December 11, 2023

Volunteer firefighter treks over eight hours to get medical help as health workers battle COVID-19 and gastro

Health is the latest scare in Hawke's Bay as responders face COVID-19 and gastro.

Apocalyptic is the first word that springs to mind even a week on from this disaster.

And contaminated silt is just one of the many health concerns authorities have.

On Tuesday, Newshub met a volunteer firefighter who trekked for more than eight hours to get medical help for those in his community who needed it.

Masked up and on alert. Emergency services swamped the Awatoto area in Napier on Tuesday afternoon.

A leak at the wastewater treatment plant is now contaminating the silt – the same silt people are trying to clear.

“Wear gumboots, wear long trousers, long sleeves and gloves so that you’re protecting yourself away from the silt and the mud,” said Dr Robin Whyman, Hawke’s Bay Medical Officer of Health.

Health is the latest scare in Hawke’s Bay. With countless volunteers, Defence Force and Civil Defence members gathering to help at donation hubs across the region, COVID-19 is striking some down and also lurking in evacuation centres.

“It absolutely adds a layer of complexity to the response,” Civil Defence emergency group controller Ian Macdonald said.

The national and Māori health agencies are moving quickly.

“Te Whatu Ora, and Te Aka Whai Ora and the local PHO has already set up a local isolation centre for COVID so they can support those if it does increase,” said Health Hawke’s Bay Māori health general manager Henry Heke.

Gastro too is among the conditions doctors and nurses are now up against.

“Vomiting, diarrhoea and skin infections caused by dirty water,” said Pasifika Medical Association CEO Debbie Sorensen.

But teams like this are here to help. Fourteen healthcare workers from the Pasifika Medical Association landed in Napier with boxes of medical supplies. Their focus – the thousands of seasonal workers who were unable to work.

“You can expect people are going to feel pretty panicky and so the idea of taking down psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers, therapists, mental health-trained people is to provide support early so people don’t have long-standing trauma following this event,” Sorensen said.

That ‘event’ is still fresh in people’s minds. Volunteer firefighter Kevin Thompson jumped through hoops and over tracks to support his community after the cyclone hit.

He trekked for eight hours along the railway line from his home north of Tangoio to near Eskdale delivering a list of people who needed help to Civil Defence.

“I’d say it’s about 30km give or take but it’s hard to tell,” he said.

“I had to bush-bash and walk around ravines to get out. Some of it was like 500 metres up so an extra kilometre on my walk but parts where I had to crawl over 6ft slips, the mud was just sticky. It took a lot of work.”

And when he finally made it back that night to see his wife: “She told me that her first thought was that I was Civil Defence, a crippled Civil Defence person walking up the driveway,” he said.

“I woke my son up… and he goes ‘yeah I knew you’d make it out, I knew you’d do something like that’.”

One week on he’s still making lists for Civil Defence of vital supplies needed for his community.

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