Sunday, March 3, 2024

Missing in Action: Where is The Help For West & South Auckland?

It’s news that will come as a shock to no-one, but we’re missing a good chunk of the story of the Auckland flooding, while we concentrate on the damage in our most affluent suburbs.

I get it. They’re utterly shocking and compelling images. Once grand, beautiful homes, now teetering on the edge of cliff faces, their lavish, picture-perfect pools and decks having already tumbled into the sea below.

For the owners and families who live in those homes, it’s heartbreaking – and no doubt terrifying, hearing Mother Nature trying to drag your home away in the dark.

But these striking images of damaged homes in some of NZ’s most expensive suburbs – which have somehow become the face of the flooding disaster in Auckland – aren’t telling the full story of this disaster. Not even half.

I’m not downplaying the damage in our central city and its neighbouring suburbs – it’s immense. Likely hundreds of millions, or perhaps even billions of dollars of damage. It’s devastating.

But as I drove from my home in West Auckland yesterday through the city to the eastern suburbs, I had a thought: Oh, this is where all the road cones are.

“I didn’t have the luxury of worrying about one suburb,” Wayne Brown retorted on the weekend in a press conference, as he tried to defend his actions last Friday night.

But it appears his efforts (if we can call them that) really have only been concentrated on a select few suburbs (including where he plays tennis).

While we watch to see if more of these lavish homes succumb to the sea, there are families here in West Auckland and in badly hit South Auckland who have lost everything they own. Everything.

Friends tell of coming home to find water at their door – and, even worse, desperate calls for help from their neighbour: the water was already waist-high in her house, but with only one pair of hands she needed help carrying both of her children to safety. There wasn’t time to grab any treasured belongings. Sadly, hers is just one story of many.

In other homes out West, families are now facing yet another day without power or water.

Our local Facebook groups are full of messages – people desperately looking for their missing dogs, access to power generators, warm dry clothes, pleas for help to salvage what is left of their water-damaged belongings, or, heartbreakingly, somewhere for their family to live.

And, heartwarmingly, the help from our local community is pouring in. During the storm on Friday a woman asked desperately for help as her son required a medical device and they were now without power. Strangers turned up – while the waters raged – with a generator. Others arrived with back-up diesel.

During the weekend another woman posted that her parents’ home in Ranui had been hit for the second time now by flood waters. She wondered if anyone could possibly come help salvage things? Maybe even if people had zip lock bags she could have, as one thing that was still in good shape was their Lego collection. Within minutes, complete strangers had posted that they were in their cars, on their way to help. Others would be a little late, while they stopped to buy bags for her.

Others posted their offers of help all weekend – some had filled sandbags for people to pick up for free, cooked meals, or offered up use of their ute and trailer, or clothing, car seats, bassinets, beds and furniture that were now free to someone in need. There were offers of professional help, whether it was free carpet laying, commercial dehumidifiers or asbestos consultancies. The Waitakere Indian Association announced they’d go door-to-door in badly affected areas of Don Buck with beautiful meals. The Student Volunteer Army posted they would also be going door-to-door to help if anyone was available to join the effort. Addresses of badly hit homes began popping up, with dozens of people – complete strangers – putting their hands up to go help people in desperate need.

On Monday as I drove out of West Auckland, past homes with sodden carpet, mattresses and belongings now piled up on the curb, past slips that had brought trees down through homes, dodged parts of the road which were now undrivable (covered with just a single road cone, or nothing at all), into the city (and through Kohimarama where a puddle of water on the edge of the road was surrounded by no less than 10 cones).

It was there I heard the news that more bad weather was on the way and that schools would be shut for the week.

I heard the kerfuffle at Auckland Boys’ Grammar, at their annoyance by the decision and the school’s call to go on ahead and open anyway. I listened to the anger of parents at schools now shut for the week.

And yes, it is hard to be back to these lockdown-feeling days of balancing working from home with childcare. But I can also see that I’m extraordinarily lucky to be in a position to find this an inconvenience. For many more families there are far bigger, pressing needs.

Yip, they’re also worried about schools and when they’ll open – but many are most worried that when school starts up again next week, they no longer have a school uniform or shoes for their children.

Want to help? Please visit here for a list of places where you can donate your time, goods and money.

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