May 29, 2023

‘We’re still here – don’t forget about us’: Cut-off East Cape communities face long wait for power and supplies

Cut-off East Cape communities face a long wait for power and supplies.

More than 4000 people are still uncontactable with communications down in many parts of the east coast.

That includes the cut-off community of Te Puia Springs between Ruatoria and Tokomaru Bay on the East Cape.

Obliterated by a monstrous slip, the East Cape’s key route has been tipped on its side by the force of Gabrielle.

What was once a road, is now a river bed, leaving Te Puia Springs cut off from the south. So Newshub was a welcome sight for its residents who waved to us as we landed in front of the hospital.

“We have no power, no water, no internet. We have young children and are running out of food. I can’t keep it frozen, the house smells of dead meat and there’s blood running everywhere, but no water to clean it up,” said Te Puia Springs resident Te Ara Puketapu.

The community is feeling abandoned.

“We’re still here – don’t forget about us,” she said. “I’m laughing but we were actually crying today.”

Because getting power and water back is no easy task.

“We’re very concerned about the mental well-being of our people,” said Hine Haig from Ngati Porou Oranga.

They’ve been told it’ll be at least another week before power is restored. The hallways of Te Puia Springs Hospital are in darkness because they don’t have enough fuel to run their generator so they have to choose when to turn it on and when not to.

“So without the fuel, it’s a bit sad,” Haig said.

Twelve kilometres away in Tokomaru Bay most of the homes are okay, but the town’s road access is severed on both sides.

“If you need water, food, head to rugby club. The people running the show are doing such an amazing job,” said Tokomaru resident Vianney Turei.

Although, they’re finding it hard to connect so people use us to get messages out.

“Let all my whanau know out there that we are all good,” Wi Wharehinga pleaded.

It could be months before State Highway 35 is fixed. This is the only way to get supplies in or out, and they’re relying on Fire and Emergency and Civil Defence to bring them medical supplies, food, fuel, water and doctors and nurses if needed.

Meanwhile further south in Wairoa there’s no drinking water.

“We can’t treat the water at the moment, the Army has got units of water here, but it’s not going to cut it though,” said Darryl Commons from the Wairoa District Council.

So the rural postie is driving around, handing out bottles of water to residents who line up in quad bikes and utes to collect it.

Around the corner a human chain is emptying sodden belongings onto the footpath, while boosting morale with laughter and chatter.

As the mud starts to dry the stories start to emerge.

Erlina Stephens thought she was going to drown, but then a tractor appeared and scooped her up in its bucket.

“It was shocking, I could not think straight. The current was really strong and I thought I’d die,” she said.

From tractor rescues to food handouts, this community is banding together.

Ninety-five-year-old Tom McNabb is grateful for the support.

“The neighbours have been terrific. Carl across the road did all this, just terrific.”

It’s that kind of support that everyone will need to get through the coming days, months and years.

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