• Video: Surreal to rewind back to Cyclone Gabrielle, says Central Hawke's Bay Mayor

Video: Surreal to rewind back to Cyclone Gabrielle, says Central Hawke's Bay Mayor

It is "surreal" to try and rewind to this time last year when Cyclone Gabrielle unleashed a torrent of floodwater and silt on the region, Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Alex Walker says.

"It was pretty intense," she tells Hawke's Bay App ahead of the first anniversary. 

"In those days leading up to Cyclone Gabrielle arriving, we were looking at the weather reports and trying to get messages out to the community, and it was a time of preparation. But when I look back on it now, it feels like, I ask myself too, 'Did we do enough? What did we do?' And all of those kinds of things."

The night of February 13, Walker admittedly didn't sleep very much. In the early hours of the following morning, she was confronted by "walls of water" on the road as she drove from her home to the Civil Defence Headquarters. 

"I'd never seen that before," she remembers.

"It had obviously rained quite a lot. There was water everywhere. Roads were closed, people were cut off, and we knew that, but at about nine o'clock on that morning of the 14th, actually the sun was out. The rain had stopped and a lot of people in Central Hawke's Bay thought we'd come through it.

"And then as the morning unfolded, it became really clear that we didn't know what was happening with the rivers, we weren't getting the monitoring, we weren't getting the warnings, and there was this wall of water arriving. And I look back at that time on how much we couldn't see because we'd lost our lifelines ... cell phones weren't working, power wasn't working..."

Looking back, Walker says she is proud of how the community came together in a time of chaos and emergency. 

"There were residents all over the district that evacuated themselves. And I look back on that now and just am so proud of our people, our emergency services, everybody who just down tools to help themselves, help their neighbours, help their community and contribute to that."

An image of her eight councillors from Central Hawke's Bay District Council sitting around a coffee table next to the council chambers in the middle of the Civil Defence emergency room comes to mind, when talking about the service shown by the community. 

"They had a map of the district in front of them at the table, and they were there sharing their intelligence. And so amongst the eight of them, they created this picture of what was happening in the community; who knew where who was, who'd talked to which households, who'd seen what roads, who knew what. And they basically created this map that showed what they knew as community representatives and community leaders where people were cut off and where we needed to focus our attention." 

"That service and that commitment across community and that intelligence by local, for local. That's what will stick in my mind forever."

Walker says she is proud of the pace at which they have been able to do a lot of things really quickly in the year since the cyclone. 

"There was common understanding in the region that we had to learn, we had to rebuild more quickly than other places had seen in the past, and we had to build back in a way that was stronger and more resilient. When I look back at the work we did around categorisation and that sort of thing around where people were building, that was really, really difficult stuff but it happened quicker here than it has happened anywhere in the country. And there are parts of the country that are still going through what does that future look like for their properties." 

While they have done a "huge amount", Walker says there is still "so much more to do".

"We've still got families who are not in their homes. We've still got families who are battling with insurance. We've still got families who are living in our category 2a, areas like Porangahau, where that big-picture future is still not certain. Is there going to be a stop bank? Are we going to change how their properties are? How are we going to protect them in the future? And those things are still unanswered questions. So we've made a huge amount of progress, but there are still some people that have still got a long way to go and are dealing with it day by day." 

She acknowledges how tough this anniversary is. 

"It's tough for all of us to look back and look at what we went through. And I think it's important for us to all remember across our communities that some people are ready to stand together and reflect and mourn and think about what the future looks like. And some people aren't, some people are still dealing with those issues day by day. And many people are dealing with issues that we can't see."