Appreciation event recognises those on frontline of cyclone response
The heroes of Cyclone Gabrielle were honoured at a volunteer appreciation event in Hastings today.
Those central to the Cyclone Gabrielle response returned to the epicentre just days away from the first anniversary for the event supported by the Evergreen Foundation and attended by volunteers, first responders, regional leaders and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
A year ago, the Tōmoana Showgrounds in Hastings was the launching pad for the rescue and response effort. But today, it was the scene of gratitude and togetherness.
Native plants were distributed as a token of appreciation, symbolising hope and strength for the future.
Luxon acknowledged the "incredibly tough time" the last year has been for the region.
"We do reflect, and we think about the families that lost 11 loved ones. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them at this point. We think about the people who have had massive upheaval in their lives. We think about the changes that have happened to their homes and their livelihoods, and our thoughts are with them as well."
His remarks came just hours after he, Emergency Management and Recovery Minister Mark Mitchell, Napier MP Katie Nimon and Tukituki MP Catherine Wedd announced a $63 million funding boost for Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti to go towards the removal of sediment and debris.
"We know as a new government coming in that there is a lot of work still ahead of us, and that we can get going. And we've got to learn how we can accelerate the recovery here in this region with great speed because that's important, so that people have certainty, clarity, and that they can move forward, planning for a very exciting future in this region.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council Chair Hinewai Ormsby (Left), Hastings District Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
What was achieved in those few devastating days was accomplished, Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise says, because so many people showed up to help out.
"One year ago, many of us wouldn't have truly known what we were capable of. We would not have known the capacity of our inner strength, the ability to keep going, to think clearly under pressure, to be there for others when we ourselves were struggling, to go above and beyond to do everything we could to help a friend, to help a stranger."
Together, we moved mountains, she says.
"Step by step, side by side, our region is recovering. More than that, we have learnt many lessons that will make us stronger because of what we went through, not in spite of it. Some here today, wear a uniform, and with that comes training, preparation, the support of your wider organisation. But each of you gave more than your uniform or your organisation dictated of you. You went above and beyond.
"Others here are heroes of another kind. So many of you here today discovered within you, fortitude you may not have realised you had. Superheroes that suddenly discovered you had a cape hidden beneath your everyday clothes. Your inner courage, selflessness, and attitude meant when we pushed ourselves to the limit, you found reserves in the tank to push even further."
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst's address to the "community champions" was briefly interrupted by a passing shower.
"And isn't it interesting that we have the rain come down on our kōrero today?" she noted.
"We gather at the Tōmoana Showgrounds today, the Cyclone Civil Defense distribution hub where hundreds and hundreds of volunteers prepared rescue packs, gathered bedding, clothing and supplies, ready for transportation to our isolated rural communities.
"Every face I see tells a story and a memory of our year that we've been through last year."