Cyclone Gabrielle, the most significant weather event in a generation threw New Zealand into a national state of emergency, amid this unprecedented weather event there are amazing stories of bravery and generosity.

Article by PDG Grant Spackman, Assistant Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator

Cyclone Gabrielle, the most significant weather event in a generation threw New Zealand into a national state of emergency with floods trapping people on roofs and displacing thousands after their homes were destroyed. Amid this unprecedented weather event there are amazing stories of bravery and generosity as heroic men and women disregarded their safety to rescue those facing near certain death in the raging torrents. Equally heroic in the aftermath are those who continue to give comfort and support as whole communities come to terms with the impact of the disaster.

Rotary District 9930 covers the areas most affected by the cyclone. From the Coromandel Peninsular to Tarawhiti on the East Coast down to Hawkes Bay, whole communities were affected with houses, farms and orchards damaged beyond repair. Rotary responded quickly to provide food, clothing and other basic necessities.

Rotary Ahuriri Sunrise members removing interior walls to save the framework

Within days District Governor Kevin Forgeson and District Foundation Chair Ken Smith responded by securing a Disaster Response Grant from The Rotary Foundation to assist with recovery efforts. The Grant of US$25,000 equated to NZ$38,000 creating a fund to be administered by the District Grants Subcommittee under the Chairmanship of Pat Taylor QSM. DG Kevin Forgeson along with PDG Ross Pinkham and PDG Grant Spackman from Hawkes Bay were seconded onto the committee. To ensure that the Grant was put to immediate use, the decision was made to allocate the funds directly to the Rotary Clubs most affected, allowing them to coordinate the response. Although not onerous, Grants had to meet basic criteria for food, clothing, household items and necessities such as generators.

Ahuriri Sunrise Rotarians clearing a community hall
Stortford Lodge Rotarians clearing property damage
Stortford Lodge Rotarians at work in Papakowhai near Napier

Within weeks of the money being dispersed, projects were underway. Reports received back to the Grants committee included photos and media coverage of Rotary’s involvement in the relief efforts. Fifteen Rotary Clubs in District 9930 received funding from the Disaster Response Grant. The Rotary Club of Gisborne purchased seven fridges to distribute to Te Karaka on the East Coast. The Thames Rotary Club purchased household items and clothing for people displaced in the Hauraki region. In Hawkes Bay the Rotary Club of Stortford Lodge used funds in conjunction with St Andrews Church to set up “Genlend”, a project to collect and distribute generators to individuals and community groups, many of whom were without power for several weeks. The Rotary Club of Havelock North provided lunches daily to Taskforce Kiwi, an organisation of 

Taskforce Kiwi Volunteers enjoying lunches provided by Rotary Havelock North

ex defence, police and fire service volunteers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada using their hands on experience in the relief efforts. Later this month the Rotary Club of Hastings Karamu will bring children in isolated rural communities to the city for a performance by the theatre group “Worm” as part of a day of fun and entertainment. The Rotary Club of Te Kuiti were recipients of the fund and generously went beyond their region to source and truck local fresh vegetables to Tarawhiti and Hawkes Bay, despite flooding in their area only days earlier.

Rotary District 9930 commends The Rotary Foundation for their quick response following Cyclone Gabrielle. The Foundation’s generosity enabled Rotary to be a significant contributor to the relief effort. The need for our support will continue in the month’s ahead. District Governor Kevin Forgeson established the District 9930 Flood Appeal with a spectacular response. Donations have been received from individual Rotarians and Clubs across New Zealand and Australia along with significant contributions from the Rotary organisations ROZops (Rotary Oceania Zone Operations) and RNZWCS (Rotary New Zealand World Community Service).