A day of heroes

16:00, Dec 07 2012

It was a day of heroes. As a lethal tornado ripped through suburban streets yesterday, ordinary Aucklanders found themselves on the frontline of emergency aid. 

Craig Standen discovered a real estate sales worker lying motionless and bloodied in the centre of a flattened portacom that had been hurled across vacant sections at the new Hobsonville Point subdivision.

"I found her lying under a broken table next to a photocopier in the middle of the field," Standen, managing director of Finished Floors, said.

"Her head was bleeding, she had a great big lump out the side of her cheek and her clothes were all ripped."

He carried her to his car before calling for an ambulance.

"She was just coming to when I got to her and she couldn't walk."


I drove out to the intersection to wait for the ambulance. About four went past before one arrived for her. Because it's a new subdivision none of the street names are on the map," he said.

The woman was taken to North Shore Hospital with a fractured pelvis and multiple abrasions to head and body.

"We're all so lucky. I got a text from the lady to say thank you and that she's doing ok."

Broken office equipment, smashed computers, gib board and files yesterday still lay shredded amongst the shattered glass and bent steel of the portacom.

"She is incredibly lucky to have survived when you look at the wreckage and think 'she was in that'," Standen said. 

The rallying of the community, of neighbours stepping up to help, continued yesterday.

Around 230 sought shelter at the Whenuapai Air Base last night after their houses were deemed unsafe and electricity was cut to the area.

Yesterday morning many turned up anxious to return and assess damage, but were held back by NZ Defence Force and police maintaining a security cordon around the worst hit streets.

Those who remained in their damaged houses were told if they left, they would not be allowed back - forcing them to make hard choices as food and water ran out. 

Desiree Morgan and her two daughters were desperate for coffee and breakfast yesterday morning, but going to the dairy up the road meant deserting their undamaged house.

"We don't want to go out because then we can't go back," the mother said.

"The cops told us if you leave you can't go back." 

Step forward an anonymous benefactor - one woman who would not be named ran the cordon, evading police, to deliver milk to the Morgans. 

The impromptu hero said: "I've had two hours of sleep, it's too much truly," before running away from congratulating neighbours and disapproving police.

Renter Nick Davis was struggling to get just 10 minutes in his house yesterday after leaving at the command of police.

"We just want to grab a few more things, we got told to grab some stuff and leave but there are people who refused," he said. 

"We haven't had a good look at it yet, just 15 minutes when we had to leave yesterday but it looks like a few tiles missing and a leak."

Luke Webster was supposed to move into his new house yesterday, but not even a moving truck was allowed to be parked in his driveway.

"The place is fine, no damage, the houses either side are damaged though," he said.

"I just want to get in the cordon to check everything out. Right now the truck is just at the other home fully-loaded for the night."

Excitement was evident in one street when a cordon was lifted briefly and houses were entered for possessions and to check their safety.

Prime Minister John Key toured the area describing the scene as "utter devastation".

"I can say I have never seen anything like this in New Zealand before."

But he said, "it could have been worse. There were over 200 men working onsite and another 150 at the primary school, including one guy working on the roof. So you get a sense of the potential size of the tragedy."

Of the damaged homes 115 were owned by the Defence Force with 35 were rented out.

Assessments were ongoing yesterday, ruling some uninhabitable and targeted for demolition.

Waitemata Police District Commander Superintendent Bill Searle said civil defence was working as quickly as possible to give certainty. "In the meantime I ask everyone to be patient," he said.

Electricity remained out for 570 houses, with Vector warning service might not be restored for some until tomorrow. 

Two recovery centres were yesterday operating with staff from Auckland Council Civil Defence, Housing NZ, Salvation Army, Work and Income, Child Youth and Family and Victim Support.  

Civil Defence estimated the damage of the few minutes of tornado at $11 million to repair.

Auckland Now