Auckland tornado victims remembered

Last updated 11:11 08/12/2012
Tom Stowers
REMEMBERED: Tom Stowers.
Auckland tornado
Fairfax NZ Zoom
A fire rescue crew at a building site near Walingford Way in Hobsonville.
Brendon Johnson
REMEMBERED: Brendon Johnson.

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Tom Stowers was a salt of the earth family man, Keith Langford had his eye on a quiet retirement and Brendon Johnson had just started working on the site where he was to die.

The sudden death of the three men in yesterday's tornado has left family and friends shocked.

Stowers, 42, from Massey in West Auckland was a father of four - remembered as a caring man who worked up to six days a week to provide for his family.

The construction worker would be up early for work and home late, and sometimes work on weekends. Before he started working on the Hobsonville High School site, he drove to Hamilton every day for work.

Neighbour Bakhtayar Zalmay said he was friendly and generous with his time.

"He was a good person, a friendly person. You hardly get such a neighbour."

The family, regular attendees of the Massey Samoan Congregational Church, had lived in the area for about seven years and their children, two sons and two daughters, often played at Zalmay's house.

"On the weekends he would cook a barbecue for the kids, on top of his work life," Zalmay said. 

"He would take his kids to McDonald's. He really cared about them. There are some rough families around here. But he wasn't like that, he didn't really drink. I never saw him drunk.

"He was caring. At night he would park his car close to our fence to stop strangers from wandering in."

Family members gathered at their home yesterday to grieve.

Zalmay said: "His wife came over to ask us if it was alright if cars parked in the driveway because her husband had died. I was shocked, my wife was crying."

Keith Langford, 60, of Tuakau in south Auckland was a heavy load pilot, driving escort for oversized loads being transported on the roads.

Fellow transport pilot Karl Rudolph said he had worked on jobs with Langford and he was "well regarded" and "very professional".

"It's a sad loss, I only just found out," he said.

Rudolph said it was a small industry and people were "all reasonably connected".

Tom Compton, general manager of heavy haulage company CV Compton, said news of Langford's death had shaken many in the industry."Especially when you lose one of the good guys, like Keith," he said.

Compton said he had known Langford for "donkey's years". 

"He would have been wanting to retire soon. He was a good guy, very knowledgeable, real friendly guy, very loyal."

After the financial crisis hit the industry, Langford took a job as a truck driver with  George Grant Engineering.
Compton suspected his friend was the driver of the truck hit by collapsing 15m pre-fab concrete panels flung down by the tornado.

While it was known early in the day that Stowers and Johnson had died, uncertainty remained about the fate of Langford - listed as missing for much of the day.  

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He leaves behind a wife and an adult son who rushed to the scene last night, standing beside Auckland Mayor Len Brown.

"At that point he didn't know that in fact he was deceased. He was the one person who hadn't been confirmed. So we were standing together at the site. I think he suspected the worst." 

He was "not in good shape".

Compton said both Langford's wife and son also worked as pilots.

Neighbours Ken Cooper and Linda Peacock said they were still in shock yesterday.  

"He was such a nice friendly guy," Cooper.

Langford had worked largely at nights, escorting oversized roads mainly up and down Auckland's Great South Road when traffic was minimal.

"He was a good man, kept to himself but he was very, very courteous. I am just gutted at the news," Peacock said.  
While Hawkins Construction was the main contractor on the site of the new Hobsonville Point Secondary School, each of those killed worked for sub contractors.

Brendon Johnson, 22, also of Massey in west Auckland had only been working as a casual labourer for Vuksich & Borich for a few weeks.

A remembrance Facebook was quickly set up by friends who left tributes.

"R.I.P to one of the truest people I have ever known," said one.

"He was an awesome person. Had a great heart and he was down for life. Will never forget your smiley face," said another.

All three were crushed by falling concrete panels.

- Reporting by Ian Steward, Steve Hopkins, Michelle Robinson and Kirsty Johnston.

- Auckland Now

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