‘Stay strong, stay safe’: New Zealand woman sends message to her family after cyclone forces them to evacuate

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Dellena Austine said she “burst into tears” after her family, forced to evacuate after the destruction of Cyclone Gabrielle, managed to call via an emergency satellite phone

Several communities in New Zealand have been isolated by floodwaters, landslides and telecommunications outages after the destruction caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Speaking to NationalWorld from Hūkerenui, in Northland, Dellena Austine said her family living in Wairoa, in Hawke’s Bay, on the North Island’s east coast had been evacuated but “food and water there is a real concern as there is no way to get road deliveries through.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The cyclone struck the country’s north on Monday (13 February) and has brought more destruction to this nation of five million than any weather event in decades.

Police confirmed at least four people had been killed by the storm, two in landslides and two by drowning. One included a child caught in rising water on Tuesday (14 February) at Eskdale on Hawke’s Bay.

A weather station in the Hawke’s Bay region recorded three times more rain over Monday night than usually falls for the entire month of February, authorities said.

Police said 1,442 people had been reported uncontactable in the North Island as of Wednesday afternoon (15 February).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Getty Images/Dellena Austine

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters: “We expect the vast majority of these people will be accounted for. However, there are several people missing for whom police do hold grave concerns.”

He said he could not put a figure on how many missing persons reports were of grave concern.

However, Hipkins said 1,111 people had been reported found by Wednesday - which would cancel out some of those reported uncontactable.

Meanwhile around 9,000 people have been forced from their homes since Monday, an official said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Along with rescues, the government was prioritising restoring power and telecommunications as well as delivering food, water and medicine to where it was needed, Hipkins said.

A naval ship left Auckland late on Wednesday with drinking water for Hawke’s Bay communities and another ship would follow with vital supplies on Thursday.

A helicopter was reported to drop bottled water for 3,000 people on Wednesday night, and water treatment equipment would also be delivered to Wairoa on Thursday, Hipkins said.

‘I burst into tears when I heard her voice’

Dellena told NationalWorld she was unable to get through to her brother and his family living in Wairoa.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: “I spoke with them briefly on Monday 13 February. We had to cut our call short as we had - until just now - no power and flooded out. They were ready with bags, and had their house set up and secured, then it hit, I saw evacuation details online and couldn’t get through.

“My babies were living a mere two blocks from the river edge. Not being able to contact them has been next level scary.”

Dellena said she was able to speak to her sister-in-law on Tuesday via an emergency services satellite phone who let her know her brother and family were safe.

Dellena’s brother, Phill Halliday. Dellena’s brother, Phill Halliday.
Dellena’s brother, Phill Halliday. | Dellena Austine

She said: “I literally burst into tears when I heard her voice. I don’t know details of their living situation, we didn’t have time to discuss, I am just next level happy to have heard her precious voice on that phone.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“My brother and his family are in Wairoa, they have no roads out of town, everywhere has washed out, bridges washed away. They were living one to two blocks from the river edge, literally five minutes’ slow walk from town centre. I don’t know where they evacuated to, but knowing my little brother he would have piled them up and headed for the nearest bit of high ground and waited.”

She added: “Food and water there is a real concern as there is no way to get road deliveries through, phones/power etc maybe two weeks or longer before anything can be assessed for repair.”

A message Dellena wanted to get across to her family reads: “Phill Halliday, Mani kids 12 & 7, and fur babies, sis loves yah, stay strong, stay well, stay safe.”

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.