Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Hundreds mourn Katikati crash victims

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The memorial service was held at the Katikati Christian Centre. Photo/Andrew Warner
The memorial service was held at the Katikati Christian Centre. Photo/Andrew Warner

Tongan voices sang hymns and songs from home as mourners packed the Katikati Christian Centre to overflowing in remembrance of the five men killed in a crash outside the Aongatete Coolstores this week.

Halani Fine, Koli Vaipulu, Sitiveni Vaipulu, Sione Teulaka, and Samuela Taukatelata were pulling onto State Highway 2 after finishing work when their car was in a collision with a logging truck on Tuesday night.

Before the service began several women adorned the stage with tapa cloth, woven mats, flowers and the photographs of the five Tongan men.

Family members, visibility still shaken from the event, shed tears and held each other in comfort.

Read more: Five 'fine young men' killed in horror crash near Tauranga named

The 200 seats put out for the ceremony were quickly filled last night and members of the local community, including the Katikati Fire Service, stood in the wings and flowed out of of the church.

About 500 people attended the service.

Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times through an interpreter, Meleane Prescott said her brother Sitiveni Vaipulu, 44, had been in New Zealand as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme for the last eight years so he could send much needed money back home to his wife and four children.

Before the service began several women adorned the stage with tapa cloth, woven mats, flowers and the photographs of the five Tongan men. Photo/Ruth Keber
Before the service began several women adorned the stage with tapa cloth, woven mats, flowers and the photographs of the five Tongan men. Photo/Ruth Keber

"He was really happy helping, he worked really hard for them."

He was due to fly back home in September.

His son Koli, who had celebrated his 21st birthday in March, was on his second RSE trip to New Zealand.

He had come to New Zealand to help his father bring money back home to Tonga and was due to fly back to Tonga in two weeks time.

Mrs Prescott said she terribly missed her brother already.

Having lived in New Zealand since 2005 she looked forward to her brother's visits each year bringing news and memories of home.

"He was soft and humble. He respected me and my family."

Sitiveni's wife Ana and three other children were "doing okay", she said.

They were waiting for their husband, father and eldest brother's body to be repatriated back home to begin grieving properly.

"They can't wait to see them."

Mrs Prescott said she would fly with her brother and nephews body home to Tonga this weekend so a proper funeral for the family could be held.

Family of Sitiveni Vaipulu, 44, and his son Koli, 21, mourned the loss of the two men last night. Photo/Ruth Keber
Family of Sitiveni Vaipulu, 44, and his son Koli, 21, mourned the loss of the two men last night. Photo/Ruth Keber

While the Tongan community were hit hardest the loss transcended nationalities with a wide variety of people attending the memorial, including many workers from Vanuatu.

Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva, who is visiting New Zealand, was due to visit the grieving community but yesterday pulled out of the visit, reportedly because of bad weather.

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