hotel at 12 noon today, Tuesday, February 21.

Inquiries can be directed to 20241.