The unrelenting rain on January 27 in Auckland resulted in a flash flood that devastated the Fernandez family’s home, forcing them to seek shelter elsewhere and leave their belongings behind.
Cherry Fernandez recalled that it was the birthday of her husband Romil that day, and they went to the 9am Mass to mark the occasion.
“Rain has started but it wasn’t scary yet. We noticed that the drain by the driveway was clogged, and a small puddle was already forming. But we weren’t worried,” she said.
They live in a fairly new house in West Auckland. Their house, a bungalow, is the last one going through the driveway and is close to the Oratia stream. There is a patch of land before the stream and a walkway to the train station.
Mrs Fernandez was working from home that day, and the following day would have been the actual celebration of her husband’s birthday. With visitors coming in, she decided to start preparing the house for the party at around 4.30pm.
“My husband was on the phone with Auckland Council at the time, letting them know that the drainage is blocked. . . . He looked outside and tried to look for the walkway but it was already submerged in water,” she said.
In the meantime, in the ensuite in the bedroom, water was coming out of the cabinet under the sink.
“My husband said we had to leave. If the water reaches the power supply, we could get electrocuted. A few minutes later, water was seeping through our front door,” she said.
When they opened the door, water gushed in. They waded through the flood and drove to Mrs Fernandez’s in-laws’ place. A couple of hours later, the water receded.
“It wasn’t until 9 pm that they were able to go back. There was thick, muddy muck all over the floor. The watermark reached very high, about 1.5 metres outside the house. Inside, the walls were affected, and the floors,” she said.
Their little altar, though, which was situated next to the door remained largely intact.
“I said St Joseph slept through the whole thing. Even the prayer cards remained on top of the table,” she said. “For us, it was like God was really looking after us the whole time, that’s why we were able to go out safely.”
Auckland Catholic Caring Foundation manager Anne-Marie Parker said that a lot of families in the diocese’s area have been caught unprepared for Cyclone Gabrielle, which compounded the situation they were already in.
“Our partner agencies are still trying to manage, and be there at the front line at the moment. And so there is no clear indication of how much is still needed. But what we all agree on is the fact that this will be a long recovery,” she said.
Mrs Parker said that they were also working closely with Kaitaia parish priest Fr Larry Rustia, as the parish was among the first of the areas battered by Cyclone Gabrielle.
Fr Rustia said that he knew 50 families who had been isolated and had been badly impacted by the cyclone, but added that this number could grow.
“We would like to acknowledge Caring Foundation who have been quick in giving us monetary assistance,” he said.
Fr Rustia said that, on the first sunny day after the cyclone, they started the clean-up, and the school is back as well. [Those who want to extend help directly can send funds through the parish bank account 02-0100-0120974-02]
Mrs Parker said that the foundation, in coordination with the Auckland Catholic Schools Office, also reached out to schools with students who have been severely impacted by the flooding.
“The feedback from schools is that they have been so grateful for this additional support at a time when families are finding it difficult to send their children to school with no uniform, no stationery and sometimes, no food,” she said.
Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Vicki Sykes said that these calamities will put additional pressure on the need for housing.
“We already know there’s a housing shortage, and there are thousands on the housing register waiting for housing. This puts significant pressure on the housing supply which is already behind,” she said.
Ms Sykes said that, after the first flooding, they have had a huge increase in the number of calls from people looking for accommodation.
“We haven’t had vacant housing ourselves, but we’ve been able to connect them up with the relevant support centres who could help them,” she said.
Mrs Fernandez said that finding temporary accommodation while their house was being rebuilt was their foremost problem after the flood.
After a week of staying with friends, they were able to secure a temporary home in Green Bay which was owned by a family friend.
She said that they were one of the luckier ones who received help from family, friends, co-workers, and even their bosses.
“We’re still blessed. We have family. None of us got sick. The things that we lost are just material things. We don’t have a huge attachment to them,” she said.
“When people ask, ‘how can we help?’, we say pray for us. We know that, just as long we do our best, God will do the rest.”