Eskdale man Stan Evans brushes off the ‘hero’ label, but after saving seven lives in his community early Tuesday morning the magnitude of his quick thinking is only now hitting home.
Among those he’s credited with saving is Napier property maintenance contractor Gareth Jones who is recovering in hospital after surgery to his leg.
“He saved lives. He saved at least seven people’s lives. He got us out, he got us safe. He was everything. Everything that we needed and more,” said Stan’s daughter, Vienna Evans.
Clean-fill yard owner Stan Evans told Newshub everything that came down the Esk Valley during Cyclone Gabrielle’s onslaught, “except 5 percent that went to Bay View, came through here”.
When the floodwaters began rising around his Eskdale home and the neighbour’s property he got to work.
He used his tractor to ferry his family of four and their dog to higher ground, and towed his neighbours in a 4WD behind.
Their vehicle had already begun to float.
“As I towed them down, every now and again I would look behind and the ute is sort of half floating… literally bobbing about in the floodwaters.”
An emotional Evans described the horror of his tractor “almost rolling”as he took the group to a large mound of compacted dirt which he’d created as a spot to sit and watch sunsets with his family.
“I just sort of take the piss out of myself and say you know, you slip into hero mode, but you just do what needs to be done.”
His son Rock, who woke the family early Tuesday morning, said “it was just pure fear. Primal fear I’d say”.
If that wasn’t remarkable enough, Stan later heard someone yelling.
A badly-injured Gareth Jones, housesitting for friend Maik Beekmans up the road, had been swept downriver around 2:30am on Tuesday.
A female companion in the house had tried to climb with him into the roof cavity as the floodwaters ripped through the Beekman home.
Stan didn’t hesitate and raced to his bulldozer, which quickly became overwhelmed by the torrent.
He continued into the water on foot, helping Jones to safety and giving him first aid.
“The break was the worst thing and he was bleeding a bit. He had a broken foot,” he said
“I looked at the foot and tried to clean it up when he first came over. I don’t know what he got hooked on but there was this chunk of meat about 20mm wide that was hanging off.”
As they waited for a helicopter Jones relayed his desperate plea to save his female friend as they tried to climb into the attic of the house.
“Unfortunately the water chased them up and they tried to smash the ceiling cavity. The woman was unable to make it out of the flood alive.”
Evans said Jones described how “he saw a 40-foot container going past, and he couldn’t hold on to her”.
Reflecting on the unfathomable ordeal, Stan’s children say their dad is the bravest person they know.
“Without him there’s no way we’d have gotten out. No way,” said Vienna.
A life-changing event for this grateful family, who know they are among the lucky ones given the wall of water and the speed at which it invaded their Eskdale property.
Cleaning up is for later, when they feel stronger.
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