Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Unsung heroes shine in wake of cyclone

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Federated Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland praises the heroes of Cyclone Gabrielle one year on.
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 There are so many farmers and rural workers who’d never dare say it themselves, but they were absolute heroes during and after Cyclone Gabrielle, Federated Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland says. 

“The sense of community shown in rural areas and the willingness of people to put aside their own priorities to help others in trouble – that’s a very powerful thing,” Copeland said.

Asked for his thoughts on ‘unsung heroes’ of the disaster one year ago, Copeland is quick to praise those who rallied to the Farmy Army’s call for help. 

“Some of them travelled many miles across country to get to those in need all around Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti. They didn’t seek recognition; they just quietly got stuck in.

“It was a silver lining in what was a pretty dreadful situation. I’ve seen damage before, but what Gabrielle left in her wake was unprecedented here.”

Copeland is proud of the Federation’s co-ordination roles, and advocacy to Government for funding and hurried legislation to suspend usual resource consent red tape in the interests of recovery and animal welfare.

“Many of our people showed their worth and mettle. 

“Board member Sandra Faulkner put in hours and hours trying to make things happen in Tairāwhiti.  She’ll never admit it, but she’s an unsung hero, for sure.”

Salli Baldock, Federated Farmers Eastern North Island field rep, says all sorts of people stepped up in the cyclone emergency and recovery phases.  

Rural Advisory Groups (RAGs) proved their worth, and Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay president Jim Galloway “was just amazing”, Baldock says. 

“At the drop of a hat, if anyone from the media, or a farmer in trouble, wanted to talk to him, he was always available. He never panicked; he just worked his way through the issues,” she says.

Galloway and other RAG members met daily and decided priorities based on the intel gathered through their networks.

Meanwhile, Baldock was Galloway’s right-hand person throughout, despite her family orchard being inundated, her ex-husband and the family dog having to be plucked from floodwaters, and her power being out for a week.

Others who went above and beyond were the Morice family – brothers Greg and Mark are long-time Federated Farmers members.  

Greg’s wife Lorna says they watched in disbelief as “a tsunami of brown, log-laden water” from the Tutaekuri River breached stopbanks and flooded the Puketapu area.

“It was like watching a horror movie play out as we stood powerless on the hill above,” Lorna says. 

The Morices ended up with more than 40 “traumatised” residents at their house, some who’d been rescued from trees, roofs and floating mattresses.

In the following days, and with the support of Helitranz (Auckland) and good friend Callum McLeod as pilot, Greg and Mark were involved in around 200 supply drop-off, people/stock rescue and general aid missions.

Between brewing endless cups of tea, Lorna was busy with a black marker pen “labelling and organising everything that arrived on our lawn to get dispatched”.

In hard-hit Wairoa, Federated Farmers Gisborne/Wairoa arable chair Allan Newton and wife Sonya played a pivotal role, including helping Rural Support Trust (RST) and MPI to organise 13 community gatherings for rural families to share stories, support and needs.  

Newton himself is quick to mention Sue and Fenton Wilson, and RST’s Kylie Brown.

Darren Hill and his son Connor drove their tractor into town to rescue more than 30 people, and Newton says they weren’t the only ones to suffer water damage to machinery during their efforts to help.

In Hauraki-Coromandel, which had already been pummelled by the Auckland Anniversary deluge, Federated Farmer president Rob Craw was kept busy chasing the local authorities on what was needed, and organising fuel drops and the like. 

He says former Federated Farmers dairy advisor Kerry Gray, now with MPI, was a gem.

“Once we’d got things sorted here, our focus was getting over to the Gisborne area. They were just smashed,” Craw says.

Up in Northland, the cyclone was a “baptism of fire” for the new-in-the-job RST co-ordinator Rachelle O’Callaghan, Federated Farmers provincial president Colin Hannah says.  

Hannah also mentions former Federated Farmers adverse events manager Julie Gange, Mike Borrie of Fonterra, and MPI on-farm officer Jon Carswell.

“The biggest heroes in my opinion were the Northland farmers, who just go onto fixing things the best they could, not expecting anyone to come to their aid,” Hannah says.

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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