Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Luck and great neighbours will get you through

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Harvie Beetham didn’t let eight decades on the clock hamper his rescue efforts.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Harvie and Chrissie Beetham live on the hills looking down into the Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay.

During the afternoon of February 13 2023, Cyclone Gabrielle began to bring in heavy rain.

Their power went off, so Harvey got a generator going for the evening. 

It heavily rained all night and in the hour before dawn, at around 5am, Harvey’s cell phone sounded a Civil Defence alert.

He drove down to have a look at State Highway 5, then returned for another look once dawn made it a bit safer to be out.

This time, he was surprised to see geysers coming out of the water running over the road – the result of water pressure from below the seal forcing holes up through the road.

He walked in a way and decided he could probably drive through it in his ute. Harvie had made 82 years of age by that time and had always taken plenty of risks – calculated ones. Mostly.

Out on the main road the water was a bit higher. He used the top of the marker posts as guides.

It was a bit before 6am and there was no one else about. Just water.

Then he saw a group of people waving frantically from their house. It was the Doggy Farmstay Centre folk, who had been in water – sometimes up to their necks – for several hours.

They made their way to him through the water and mud.

An older lady was having trouble, so Harvey went to help.

He asked her how old she was – 73. He told her:

“Seventy-three eh? Well, I’m 82, so get cracking.” 

He got her, her daughter, a teenage girl and her boyfriend as well as several dogs out of the flood water and up to the Beetham house.

They were in shock. Harvie convinced them after some negotiation to shed all their wet and mud-soaked clothing outside and gave them a good hosing down before sending them in to Chrissie to find clothes that might fit and get some hot food into them.

In the following days, Harvie worked with his modest-sized digger, clearing silt and debris from around the Eskdale War Memorial Church.

He’s not a churchgoer, but he recognised the historic and sentimental significance of the historic building, which had just turned 103. And you never know, some catch-up credits for what might come after may be useful.

That night 700mm fell on the Esk Valley, but it was also the vast volumes that fell in the headwaters that caused the devastation and mayhem.

Two of the eight people who lost their lives in Hawke’s Bay that day were nearby in the Esk Valley when that torrent swept through.

Eleven people in total were killed by Gabrielle – and the valley’s people know that the death toll could quite easily have been very much higher if not for the many brave rescuers, people’s own resourcefulness and a large amount of luck.


In Focus podcast | 9 February

This month marks one year since Cyclone Gabrielle ripped through the eastern North island. Farmers, growers and communities faced a massive recovery as they worked to rebuild infrastructure, supply chains and get the land back into productive shape.

For this week’s show, Bryan sits down with Rod Vowles, who farms just east of Waipawa a few kilometres from the Tukituki River. His story of survival is astonishing.

Then, Karen Morrish from Apples and Pears NZ to see how Hawke’s Bay growers are faring as the harvest gets under way.

And, Federated Farmers national board member Sandra Faulkner shares how Tairāwhiti farmers are getting on up the coast.

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