“It’s so lovely to hear your voice Liz!’’
Kiri Te Kanawa village manager Penny Forrester’s first words with the outside world were full of emotion.
"Thank you so much for sending these beautiful angels from Christchurch," Penny said. "It's wonderful to feel so supported."
Her and the team had spent more than two days out of contact as the village weathered Cyclone Gabrielle and she was delighted to be able to get in touch with General Manager of NZ Operations Liz Dilger.
While Penny was pleased to hear from the outside, Liz was just as desperate to find out how the village had fared and what could be done to help after spending a long time out of contact during the storm.
The phone call was only possible after Christchurch-based Construction Manager Tom Brownrigg and National Facilities Manager Tracey McCullough embarked on an epic four-hour helicopter trip north armed with satellite phones.
Wednesday was the earliest the helicopter could fly in because of the weather, and with the region cut off it was the only way to connect with our Gisborne village.
Construction Manager Tom Brownrigg flying by helicopter from Christchurch to Gisborne, which was cut off after Cyclone Gabrielle caused extensive damage along the east coast.
Tom said there were big challenges ahead for Gisborne with water in short supply and communications limited, but otherwise all was fine at Kiri Te Kanawa when they landed in the paddock next door.
“It’s really as if nothing has happened. Everyone is in great spirits, the power is on, and life is almost normal,’’ Tom said.
Penny was full of praise for her team who had done an incredible job through the storm.
It was a family effort – with one caregiver’s husband turning up in a tanker to supply diesel to keep the generator running when none could be found from other sources.
Priorities now are securing food and water and planning the logistics for the days ahead in Gisborne with the backing of the emergency management team in Christchurch.
Further south at Princess Alexandra in Napier and James Wattie in Havelock North the villages have also come through the cyclone well with no need to evacuate residents but plenty to worry about.
Princess Alexandra has been operating on its emergency generator since Monday and the team continues to do a fantastic job to keep everyone safe and well.
More staff and supplies are being flown in, but communications and electricity remain difficult in Napier as the city remains isolated.
Down the road in Havelock North, supplies are on the way and power has been restored at James Wattie. Communications, however, are also difficult.
Regional Operations Manager Arthur Keane made it through the storm to deliver supplies to James Wattie in a two-day epic drive and New Zealand Sales Manager Bernadette Forsdyke made a dash from the Kapiti Coast to Havelock North to pitch in.
The welcome was warm at James Wattie where the residents and their families have been full of praise for Resident Services Manager Clare Bower, Senior Site Manager Ben van Heerden and the team for doing an amazing job to keep everyone happy.
In Gisborne Tom and Tracey’s satellite phones have been in demand, enabling other aged care operators to connect with the outside world, as well as connecting Kiri Te Kanawa residents with family.
A full-scale logistics operation is being run out of Christchurch to plan for the days and weeks ahead as the recovery continues.
Liz Dilger said: “I’d like to say a massive thank you to the teams on the ground, the weary and adventurous travellers and of course the team quietly organizing, planning and doing in the background.”