On Gabrielle’s anniversary Hawke’s Bay Today deputy editor Mark Story muses on being high and dry, how a deluge shifted our love affair with rain and why a generator shot to fame.
“I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
- Hone Tuwhare
Hone Tuwhare’s poem, Rain, was in 2007 voted the country’s favourite.
Of all New Zealand’s celebrated poems you’ll struggle to find an opening as compelling. The senses crave the next stanza.
I think of those four lines when rain hits my tin roof at night.
Luckily our tin roof sits on a hill. Lucky, because water runs downhill.
A year ago as the darkness became less silent when rain peppered the tin in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, we listened to the poetry, blissfully ignorant of the biblical volume of rain elsewhere razing homes, livelihoods and lives.
Heading into our Napier newsroom the following morning I had scores of ideas for stories, having heard of many things extraordinary.
Yet as boxer Mike Tyson so eloquently said: “Everyone’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth”.
Because although in the preceding hours Gabrielle had cut power, internet and cellphone coverage, I still didn’t have the full picture.
My mouth-punch moment was arriving at the office to discover a distraught colleague who’d been rescued by emergency services, and whose house had been shunted hundreds of metres down the road.
A flurry of jabs followed, like seeing footage of Brookfields Bridge (which I crossed every day) succumb to the Tūtaekurī.
Two decades in media and I’d never seen a newsroom like this.
Colleagues from our Auckland and Wellington offices flew in, extension cords stretched across the floor (only certain power points were working), a flaming gas primus was used for hot drinks and the oily smell of the generator’s diesel fumes was constant.
The premises became a sanctuary for staff family members camping on site for internet access, device charging and showers. Without power at home, baskets of frozens were thrown into the work freezer.
The logistics weren’t the only novelty.
Our news brief had shifted. We were still there to tell the brave plights of many, but in such times our other role was of course being mindful that information in disasters can be a crucial form of aid.
But there was a catch.
We were publishing online knowing most of the populace, in Napier especially, couldn’t get online. We were, at least initially, whistling in the wind.
Cometh the hour, cometh the generator.
Sourcing diesel was a mission for our purposely housed work generator which had for years leading to this point never been needed.
Once fuelled he was a woken revenant, his gentle drum the sound of life-giving kiloWatts, the fumes of his breath powering The Hits’ radio team’s community updates and enabling our team to do their thing.
He’ll possibly never wake again (touch wood) but truly, an unsung hero now sleeps after a job marvellously done.
Seriously, if only I’d done as good a job making sure the reporters were as nourished. A personal miss for me was discovering one of our youngest reporters was so busy he didn’t eat for two days (seriously, sorry Mitch).
Inside and outside the office these were Hawke’s Bay days like no other.
Maybe in local real estate terms Valentine’s Day 2023 will be forever remembered as the night altitude went platinum; the event that aligned property values with a home’s metres above sea level.
Life for many here will now be categorised as post or pre-flood.
Pre-flood, the region’s climate-change and natural-disaster narrative focused almost solely on the threat from the ocean. We were warned of rising sea levels and tsunamis, to retreat from the Pacific.
Yet Gabrielle wasn’t marine - she was mountainous. A pluvial riverine ambush with an artillery of loose logs and flotsam.
Her inland, freshwater attack was a rare, cruel offensive.
Got me thinking that given the increasingly frequent, increasingly savage and increasingly assumed man-made weather events the question is whether we can accurately refer to Gabrielle as a natural disaster.
Whatever your stance on that, she was a bookend for complacency.
Similar to its namesake subject, Rain can be interpreted in many ways. Post-flood, sadly for many, small holes in the silence now trigger fear.
I’m keen for a return to it invoking something euphonious. After all, that was Tuwhare’s gift to us.
Like all great poems his has the ability to inform everyday life, embellish it, make sense of it and, hopefully for those traumatised, ease it.
I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
when the wind drops
But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you would still
wash over me
- Hone Tuwhare