Hawke's Bay mum-of-two Amy Bowkett is still overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of her Puketapu neighbours in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.
Amy, 44, her husband Richard, 50, and their nine-year-old daughter Celia took refuge at their neighbours Nick and Sheena McCann's house when their home in the 39 Degrees South subdivision was lifted off its foundations by flood waters.
"We'd been nearly flooded in the past, so we put some things up high and went to our neighbours to make sure our daughter was safe," Amy tells Woman's Day from her mother's home in Napier. "At that stage, we didn't know about the Tūtaekuri River that was about to break at the banks.
"I was wearing a nightie with trackpants over the top and I thought I'd just pop back home to pick up some more clothes. I was making my way down their drive, then a neighbour who lives at the very top of the hill came hooning down on his quad bike and said to get back to high ground because he'd seen the river coming across the valley. Then, all of a sudden, I realised that our house was now a river. You could just see it going higher and higher. My husband's car was picked up and thrown against the side of our shed."
Amy managed to save her beloved dog and cat, but sadly lost her 10 chickens. Their house was one of two that were uninhabitable after the flood, but all 16 families in the subdivsion pulled together to look after each other.
"We went from living on beautiful lifestyle blocks in the most beautiful part of the Hawke's Bay to pooing in a paddock," Amy says wryly. "There was no power or clean water, so people were getting nervous, especially ones with young children.
"But it was like a wartime spirit. We all got together and had quasi-Civil Defence meetings, sharing what we knew, offering diesel or the use of a generator. Without that community spirit, it could have turned to custard quite fast."
On day three, Amy managed to access 4G and put up a Facebook post requesting help.
"I knew someone would do something and they did. We were well aware that we weren't a high priority, but families with babies were incredibly relieved when we were evacuated."
All of the residents were helicoptered to safety and Amy, who works for the Hawke's Bay Foundation, immediately set to work helping others in the region. The foundation normally works on an endowment model, where donations are invested and the income is distributed to local community organisations. However, when crises happen, it can pivot quickly to being a funder where donations come in and they go straight back out.
"As one of the larger philanthropic organisations in Hawke's Bay, we knew we had to work really quickly," Amy explains. "I think I got choppered out on the Thursday, and by Friday morning I was on the phone to my board and to the mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, who gave us the great big go-ahead. My team and I got the Hawke's Bay Cyclone Relief fund live by Friday afternoon. It was an absolutely mammoth effort, but it was so important given the devastation."
Amy and the team are now working closely with the charities providing relief in the area.
"Because we're here in the region, we can see where people's donations will help the most," she says. "We have a lot of trust in our community and it's nice to know that if you're donating, the funds will stay right here.
"We know New Zealanders want to help but aren't sure what the best thing to do is. That's where we come in. We're a registered charity – we are safe as houses! Well, not my house," she adds with a sad grin.
To help support the region's unprecedented relief effort, the Hawke's Bay Foundation has set up a special "HB Cyclone Relief Fund" to funnel donations directly to the overwhelmed welfare agencies on the ground that need it most. To donate, go to hawkesbayfoundation.org.nz.
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