The Hawkes Bay Today warned of a dangerous storm on the way. Be prepared to look after yourself for 72 hours, it said. No electricity; watch out for storm surges along the coast and be prepared for broken windows; have the gas barbecue handy. But when we left Flounder Bay the storm still hadn't arrived and we drove through an eerie, heavily overcast morning; calm, ominous, oppressive. Then through rain, and eventually out of that caliginous miasma into an afternoon that seemed like any other showery day.
The storm arrived overnight; wild, but the valley had weathered worse. Elsewhere, it killed five people. A few days later the big storm hit.
I lay in bed at dawn, listening to the roar of the gusts approaching, each time wondering whether this would be the one to rip the verandah roof off or burst the windows on the north end of the house — the windows in my room. I left the heavy curtains drawn just in case, got up and boiled water on the gas rings for a brew of tea. The power had gone hours ago, in the wee hours of the morning. Three days later I arrived home with a gas lantern — the adventure of living without electricity had been replaced within a few hours by the difficulty of reading by candlelight — only to find the power had been reconnected.
The damage will take months to repair. Some losses will take decades to replace; some will simply be abandoned. Old trees uprooted or snapped off or smashed; 30-year-old plantations ready to harvest lying prone, their value reduced to a fraction of what it had been a day earlier. Sheds destroyed or in tatters; roofing iron, twisted and buckled, lying paddocks away or wrapped around fences or stumps; windows smashed; streams choked by fallen trees. Everywhere, fences down; broken and buried under shattered pines and macrocarpas — occasionally part of a fence had been lifted high into the air by the roots of a fallen tree. Farms can't function without fences. I don't know how the deer farms fared, but once deer are out they're gone for good. Unlike sheep and cattle, deer on the loose can't be mustered.
On the day of the storm I walked along the road to see first hand what had happened. I scuttled quickly across the little bridge over Teawaoteatua stream, conscious of the brittle poplar branches whipping and roaring high overhead. When I returned, I heard a loud CRACK!! and saw two tall poplars begin to lean, then crash down across the stream. They weren't the first, nor the last.
At Raumai bridge over the Pohangina river I scrambled down to the water's edge to photograph the flood as it raged beneath the bridge. It looked like liquid mud and filled the entire bed, bank to bank. A massive pine rolled and pitched down the river but slid between the piers without hitting them. Minutes later, another big log collided with a pier, sending a resonant BOOM reverberating across the water. I zoomed the lens in on one of the piers. Just visible above the waterline, someone's graffiti proclaimed, “God loves us.”
Next to it, someone else had sketched the symbol for Anarchy.
1. The view from outside my kitchen on the morning of the storm.
2. What kind of wind does it take to do this? On one of the farms higher on the eastern side of the Pohangina valley.
Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor