Cyclone Gabrielle: Pasifika songs of gratitude ring out across Hawke’s Bay

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Another shelter day for the Tangata Tuārangi RSE workers
Another day for the Tangata Tuārangi RSE workers taking shelter at EFKS Hastings .. . although they have lost everything, their spirits remain high. Image: Ali Leota screenshot APR

By Susana Suisuiki, RNZ Pacific journalist

In the midst of all the destruction from Cyclone Gabrielle in Aotearoa New Zealand, Pasifika voices singing songs of praise and gratitude have rung out in church halls across Hawke’s Bay.

Pacific churches have been sanctuaries for RSE workers in the region, some of whom were clinging desperately to rooftops surrounded by raging waters during the height of the flooding.

Cyclone Gabrielle has robbed them of the few possessions they owned, but their faith remains.

Hastings Pasifika community leader Tofilau Talalelei Taufale said that RSE workers in the region were among those worst affected by the extreme weather events.

He is currently on the ground, helping the workers who have been left homeless.

Tofilau said hundreds of workers have been evacuated:

“Many of them have been displaced, many of them have lost their possessions and many of them had struggled to contact their families to let them all know that they are safe.”

“So there’s a whole multitude of issues that impacted the shock that our RSE community is going through right now.”

As far as the emergency response is concerned Tofilau said he understands there are a lot of worried people, but he calls for patience and understanding.

“We acknowledge that as a community everyone is trying their best, given their limitations so that’s when we as a community will say, okay it is what it is, we’re gonna help.”

Although the clean-up is now well underway, it’s estimated that it could take months.

Hawke’s Bay DHB pacific health manager Tofilau Talalelei Taufale.
Hawke’s Bay DHB Pacific Health Manager Tofilau Talalelei Taufale . . . “As a community everyone is trying their best.” Image: Tom Kitchin/RNZ Pacific

“We acknowledge that as a community everyone is trying their best, given their limitations so that’s when we as a community will say, okay it is what it is, we’re gonna help.”

Although the clean-up is now well underway, it’s estimated that it could take months.

To further complicate things telecommunication and internet connectivity remain limited – the safest method to keep connected is via smartphone, with data, but even that poses a challenge.


Tepura Trow of SENZ Training and Employment said despite the battering it had taken, Hawke’s Bay communities stood united.

“Our community has pulled together and they’ve got such an overwhelming and overload of donations coming in so I know that our focus and a lot of the NGOs and the community — our main focus is really, how can we set them up for after this.”

The Secretary and CEO of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone, said the outpouring of support has also been felt outside the hard-hit regions.

Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone.
Ministry for Pacific Peoples CEO Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone . . . “Our concerned communities want to help and are wanting to provide blankets and towels and all those necessities of life that our families might need.” Image: RNZ Pacific

“For us, it’s not just about the Hawke’s Bay or the Auckland region, lots of questions from our concerned communities want to help and are wanting to provide blankets and towels and all those necessities of life that our families might need,” she said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. If you have been affected by the North Island floods and Cyclone Gabrielle, go to the Ministry of Social Development website to see how you can apply for help through the community support fund.

For our Pasifika community members, you can also contact the Ministry for Pacific Peoples website. The ministry has set out an extensive list of severe weather events information and contact numbers.

Some of the RSE workers who were stuck on the rooftop in the Hawke's Bay were later rescued
Some of the Pacific RSE workers who were stuck on the rooftop in the Hawke’s Bay were later rescued. Image: RNZ Pacific
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