2004 floods: Monks amongst the mud

Religious intervention on banks of river

Last updated 14:00 17/02/2014
Mark Bellhouse

RISING TIDE: A monk crouches beside the rising Manawatu River waters near the Manawatu Golf Club.

2004 floods
Looking back towards Palmy on the Manawatu bridge

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We asked Manawatu Standard readers to recall their memorries of the 2004 Manawatu Floods. In today's piece. Mark Bellhouse talks of how he captured the moment monks were praying on the banks of the Manawatu River.

In 2004, I worked in Palmerston North Hospital's IT department, and from memory our offices were supposed to be part of the city-wide emergency management thingummy.

The bosses and phones guys were running round making sure that was all ready, setting up CB radios and spare pcs and so on.

I was just excited to bolt from work and go and have a look. 

At the time, we had a hospital-wide "gossip" email list which was wild with anecdotal accounts copied in from friends of staff saying this or that company was closing for the day, reports of damage to roads, reports the bridge was going to be closed, that it would stay open, but nothing confirmed.

Many staff in the hospital were worried about road closures and although the higher-ups didn't OK it, I think quite a few staff who were on the other side of the bridge or thought they might be affected left early in the afternoon, including a couple of my immediate colleagues. 

After work I was biking along the stopbank taking photos and just happened upon these monks - as it was then.

I think there was a smaller stop-bank by the Bridle Track (which had already been swamped) and then a larger one behind it at the back of the old 16th hole of the Manawatu course, which I was biking along (and hoping not to be caught!).

There were some trees or something because I remember rounding the corner with my camera out and then seeing this elderly monk in robes, kneeling at the edge of the water, with his hand in it, and speaking quietly to a younger monk standing at his side.

The older guy had quite the air of command and the younger guy was very deferential; I don't think they were speaking English, and I have some vague feeling they were part of a conference or delegation that was going on at the time.

They stood up and left, and I carried on to take more photos.

It was just a fleeting encounter really, a strange event in a day full of them.

I remember taking an angry phone call from my girlfriend of the time, telling me to get home because tea was going cold, and I told her taking photos of the flood was more important!

I was amazed by the amount of water there was; the Manawatu River is usually not very exciting and whole trees were falling over and being carried downstream.

I wanted to cross to the other side of the river, but was almost too nervous to use the bridge - it was shaking a bit underfoot and the water must have been within inches of touching the bottom of it. There were quite a few people out and about on/around the bridge, but not many crossing it.

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There were cars stuck on Pork Chop Hill because the road back to the bridge was covered in water that looked at least waist deep.

As to the damage, the only thing that affected me at the time were the big changes to the Bridle Track, which I used to bike frequently.

It used to be quite a rough and ready affair and it was quite fun to bike along. Since then it has all been sealed, and while that's made it more of a commuter route now and probably patronised more, at the time it meant I had no easy access to an "off road" track anymore.

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- Manawatu Standard


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