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4 May 2023

How a marae supported its community during Cyclone Gabrielle

Marae as a centre for community resilience.

Consumer NZ visited Hawke’s Bay three weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle hit and saw some of the damage first hand. Despite the devastation, stories of resilience and support emerged in the aftermath of the storm.

We visited Pukemokimoki marae in Napier and met some wāhine who worked to establish the first evacuation centre in the region.

Image of Image of Pukemokimoki marae

Generators made a huge difference

When asked what made a big difference for them, Casey and Roxann, staff members of Te Roopu a Iwi Trust who were working at the marae, immediately said their generator.

Without their generator they wouldn’t have been able to keep their fridges and freezers running where they had stored food they could prepare, as well as temperature-sensitive medicine, like insulin.

While their marae already had a generator, Civil Defence was able to give them a second, bigger one too. With this, it meant they could keep their floodlights on, working as a beacon in the blacked-out area.

“We’re a marae, we know what to do in our marae, you know, these people were never ever going to starve, and they were very well fed,” Casey continued. “In terms of the other safety protocols and processes, I’m not sure if anyone had anticipated not having power AND not having comms for so long.”

When asked if a radio would have come in handy to know what was going on, both Casey and Roxann agreed it would have just been an added layer of mahi to the already stressful and busy situation.

“It would have required somebody listening dedicatedly to a radio and giving feedback… no one really could afford the time because people were coming thick and fast,” Casey clarified.

That being said, the wāhine agreed if they could afford the time a radio would have helped a lot, especially as they’d know what was going on in a more direct way.

As people arrived at Pukemokimoki during the storm, many didn’t know what was really going on, but over time phones started to receive notifications on the state of emergency.

“[The alert messages] were coming in very intermittently or not at all,” Casey recalled. “My phone was on 100% and I didn’t get one, but one of our evacuees, his phone was dead flat, and he got one.”

Pukemokimoki provided shelter and a welfare hub

Image of marae supplies

Pukemokimoki (organised by Roopu a Iwi Trust) was able to shelter, feed, warm and clothe evacuees.

However, as the water kept rising and the marae became at risk of flooding, the evacuees had to be relocated to a Civil Defence centre.

Three days later, Pukemokimoki was turned into a welfare hub where those affected could go for supplies. Anyone who needed support could visit for clean clothing, bedding, food, toys, toiletries and more – all of which were donated.

Many new faces passed through Pukemokimoki. Individuals and whānau who had no prior connection to the marae, some of which didn’t live in the area, were all welcomed.

Altogether, 173 evacuees came through the marae, thousands of people visited for hot meals and clothing for the following three weeks.

Marae are pivotal in providing support to the community

Other marae in the region also stepped up to offer immediate support to affected communities, many of which were coordinated by Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated.

A doctor and nurses were also on-site at Pukemokimoki to provide health support.

The Ministry of Social Development were also on site to process Civil Defence cyclone relief payments for whānau who approached MSD with financial hardship. Te Aka Whai Ora (the Māori Health Authority) played a pivotal role in supporting the relief effort at Pukemokimoki as well.

Image of marae

In the end, Pukemokimoki had to put out a message asking for no more clothing donations as they were overflowing with people’s generosity. Yet many in the community who needed help were not asking for it or coming forward.

While in Hawke’s Bay, we talked to people across many organisations. There appeared to be a consistent experience of people not coming forward for help. It can be hard to ask for help, and even harder when you know others also need help, and perhaps more than you.

However, our trip also highlighted how many people want to help and offer support. One demonstration of that was the enormity of donations to Pukemokimoki once it was established as a welfare hub.

Pukemokimoki showcased this drive to help even more so, when they sent all their mattresses and crockery used during the evacuation to places still housing people.

Casey, a member of Roopu a Iwi Trust, was at Pukemokimoki marae when we visited. She told Consumer that when things you can spare are needed elsewhere, you fill that need without hesitation.

Community action

Image of marae community

Several people we met while in the Hawke’s Bay region said how much the marae in the area helped in the cyclone response and recovery.

As noted by Casey and Roxann, marae are designed to host lots of people. They have mattresses, generators, and stored food and are usually known locally, which make them great community hubs during an emergency.

These community connections are what pay off when times get tough as they facilitate support. In this case, Pukemokimoki was able to offer an evacuation site, and a welfare hub because it had the community support to do so. On top of this, people with connections to the marae donated goods for those who needed them and helped fund the marae’s mahi.

Ultimately, the resilience and support demonstrated by Pukemokimoki and other marae in the region showed the importance of community connections in times of crisis. By participating in local activities, volunteering, and supporting community organisations, individuals can help build community resilience which helps facilitate support when crisis strikes.

Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora te manuhiri. With your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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