More than 400 workers from the Pacific evacuated to a Napier church during Cyclone Gabrielle should be able to return to more permanent accommodation in the next few days.
Workers from Samoa, Fiji, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands had stayed at the Samoan Assembly of God church in Napier after being displaced by floodwaters that swept through New Zealand’s North Island towns during the cyclone.
Many were part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.
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One of them, Taylor Crichton from Samoa, arrived on Thursday after he and 46 others living at Taylor Corporation accommodation in Puketapu ran up a hill on Tuesday morning to escape rising floodwaters.
“At 5am we woke to water pouring in under our beds. We were like, just grab whatever we can and just run.”
Forty-seven of them ran up the hill, where helicopters eventually flew them out five at a time. When the waters receded they were able to go back to their lodgings to get their belongings.
The group had been staying at the church since Thursday and Crichton said it was a relief to finally be able to call loved ones at home.
“We managed to contact our family back home and they were: ‘Where were you guys? And they all think that we lost our lives.”
Many of the workers had harrowing experiences, Samoan Assembly of God church volunteer Fuimaono Nathan Pulega said.
“A lot of them were stuck on roofs, rescued, and then others were stranded for two days and they haven’t eaten, or they were wet,” he said.
“Some were in a real bad bad frame of mind, so all we could do just as soon as they got off the army trucks or the vans was just hug and cry with them.”
Food and supplies had been donated by the workers’ employers, including T&G and Mr Apple, and some had come from further afield.
The Penina Trust in Auckland donated a car load of food and phones. Volunteer Catherine Ioane said supplies included comfort food such as corned beef, noodles and taro.
Most of the workers were to leave yesterday or today as their usual lodgings were cleaned up or more permanent accommodation was arranged.