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Three Rotorua families are preparing to say goodbye to their loved ones, all in utter disbelief the men's lives have been cut short, reports Rotorua Daily Post.
The families of Haki Hiha, David Eparaima and Soul Raroa have spoken about the men who were killed in a horrific crash at their worksite near Matatā on Tuesday, involving four trucks.
Eparaima and Hiha were relatives from the same pā at Whakarewarewa.
Their Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao families are today preparing Te Pakira Marae for the tangi of both men.
They and Raroa all worked for Higgins.
Haki Hiha, 40, was well-known for his long dreadlocks and was a hearty Whakarewarewa Rugby Club supporter and former player.
His first cousin Kaci James told the Rotorua Daily Post the family was in utter disbelief at Hiha's death, as well as the death of David Eparaima, another wider family member killed in the same crash.
She said Hiha would be dearly missed, especially by his fiancee and two sons - a primary school-aged son and a baby boy he and his partner had recently become whāngai (Māori adoption) parents to.
Born and bred in Rotorua and descended from Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao, Hiha had worked for Higgins for several years, James said.
"He was well-known for his long, long dreadlocks. He was staunch as but really was a big teddy bear. He was very loyal and loving to his long-time partner and couldn't go anywhere without her."
James said Hiha was a former Whakarewarewa Rugby Club player for both the A and B teams but remained a strong supporter of the club after he stopped playing.
"He was a staunch rugby fan and was always at all the games (on Saturdays as a supporter). He was red and black through and through."
The eldest of the cousins, she said they were particularly close and news of his death had hit hard.
"Most of us are still just trying to process this. He was just at work like any other day of the week. We all saw it on the news but you never think it will be your whānau, let alone two of your whānau."
She said the bodies of Hiha and Eparaima were still with the Coroner but it was expected they would arrive Te Pakira Marae, at Whakarewarewa tomorrow.
Robbie Trotman, an old friend of Hiha, said: "If there was anyone who could mahi, it was him."
"No complaints about how long the hours were, how heavy products were to lift or anything, he just did it."
David Eparaima looked gruff on the outside, but on the inside, he was a "very loving man".
Eparaima's elder brother Ngarepo spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post through tears this morning.
"This has been a big shock for us [Eparaimas]," he said.
"David was a loving brother and a loving partner. He loved his sons, his grandchildren, his nieces and nephews. He was very much a family man."
The Eparaima whānau is "very close".
"We used to call David 'Uncle Grumpy' because he just looked gruff, but all his nieces and nephews knew he loved them to bits. They'd often be hugging each other."
The whānau is gathering around David's partner, and his two sons, who are in their late teens and early 20s.
"When David's partner found out last night, she was frantically trying to get hold of me. I spent the night busy contacting brothers and sisters overseas so they had the time to get back here. We are hoping to take David home for a night after the post mortem, and then to Te Pakira at the pā the next day."
Eparaima was born and raised in Rotorua and spent as much time as he could in the outdoors, mainly fishing.
Ngarepo said his brother loved his job and his workmates.
Wiki Royal, Eparaima's cousin, said he was "humble and quiet, a trait of the Eparaima whānau".
He said he "was a guy who would do anything for anyone and expect nothing in return".
Royal said although his cousin was a few years younger, they were close and grew up together as whanaunga.
"The village at Whakarewarewa was our playground."
He said whānau members were coping as well as they could, during their time of mourning.
Stevie-Lee Raroa dropped her dad at work yesterday and headed back to the Higgins depot in the afternoon to pick him up.
But she was waiting outside the depot for a long time and he didn't come out.
When her mum called her mobile to tell her the news he had been killed at work that afternoon, she didn't want to believe it.
Raroa, 56, was a father of three boys and three girls, and had only started working for Higgins a few weeks ago.
He took the job because it was full-time employment, with his previous job driving a truck for Reporoa-based company Central Transport Ltd only being seasonal.
Before that, he had worked for more than a decade for Castlecorp driving the rubbish trucks around the city, before the company became Infracore.
His daughters Stevie-Lee and Janna described their father as "affectionate" but also "cheeky". They said he loved his kids, especially his grandchildren.
Raroa's nephew Tipene Waite said his uncle was a good man who was always happy, and he worked hard to provide for his kids and family.
"Even though he's gone, nothing can take away memories of who he was and what he did."
Friends, family and former work colleagues gathered at his home today to pay tribute to a man they described as being a keen fisherman, golfer, former league player and person who loved his old school music and doing home DIY.
Known among his friends as "Soul Man", Raroa will have his tangi at his Western Heights home he shared with his long-time partner of more than 30 years.