RSE workers in Hastings trapped on roofs after being caught up in heavy flooding have finally been rescued after becoming stranded about 8am this morning.
A family member of one of the men trapped told the Herald the workers were unable to reach the emergency number because of a lack of cell service.
One of the trapped men, who wishes to remain anonymous, took to Facebook to livestream his ordeal.
The man’s family said the home he was staying in was now completely underwater, and the occupants were all forced to swim to a nearby shed for safety.
In the video, more than a dozen people can be seen huddled under blankets, some using mattresses and sticks as makeshift canoes to attempt to get to safety and rescue others.
The family hadn’t been able to contact the man since 5pm, and believed his phone had died.
They had since been told by another source that the workers were finally rescued about 6.30pm, more than 10 hours after they first became trapped.
Earlier today, fire crews were faced with a similar at Ōmarunui Rd, in Hastings, but found it difficult to get through due to high floodwaters. A chopper rescue was also prevented because of heavy winds.
Those Pacific workers are here as part of the Recognised Seasonal Employment programme, and live and work in the Mr. Apple Kinross orchard.
It is unknown at this stage if the people in the above video are connected to this group.
The latter group could be seen floating around the area on mattresses and a mini fridge, keeping a watchful eye on the rising waters.
It’s understood they have now been rescued.
Auckland Tongan community leader Pakilau Manase Lua told Stuff a rescue mission began about 3.30pm after the group of about 20 workers had been stranded for six hours.
He said they were flown in groups of twos and threes to Fernhill before being taken to an evacuation centre.
Earlier today, Lua told RNZ that families in Tonga watched on as their relatives filmed while perched on roofs surrounded by treetops.
He said he was angry about the way the situation was being handled. He believed lives were at stake.
He wanted emergency services and the government to organise for them to be rescued.
Tongan liaison Tevita Lata, who looks after RSE workers from Tonga in the Hawke’s Bay, said he got the first call from one of the team leaders shortly before 6am.
“That’s when the floods started. The leader said: ‘The water is coming up fast’. He thought the river bank must be flooding.”
The orchard is near the Tūtaekurī River.
Lata said at the time, the workers were describing flooding that was still low to the ground. The next time he spoke to someone on the phone, the water had risen to two metres.
He said 50 workers were based at the site.
Up to 32 employees had arrived from Tonga just last week. They are aged from 20 to about 50 years old.
Lata said he had also been fielding hundreds of calls from worried relatives from Tonga and around New Zealand who had seen the livestream videos on Facebook and made contact.
“There have been more than 200 calls,” he said.
“Everyone is just worried. But we’re trying our best.”
The Herald has reached out to Mr. Apple, Fire and Emergency NZ and Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence for comment.