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A day of remembrance

Cyclone Anniversary Commemoration Service 117

An incredibly moving commemoration in Hastings Civic Square today [February 14] marked a year since Cyclone Gabrielle tore through the region.

More than 500 people gathered – families who had lost loved ones, emergency services, first responders, community organisations, industry leaders, individuals and families who had supported and continue to support those most affected.

Presided over by Reverend Zhane Tahau Whelan, the open-air service included waiata by Hukarere Girls College and Omahu School students, who lost their schools to the cyclone, a minute’s silence at noon, speeches by Ng­āti Kahungunu chairman Bayden Barber, Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Minister of Emergency Management and Recovery Mark Mitchell, and Hastings Rural Community Board deputy chair Isabelle Crawshaw.

The roll call of the eleven who lost their lives across the North Island and the laying of wreaths was “incredibly emotional”, said Mayor Hazlehurst.

“It has been a day of immense sadness, especially for our bereaved families, tinged with a sense of hope for the future.”

Maylor Hazlehurst’s speech recalled the horror start to February 14, 2023. “Rivers and streams had burst their banks, bridges had collapsed, and roads had slipped away or were impassable. Families were stranded and in desperate need of rescue; hundreds of families were without food, water, power and communications.

“Our hearts go out to our people who suffered terrifying trauma and stress that morning and the following days, weeks and months.”

“The destruction from Cyclone Gabrielle in those first weeks was overwhelming.  Access was cut off to 30 communities . . . hundreds of whānau were displaced from their homes.  Evacuation centres and community hubs were set up in Council facilities, schools, halls and marae.  I will always remember greeting people arriving at the evacuation centres on that day in wet clothing, having been rescued by helicopter.  Hastings and Flaxmere received 1900 people at their peak. For weeks after, the community hubs distributed food and supplies to those in need.”

Thursday’s public service followed a Volunteer Appreciation Day on Sunday February 11 at Tōmonana Showgrounds, a thank you and acknowledgment for their hard mahi over those first horrific days, and the weeks and months that followed.

“Thousands of volunteers worked in distribution hubs, prepared rescue packs, cooked and delivered tonnes of food, looked after pets, and cleared tonnes of silt and debris from homes, urupa and marae . . . Everyone united to help those in need.”

This week was fully focused on those people who suffered unbelievable losses – family members, homes, livelihoods, pets and livestock, said Mayor Hazlehurst.

“There is still a great deal of work to do and as a community, with our partners across the region and in Central Government, I have no doubt we will get that work done. We are strong and we will support each other – especially those most affected.”

“While the memories of Cyclone Gabrielle are still raw, day-by-day through our resilience, our togetherness, and our selfless caring for each other, I know as a united community we will get to the other side of this traumatic event.”

14 February 2024

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