Residents rally for Samoa
Many displaced victims of Cyclone Evan can thank big-hearted Kaipara residents for the clothes on their backs.
Thanks to Jonathan and Bronwyn Barlow, more than 300 kilograms of clothes and shoes will provide comfort for south coast Samoans who have been left with nothing after the merciless storm tore through their villages.
The couple are strongly connected to the island since Mr Barlow started a charter business out of Sinalei Resort on the south coast of Samoa last year.
After a seven-month working stint he returned to New Zealand last November only to find a savage storm was about to hit the vulnerable nation.
He informed his deckhand Esau that Cyclone Evan was coming two days before it hit.
"The others didn't believe him, the weather was so good," he says.
When the category three storm hit, Mr Barlow lost contact with his crew for the whole weekend.
"We found out Esau and five others had camped down in the boat moving it up on to dry land as the tide kept rising. Luckily the tide dropped and they were left high and dry."
The dedicated deckhand stayed on board for 10 days to keep the Barlows' 43ft alloy catamaran safe from theft.
When Mr Barlow and Bill Milich arrived on the south coast they were absolutely blown away by the devastation.
"The flash floods from the mountains wiped out entire villages, it looked like a war zone, it was that bad," Mr Barlow says.
Mr Barlow was caught in Samoa when the South Pacific tsunami hit in 2009 and says the damage caused by the cyclone is more devastating.
"It was like a reverse tsunami on the south because of the flash floods. As far as you could see there was no foliage, it was like a bush fire had charged through."
Thankfully the duo went prepared.
Mrs Barlow says a simple message on Facebook had people scouring through their cupboards for useful donations.
"Some people even took trips to the Warehouse to buy jandals."
They managed to lug 150kg of shoes, clothes and blankets over with them as well as $1000 in cash donations.
"$100 is a week's wage for them," Mr Barlow says. "Just five bucks or 10 bucks goes a long way."
During their week-long stay, Mr Barlow and Mr Milich went fishing on the boat (completely untouched aside from a missing rivet) and caught a marlin to feed the smiling villagers.
"They just feel this is what God has dished out and they just bounce back. I didn't see any sad faces," Mr Barlow says.
New Zealand contributed $600,000 to Samoa for relief and recovery efforts but Mr Barlow says a lot is spent rebuilding major infrastructure on the north coast.
"The south coast is quite remote, they earn very minimal wages," he says. "The south gets a bit forgotten.
"This is first-hand and we know who the donations are going to - to people who have lost everything."
He will be returning shortly to take another 150kg of donations already piling up in his lounge.
Phone Bronwyn on 09 439 7612 to arrange donations. Anything not needed will be given to the Salvation Army.