Crash has devastating impact

By Carmen Hall, Sandra Conchie

1 comment

RIZA Maria watched in horror as a car carrying five of her workmates turned on to State Highway 2 and collided with a logging truck.

"It sounded like a bomb," she said.

The 36-year-old was following Halani Fine, Koli Vaipulu, Sitiveni Vaipulu, Sione Teulaka and Samuela Taukatelata out of the carpark at Aongatete Coolstores after their shift finished at 8pm on Tuesday.

"I was about two to three feet [away from them] and then suddenly the accident [happened]. They were turning out of the carpark. I saw the truck coming and then the flash of the lights from them.

"It was like a bomb and the car is like a tin can and crumpled."

She was one of many in the small community who knew the victims well and is now grieving.

Yesterday, Ms Maria was back at Aongatete Coolstores with others paying tribute to the men while a cleansing took place alongside Tongan singing.

"There were lots of tears and emotion. Some family members were there but it was mostly friends."

Coolstores managing director Allan Dawson said the loss of the five men had a devastating impact on a huge number of people.

"With five people killed and so many families, and their friends affected, it has had a huge ripple effect right through our whole organisation."

"Steven [Sitiveni] has been coming to us for eight years, and was working in a supervisor's role. The other workers had worked for us for different periods of time.

They were such lovely people, just so willing and helpful and quite skilled as well. We will be stuffed without them ... "You couldn't ask for better people to work for you."

Dawson said the company had been flooded with offers of support, not just for the families of the men but staff and other members of the Tongan community.

"We are definitely going to need lots of support going forward as I expect about 20 of our staff will go back ... when they are taken back to Tonga.

"Lots of people know each other in this industry. We are like one big family. "It's likely that a huge number of people will need lots of support for some time."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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