Wild weather: Frontline workers lose houses, soldier on for community

Frontline emergency response workers on the South Island’s West Coast have had their own homes destroyed – or are yet to survey the damage – but have not downed tools and continue to help the community.

The Herald is aware of a number of first responders whose homes have been ravaged by floodwaters but who remain working.

A Salvation Army volunteer and police officer are among those with no home to return to.

Salvation Army volunteer Robyn Murray said that was the nature of small towns and she was proud of the community’s effort in supporting each other.

“All things considered people have just been absolutely amazing and the reliance they’ve shown and the community spirit… that’s what I love about a small town,” she told the Herald this morning.

Murray said her home had been spared – just.

“A lot of people working have lost houses,” she said.

“When we were working here yesterday we had no idea what our house was going to be like when we got back. We were 2 inches away from it coming in… we are very blessed.”

Murray and others worked a 24-hour shift, going home for a sleep at 8pm and returning to the evacuation centre at 7am.

“Now we’re back here again to see it through to whenever we’re needed,” she said.

“I think people will be here for a while because there’s just so many house uninhabitable – they just can’t go back.

“Last night we were so overwhelmed they ended up opening the kindergarten across the road to take the overflow.”

Murray said it was hard work with so many people needing accommodation, food, water and supplies.

But the community was pulling together. The local Fresh Choice supermarket is dropping off essentials and an Indian restaurant delivered free meals last night.

“The support we’ve had has been absolutely amazing,” she said.

“You’re juggling about five balls at once, you’ve got people in this ear and in that ear and you’re trying to remember to do something for someone and you forget to do something for someone else.

“A disaster like that can bring out the worst in people but so far I’ve seen the best in people.”

Murray expected the evacuation centres to be full for some time.

And, residents like herself with spare rooms were expecting house guests.

“I would say we’ll have people living with us for a while because there’s just nowhere else to go,” she said. “There’s a long way to go but we’ll get there.”

Murray said her faith and the strong will of the community was getting her through the long hours of work.

She was focusing on the positives – such as people being unharmed and the fact the power did not go out.

“Even in the midst of something like this you can still find things to be thankful for,” she said.

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