Through a mix of intention and by chance - being in the right place at the right time - Wairarapa Police staff were the first agency on the ground helping locals when Cyclone Gabrielle hit the region.
Wellington District is fortunate to have been spared the worst of the storm. However, rural and coastal areas of the Wairarapa - particularly Tinui and Castlepoint - were heavily impacted.
It was not to the scale of devastation in other parts of the North Island but homes were flooded and property and livestock were destroyed. And with fallen trees and slips on the main arterial routes, people in these communities were cut off and without comms, power, drinking water or food for several days.
With uncertainty about what impact the storm would have, on the day the cyclone arrived two-person police teams in 4WDs were deployed to the coastal regions to conduct reassurance patrols.
The unit deployed north - to Castlepoint, Tinui and Riversdale - were unable to return to Masterton because of slips.
They quickly jumped into assisting in the Castlepoint area, which had no power or cellphone coverage, to contact the Emergency Response Team and tell them what was happening.
Pouwhakataki (Iwi Liaison Coordinator) Joe Harwood, Community Sergeant Steve Cameron and Senior Constable Kathryn Percy stayed in the area for three days to help co-ordinate the response, provide updates and support locals.
Kathryn and Joe organised a community meeting to ensure people got what they needed and identified the people that needed the most help. This was greatly appreciated by the community and holidaymakers alike.
Area Commander Wairarapa Inspector Scott Miller says the positive feedback is still coming in about how our people helped co-ordinate and support the community.
“Our people were the only agency on the ground for four days until the Army and response teams could get through. Our rural communities are grateful to have had Police staff with them when the worst of the storm hit.”
With some assistance, Police staff were able to organise for medical supplies to be flown in and for a heart patient to be flown out, along with stranded Aussie tourists who needed to catch a flight home.
As other agencies got access to the cut-off areas, staff were able to help with delivering food and checking on the welfare of residents.
Pouwhakataki Joe Harwood says though it was a very challenging few days, the downpour didn’t dampen the community spirit. Everyone came together and did what they could to support each other.
"This event re-emphasised the value of police knowing and actively being involved in our rural community," says Joe.
"Strong relationships built over several years enabled police to work alongside Castlepoint residents such as Richard and Megan Hewitt, who were instrumental in supporting our team to provide essential needs for the hapouri."
There’s still plenty of work to be done over the coming weeks and months. While the community recovers, staff have kept up with daily reassurance patrols, checking in on residents and workers.
Acting Area Prevention Manager Sergeant Gill Flower says Police’s interactions with everyone have been very positive.
“Initially there was a lack of communication and we seemed to fill that void. Now it’s about being available to reassure and stop any anti-social behaviour.
“As well as a general welfare check on residents, we’re heading out to the coast daily ensuring roading teams aren’t being harassed by impatient motorists while their doing jobs, and that the most vulnerable areas aren’t targeted by opportunistic burglars.”
And with more staff working in Rural/Community, Wairarapa Police will continue to be highly visible, supporting rural and coastal communities to be and feel safe.
Scott commends the commitment of staff to serving the local community, especially those with close links to the East Coast and family members severely impacted by flooding.