It was "all hands on deck" for three Whanganui Red Cross volunteers who headed to the "drowned town" of Edgecumbe last week.

And little did they know that the weather still had a sting in its tail.

The mercy mission took David Russell, Shawn Jarman-Smith and Katie Hogg to the Bay of Plenty after Cyclone Debbie caused the Rangitaiki River to burst it banks and swamp nearby Edgecumbe.

Arriving on Tuesday of last week, Mr Russell - who has served seven years with the Red Cross in Whanganui - said they were thrown straight into the recovery effort.


Edgecumbe was a disaster zone with streets were filled with 1.5 metres of water and over 2000 houses evacuated.

Then, on the Thursday, Cyclone Cook struck.

"Two days after we arrived, Cyclone Cook hit, which put a spin on things," Mr Russell said.
"It was extremely windy with lots of rain ... trees were blowing all over the show and we were just trying to get people to safe ground."

Mr Russell said all houses along Ohope Beach were being evacuated and it was the Red Cross's job to go door-knocking.

"We evacuated about 70 houses and brought them all to the Whakatane War Memorial Hall, which was the Civil Defence centre.

"We had 135 people who slept there, along with 100 other people who were floating around the complex from the prior flooding," Mr Russell said.

When he arrived in the Bay of Plenty, he was made operational manager for a team of 17 Red Cross volunteers from Kapi-Mana, Wairarapa, Auckland and Hamilton.

They worked with the Whakatane District Council, local police, fire service and community centres to make sure people were safe.

Mr Russell has lent his support and skills during the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes and said the disaster was not the worst he had seen, though property damage was "extremely severe".

"People were very cheerful and grateful for our help, and there was a massive community input. The Te Teko marae got together an army of 200 people to help with the clean-up."

The Whanganui Red Cross organisation is one of 19 throughout the country and has 18 active members with a variety of skill sets, among them are ambulance and emergency services staff and Powerco workers.

Then organisation is always looking for more volunteers and provides thorough training.