Wednesday, 22 March 2023 - 11:30am

Teamwork in Tokomaru Bay

2 min read

News article photos (3 items)

Five children holding rugby balls given to them to keep.
The game of touch rugby that officers organised for the community and got involved in.
Police staff helping with a beach clean-up.

Tairawhiti Rural Response Sergeant Scott Leighton was one of the first staff on the ground in Tokomaru Bay after Cyclone Gabrielle tore through the area.

Scott put his hand up to help along with Constables Renee Gray and Ian Tichborne, both locals from the East Coast.

At that time, Tokomaru Bay was cut off with slips to the north and a bridge down to the south, and the devastation in the community was widespread with homes, schools, and businesses significantly affected.

Scott was already on the ground in the Bay when Renee and Ian were both flown in by helicopter to help with reassurance patrols and activities.

“I had been working with the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Team based at the local sports club, but when the club became a hub for the community with one of only two Starlinks in the area we ended up moving across the road to the Fire Station,” says Scott.

“Renee, Ian and I helped out wherever an extra pair of hands was needed.

“Alongside the community, Ian and Renee put on PPE and helped clean up the beach which had a tonne of debris spread across it.

“We arranged a large delivery of flour to a marae and a teacher who had set up a temporary classroom at her house where local kaumatua taught the students to make Rēwena bread. Given the circumstances, the classroom was very impressive, and the students seemed to be really enjoying themselves.”

The officers organised a game of touch for the community that they also got involved in.

“On days like that, when Ian and Renee have visited the school and we have played touch rugby, you wouldn’t know there had even been a storm if it wasn’t for the helicopters regularly arriving to drop off essential supplies.“

Scott says locals have kept a sense of humour too, which is so typical of the coast.

“There is a sign on the sports club renaming it Tokomaru Bay International Airport and one of the locals mowed four Helicopter landing pads onto the rugby field. There are much worse places I could have been stuck.”

He says the community has really rallied and supported each other as well as Police, regularly checking that the team is looking after themselves and their own families back home.

“The Tokomaru Bay community is well-organised and resilient," he says. "It was awesome to see them in action and the connections that Renee, Ian and others who have flown in have made will be long-lasting.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about our Police response in the Bay – the community have been grateful for our willingness to help at any turn.”