Manawatu floods: 200 rescue missions

Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014

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Share your 2004 Manawatu flood story 10 years since big floods

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Share your 2004 Manawatu flood story

Manawatu floods 2004: Your stories 2004 floods: Monks amongst the mud Manawatu floods: 200 rescue missions

It has been almost 10 years since the Manawatu floods ravaged our region. We asked our readers to share their memories of the floods. Here's John Read's account. 

I remember it raining quite steadily during the day on Sunday February 15, 2004 and then all during the night.

Day 1

At approximately 4.15am on the morning of February 16, 2004 my mobile phone rang. It was the duty pilot asking if I could come into work as there had been some flooding and the calls for assistance had started coming in.

On the drive into Helipro from Palmerston North central city there was no sign of any problems, I was wondering where the flooding might be.

On arriving at work there was a feeling among all the Helipro team that there was something significant about to unfold. Little did we know at that time just what the extent of this event was.

Then it was all action, there were people to be rescued.

I remember the family (including two cats and one dog) that were winched from the roof of a house at Staces Road. There was the driver from the roof of his excavator. Six people from a nearby quarry. Dave from the Saddle Road bridge.

The calls kept coming in – initially from the police and civil defence. I was manning the phones and planning the operations so the pilots and crew could get on with the tasks at hand.

St John brought out a large number of blankets to the hangar and the wet, cold and often bewildered-looking people started to be dropped off by the helicopters.

The office phones kept ringing, as did my mobile. We had five helicopters in action with another four on the way from Wellington and Rotorua. The rest of the day was a blur with helicopters and people coming and going. Over 30 missions were flown that day.

Once the rescues were out of the way the focus was on assessing the damage. We shifted from rescue work to surveys of rivers, stop banks, houses, roads, power lines, gas lines, telecommunications, forests, rural areas.

Everyone coming back from these surveys had a story to tell and a detailed report to pass on to their colleagues.

By this stage the media were also keen to photograph and film the region from the air. Some stunning photos and footage remind us now of just how significant this event was.

Day 2

A picture was emerging of the widespread damage and plans were being put in place to begin the clean-up and repair of necessary infrastructure.

Thoughts also now moved on to livestock. We were called in to muster 200 dairy cows that had gone in all directions in the Motua area. Deer were stranded at Fordell and needed feed dropped in by helicopter. Fourteen cows were stranded and needed to be airlifted to safety. Footage of this unusual rescue went all around the world.

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Power wires needed to pulled out by helicopter, poles need to be replaced, generators need to be dropped off, surveys continued.

By this stage Helipro had nine helicopters and crew working in the region.

A further 40 missions were flown in the two following days.

The gorge was shut with massive slips. Higgins was in action and began the huge task of getting the road open.

Three of our helicopters were called in to sluice the slips. I remember walking down the middle of the road in the gorge with my then 8-year-old son saying "this is something you may never see again".

We watched the diggers, the trucks and the helicopters working, we climbed and walked over the bottom of the slips where the road should be and were amazed by the sheer volume of material that had come down.

Days turned into weeks and over the next six weeks Helipro flew over 200 further missions related to the floods.

It was a privilege to assist the community during this time and it was overwhelming to see the huge effort put in by so many people, organisations and business at that time, often when many had their own problems at home to be dealing with.

It was an event that I will never forget and one that made me proud to be a part of the Helipro team and a part of the Manawatu community.

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