A month on, work continues to retrieve hundreds of vehicles buried under mountains of silt in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.
It’s a huge task, requiring some pretty hefty machinery with workers going the extra mile – and even shedding their clothes – to get the job done.
With chains and Unimogs, vehicles are being sucked out of the sticky mud inch by inch. Released from the silty sludge using claws and diggers, trucks and trailers – it’s a complex operation.
“Every job’s different, every job’s tricky,” ACE Towing and Heavy Haulage owner Che Bartle said.
Tricky jobs where a bit of nudity is sometimes needed. One man – who didn’t want to get his clothes wet – went for a dip to get a chain around a front-end loader that’d been washed down the river.
“He had to go for a swim and he was quite happy to do it,” Bartle said.
There’ve been thousands of insurance claims for vehicles costing tens of millions of dollars. So far 1600 cars have been added to Waka Kotahi’s damaged vehicles register.
“We’ve pulled about 1000, 500 cars and plus tractors, trucks, forklifts,” said Ricky Gibbins, from Hawke’s Bay Towing.
A mammoth task requiring mammoth machinery. A specialist recovery team from NZ Insurance in Auckland is working with local companies.
“It’s kind of like a movie set. Pulling out excavators and trucks and hundreds of cars. Even machinery in rivers, down banks. It’s just unreal,” said Abby McWatt, from McWatt Excavation Services Ltd.
Rescuing trucks like one stranded on the Devil’s Elbow with slips on either side. It took four days to get the 50-tonne B-Train out, towing it along State Highway 2.
“After the storm it was quite urgent to get the vehicle recovered from there because of the value of it,” Bartle said.
The vehicles are being taken to nearby yards where insurers have set up for assessments.
But one of the toughest tasks is moving motorhomes. After sitting full of tonnes of wet silt for weeks the insides are rotting and disintegrating.
The work is far from over and towing companies say there are still hundreds of vehicles that need extracting – but they’re in places hard to get machinery to.
“Maniac busy and still heaps to come. All the boys are really working conjunctively,” Gibbins said.
“We’ll just keep going fixing things and helping out when can,” McWatt said.
Help that many will need because everywhere you look there are vehicles of all shapes and sizes stuck in all sorts of places.