• Video: Police officers were responsible for incredible acts of bravery, says Eastern District Commander

Video: Police officers were responsible for incredible acts of bravery, says Eastern District Commander

The Police Eastern District Commander has praised her staff for the bravery they showed during Cyclone Gabrielle a year ago.

Superintendent Jeanette Park told Hawke’s Bay App ahead of the first anniversary of the Cyclone that police officers “just mucked in and got on and were very humble about it”.

“I think all our people did an incredible job and I take my hat off to each and every one of them, whether it was behind the scenes or out rescuing people in floodwaters. And also some of our staff, they did saving, if it wasn't saving each other and also saving people, putting people up into trees or onto higher ground or getting out in boats.”

“They do incredible things and I just admire them. They're amazing, amazing people.”

Prk says the police officers rose to the occasion despite some of them being affected by the Cyclone themselves.

“Yes, we had staff that, I know we can clearly recall, one of our staff members, their family had to be rescued off a roof of their home. And so you get situations like that, but they were out continuing to work and carried on working.”

“We had staff that lost their homes completely and they carried on working because they serve their communities and it's really important to them and they boxed on. It was unreal.”

Park says that even as she looks back a year on to when the Cyclone hit.

“I look back on it now and it was that sort of feeling of it was unbelievable. The devastation and what our people were fronted with or confronted with was hard to even imagine. And you look back now and it's hard to even imagine that actually happened the way it did.”

When the weather reports starting coming in about the situation in Tairāwhiti.

“Right through the weather reports had been coming in and when I remember in the early hours losing communications with our district or across our district up into Tairāwhiti and that was very concerning at that point.”

At her home in Hastings, Park soon realised in the early hours of the Tuesday that things were going to get bad.

“In the early hours of the morning, the weather was coming in. You could certainly see it and feel it and hear it. And I came into the office early on in the morning and I had trouble getting to the office because the floodwaters were coming in and there was trees down and things like that. So it certainly became very apparent very quickly as soon as I came to the Hastings station, the pressure the area was under.”

The main issue for police and other emergency services was the lack of communication and power.

Park says attributes the fact that there were only eleven lives lost across the country, to the communities.

“People are amazing, how when there's something going on, the pressure comes on, people will go out and put their own lives on the line to help others.”

“And certainly, that local communities, people know people, they know where people live, that sort of thing and they will automatically go out and help people. And also our people were incredible. They went out there, there was no communications and things, but they worked with members of the community, whether it was in boats or coordinating rescues, no matter, they are very resourceful. And our communities did everything they could to look after each other.”

In the early stages of the flooding, there were many people reported missing. Park says police and other emergency services simply had to work methodically to make contact with people.

“And of course communications were tricky, so you rely on things like there was Facebook messaging once the phones were back up and that sort of thing. So people were really good at advising us when they knew somebody wasn't, they couldn't locate them.”

“And then we would go, there was door to door. It's good old back to basic policing in order to try and locate people, which having been in the police a long time now, the knocking on doors and trying to find people is often a way to do that.”

One issue police had to deal with was the anxiety of affected communities about crime and looting.

“I absolutely acknowledge at the time and still to this day, people's concerns and fears when there was no power in the streets, when they couldn't communicate with each other and it's a terrible situation to be in.”

“And we had our people out and about and visible. And then as we gained more staff coming through from other parts of the country, then we could roll into things like the mobile bases, police bases and pop-up bases and things or stations I suppose you could say. And working also with the community leaders and those communities to see what it was or how in which we could help and assist.”

She says that the police Eagle helicopter coming down from Auckland for a stint in Hawke’s Bay also helped.

“Eagle helicopter was a tremendous asset and it was very good to have them down here working with our teams on the ground. And it certainly provides reassurance for our communities, but I think communities looking out for each other as well and reporting information through to us so we could respond to that was also really helpful.”

A year on, Park, who will be attending the memorial service in Hastings today, takes time to remember those who lost their lives.

“But my heart goes out to everyone. No one ever, when we're, as a police officer, you never ever want to see a life lost. And it was incredibly tragic and I feel for them, I always have.”

“And just my heart goes out to people that lost loved ones and the devastation across our area.”