It will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get “the heart’' of the Hawke’s Bay economy beating again.
Hundreds of hectares of orchards and crops have been washed away by Cyclone Gabrielle, with the true extent of the carnage still to be determined.
Every dollar made on an orchard is said to be worth four to the wider region, and horticultural leaders are calling for local and central government assistance.
“It’s not only apples, but the ground crops: The squash, the onions, maze. It’s all severely impacted and a lot of people... don’t actually realise how extreme it is,’’ Bostock New Zealand apple company owner John Bostock said, on Thursday.
“This is a social, environmental and an economic problem. We’ve got our infrastructure compromised, we’ve got the heart of the economy compromised and socially so many people are disrupted.
“We need a government response. This is actually really, really serious.’’
Apple and cherry grower Jerf van Beek counts himself among the lucky ones.
He and his family had minutes to pack a bag and leave their Twyford orchard as floodwater from the Ngaruroro River threatened to swamp them.
It wasn’t that the nearby stop bank failed. The water actually cleared it.
It will take him three years to re-plant his 11-hectare apple orchard, at a cost of $180,000 to $250,000 per hectare.
“I haven’t got that sort of money in the bank. I would love to, but I haven’t,’’ van Beek said.
A Hawke’s Bay regional councillor for Ngaruroro, van Beek hosted a group of fellow growers, politicians and media at his orchard on Thursday, in a bid to provide some perspective of the challenge that lies ahead.
While he talked passionately to the captive audience about how resilient his industry was and how it would rise again, the floorboards and contents of the straw-bale family home he built with his own hands were being readied for a skip.
“This morning, my wife and I had a bit of a cry. It was tough to see my wife hurt - it’s not what I live for,’’ said a tearful van Beek.
“All you see is our life’s work. We have a beautiful home, but come inside and it’s completely destroyed. The adrenalin will keep me going, but there will be times when we’re really sad about this.’’
But van Beek feels the same way for Hawke’s Bay. It’s the regional council’s duty, he said, to keep the people of this province safe and that hadn’t happened on this occasion.
Bridges and stop banks have proved inadequate, power and communications systems have failed.
This is a time, van Beek said, to think about where we build homes and infrastructure and find better solutions for the future. Just as there might be more efficient ways to grow apples eventually too.
In the meantime, there’s a hugely-dispiriting clean up to be done.
“Maybe there’s a silver lining in our clouds, but I can’t see it yet,’’ van Beek said.