• Video: Cyclone Gabrielle community advocate still has guilt for not helping enough

Video: Cyclone Gabrielle community advocate still has guilt for not helping enough

Louise Parsons has spent the last year tirelessly advocating for a community devastated by Cyclone Gabrielle, but she still feels guilty that she did not immediately realise the extent of the flooding.

Parsons, who lives in Eskdale, remembers 14th February 2023 very clearly.

“Definitely waking up in the morning having not been evacuated and looking out the window because I could hear helicopters and wondered what was going on and seeing the water. That's all I saw was water. And it was probably about 6:30 in the morning and the whole event happened at 3:00. So we had no idea. I still feel guilty about that.”

Asked by Hawke’s Bay App why she felt guilty, Parsons said it was because “we slept through it”.

“I truly thought it was just our neighbour behind me in Pohutukawa Drive. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I had no idea of the extent. And I guess guilty because it happened to them and not us.”

Parsons’ property was not affected by the flood at all.

“Ironically we were on the beachfront, and normally we looking out towards the beach for danger. And it was actually behind us, that's where the danger was. And I guess the guilt also comes from, we couldn't help them.”

“A lot of our neighbours were helping all the beautiful people from Pohutukawa and getting them out and getting over the fence. But along North Shore Road, there were people stranded in their rooftops and they were stranded there for some time and none of us knew.”

While she did not immediately know the plight facing people up the road from her, many believe she has more than made up for it by strongly advocating for this community.

Not only has she been telling the stories of those who suffered, but she also quickly highlighted the problems besetting the community – particularly a reported spike in crime.

“I mean, the first day was just shock. I think everyone was in shock. Our kids got the kayak out and helped people who wanted to walk out, put some of their belongings in and help walk them out.”

“The neighbourhood was pretty much below water. It was the next day that everything kicked in. We had no comms for days. I didn't see the news until about four days later. And we were just hearing rumours that bridges had gone.” 

“So it was kind of the next day that things kicked. In regard to being the advocate, when the looting started, that's when my experience and my knowledge kicked in because of the work I've done with Sensible Sentencing. So I knew what needed to be done to try and get some help for our neighbourhood.”

While there were claims that police did not respond to complaints of casual looting, Parsons says she saw it with her own eyes.

“People taking stuff. So we had a big trestle table out the front of Shore Road and it had lots of stuff on there for people to help themselves with, just whatever they needed. Food, clothing, bedding, all that sort of stuff. We've got a cemetery down the end of North Shore Road and there were people coming along and saying that's where they were going. They weren't going there. They were stopping, they were helping themselves to stuff.”

“It was a few days later that when we started clearing houses out and putting belongings on the side of the road, then we had all sorts of people coming into the neighbourhood and just helping themselves to people's belongings.”

“People were absolutely terrified. It wasn't until our men folk started doing a roster and went out and did road patrol. And that was more terrifying because I thought someone's going to get hurt.”

Parsons says her issue was not with police, who she says had her hands tied, but rather with the [Labour] Government of the day.

“I was disgruntled with the government of the day, and that was because we were screaming out the help from the Defence Force and they would not do it. They would not send the Defence Force. The Defence Force wanted to be here.”

“They were here to start with, to help with rescues. But then what we needed was we needed people on checkpoints. We needed people at the road checkpoints. We needed help with the cleanup. We needed roading help. We needed the Bailey Bridges.”

“These guys know what they're doing, they soldiers, and they weren't allowed to come.”

Parsons says that a year on, the situation is different for different people.

“It depends on where they are and the situation they're in. My direct community, their category has changed so they're allowed to rebuild, which is fantastic.”

“Other people are still trying to get settlements. Other people don't want to move. Coping is probably, I'd say not coping. And now we're a year on and our communities have been completely devastated and that's a flood that's going to happen, but it's what's happened after the flood that's really decimated our communities.”

“And that's because people have been forced off their land by these ridiculous categories and waiting for compensation and some of them don't want to go.”

However, Parsons is hopeful that the new National Government will look at things differently.

“The solution is very easy. The solution is taking away the category, take away from the councils for a start. They're not qualified to be doing this, any of it.”

She also believes there should be a new category – 2W.

“2W would mean that if there is a warning system that works, you can live there. And what that would mean is the people that want to stay could stay, but their house still has value, their land still has value. The council could then sell the buyout ones. So the people that don't want to stay, they should be completely allowed to leave.”

Watch the accompanying video to see the full interview with Louise Parsons.