June 4, 2023

Watch: Footage shows devastation in Wairarapa amid fears 1000s of animals lost to Cyclone Gabrielle

"Every paddock was underwater."

Rural communities along the east coast of the Wairarapa fear thousands of animals could be dead after the area was lashed by the dregs of Cyclone Gabrielle.

A farmer from Tinui, east of Masterton, told Newshub the village became submerged in flood waters in the space of an hour and a half. 

The farmer, who Newshub has agreed not to identify, said Tinui residents expected flooding, but not to the devastating extent seen on Wednesday.

“It’s [a] really significant event. The largest flood that anyone can remember here was in 1991. And by all accounts, this is bigger than that flood.”

She said the Tinui community prepared for the arrival of heavy rain. Many farmers moved their livestock to higher ground as families dismantled trampolines and put away furniture.

But the farmer told Newshub even higher ground wasn’t safe for livestock. 

“Just the sheer amount of water and how fast it rose. You’ve got farmers who are in their seventies, they’ve experienced a lot of floods and they got their stock onto what they thought was high ground, but it wasn’t. And I think that the really devastating thing is we weren’t prepared for a flooding event that we haven’t experienced before,” she said.

“Every paddock was underwater.”

When the waters rose and residents realised it wasn’t like anything they’d experienced before, the farmer said panic hit. 

“Farmers being farmers are usually like. ‘That’s right. I’ll get on the tractor and I’ll get through that water and I’ll go and open those gates’. But it was too deep for the tractors, you know, it was that it was just too unsafe. And people just had to make the decision of, you know, leaving their stock versus saving their lives, really.”

The farmer told Newshub many residents in the village are without homes, the local school is flooded and the amount of dead stock is expected to be in the thousands. 

“That’s really devastating for the farmers because farmers do everything they can to look after their stock and to have stock washed away is heartbreaking,” she told Newshub. 

She said some of her staff attempted to move one of her mobs of 29 bulls before floodwater rose, but said within 10 minutes of farm staff getting to the bulls it was too unsafe. 

“They had to abandon the idea of shifting the stock and they had to turn around and hopped in the bigger 4×4 and basically rushed home to shift any stock that was more easily accessible,” she told Newshub. 

“They were lucky to get home and to shift the stock. Yeah, but that particular mob that did get ripped away, they are luckily all alive ’cause they’re all cattle but sheep in the district didn’t fare as well, especially, unshorn sheep.”

Now like many communities across Aotearoa, the Tinui community is in desperate need of support. 

She said whole farms have lost fences, roads are covered in slips and many families have lost their homes. 

“It’s a very daunting task to try and tackle on your own something like that when you’ve got a foot of silt through your home. And your yard. And you’ve lost your animals all on top of that.”

Helicopter footage captured on Wednesday and provided to Newshub shows the sheer amount of destruction and devastation the Tinui community faces.

The footage shows what used to be paddocks turned into swampy wetlands, large slips across roads, and sheds, homes and barns submerged in muddy water. 

Two pictures taken two hours apart shows the sheer amount of water that pummeled the small community of about 300 residents. 

And while the water has mostly receded, the destruction left behind is a heartbreaking reality for many across Aotearoa. 

MetService weather watches and warnings for the region: 

MetService has issued a heavy rain warning for Wairarapa south of Masterton and the eastern hills of Wellington. The warning is from 9am Thursday to noon. 

A heavy rain watch has been issued for Wellington except for the eastern hill from 9am Thursday to noon.

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