Days and nights of Bola's rage remembered

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2013
bola stand
On March 9, 1988, Nick Johnson took a practical approach to a macrocarpa tree that had damaged his parents' house.

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Until March 8, 1988, Bev Raine felt like she was with a football team that practised and practised, but never played a match.

Then all of a sudden, late one Monday afternoon, it was game on.

Then a Civil Defence officer, she went into work about 4am on the Tuesday, by which time Cyclone Bola was in full force.

Gisborne got the rain, Taranaki got the wind.

Winds of 120kmh ripped off roofs and flying debris shut schools. Orchards were ruined, power lines cut and big swells made life difficult for fishing boats.

Although people knew it was coming they didn't expect it would be as bad as it was, Mrs Raine says.

"It just stalled on the Taranaki coast and battered us for days. We would never have envisioned it would have stalled here. We thought it would keep moving."

Cyclone Bola is officially noted as doing its damage on March 8. But about 12 hours earlier it swept through Tataraimaka, taking the top half of the Bishop house with it.

Twenty five years later, Clyde Bishop can't remember which flying object hit him on the head. But he remembers the blood.

And he remembers the funny things, like not being able to get a decent cup of coffee with milk for the next few days. And driving his truck, minus its windscreen, up the road collecting freezers.

"We picked up as many as we could. People were emptying their fridges into the freezers."

The six freezers were taken to a nearby quarry, which was the only place that had power.

"We left them on the truck and plugged them in. You need to think fast in these situations."

The drama began about 5.45pm on a Monday. He had just finished milking and his thoughts were turning to dinner. Inside the house his three children were doing their homework. Spuds were cooking on the stove - they were never eaten, because the wind tore off the top part of the house.

"Some of the ceilings stayed behind," he says. "Some didn't. The rest just fell in."

The family went to a neighbour's place, stepping over power lines that covered the road. He couldn't get out to get first aid for his head, he says.

"It was too dangerous. There were power poles leaning over, so I patched myself up at the neighbour's in between his windows blowing in."

The wind got worse during the night. No one got any sleep.

The New Plymouth Fire Brigade received its first call at about 5pm and the calls were still coming late into the night.

For almost three hours at the height of the storm calls to the brigade averaged one every two minutes.

The first indication there was "trouble" was when the roof started coming off the Shell Todd building in Devon St, Mrs Raine says.

"The concern about that was if you had a roof flying around Devon St, where was it going to land and whose head was it going to knock off or whatever?"

Working at Civil Defence headquarters, she was on automatic pilot for almost a week, but did get a chance to get out and survey the damage.

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One memory she has is of a pine plantation that looked as if a lawnmower had lopped off the tree tops.

"The plantation was someone's retirement fund. All gone. It was a sobering experience."

The worst-affected areas were from west New Plymouth, right around the coast to Opunake. About 579 homes were officially listed as damaged, Mrs Raine says.

"That means half a roof or more gone. There would have been others that would have had some minor damage."

The wind was so strong it was not just taking down power lines, it was ripping concrete power poles out of the ground, she says.

With no power, firemen and volunteers worked in the dark to save buildings and roofs. Flying debris forced firemen away from one house after a volunteer fireman was injured, the newspapers reported at the time. About 70 firemen from around Taranaki were involved in a 48-hour operation that resulted in more than 200 tarpaulins being tied down on needy roofs.

Mr Bishop no longer had a roof to tie down. The next day, 14 men and four women emptied the house in about 90 minutes, Mr Bishop says.

"They took all the furniture out of the house and put it in a shed further down the coast. To see four guys pick up the china cabinet without emptying it is bad for your ticker. These are the funny parts."

The family split up and stayed with friends for nearly 14 weeks until the house was rebuilt.

He and friends did a lot of the rebuilding themselves, helping each other out.

The power didn't come on for at least five days, he says.

"There was a pole with a transformer on it in the paddock."

At the time, dairy prices were in depression and the country was "going through Rogernomics".

"That was worst than the storm. When the storm came we still had 23 per cent interest on our loans."

Mr Bishop doesn't know how much Cyclone Bola cost him. It was too depressing to add it up.

A year later, the Taranaki Daily News reported insurance companies paid out $13 million in Taranaki on 4396 claims and the Taranaki Disaster Relief Fund paid out $230,000 to 200 families.

Pukeiti estimated losses of about $70,000 in plants and material.

Mrs Raine says power was out right around the coast, which affected farmers' ability to milk.

"A lot of farmers at that time didn't have generators, so we had to try and locate as many as we could.

"We couldn't get enough, so farmers had to dry off their herds. For that season they had no incomes."

Market gardens were also affected - tunnel houses were just blown out to sea.

Once the civil defence response phase was over, Mrs Raine was appointed recovery coordinator to assist the community to get back to normal.

There was a disaster relief fund for people in dire straits, she says.

"And a lot of donated goods came in from outside the province, not that we asked for them. And so we had to distribute them. And we constantly had to update government reports . . . it went on for a couple of months."

Cyclone Bola was the first emergency Mrs Raine had to deal with during her civil defence career, which lasted 26 years. In 2009 she was awarded a Queen's Service Medal for services to emergency management and the community.

- Taranaki Daily News

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