A constellation of animal carcasses, sewage and debris is becoming harder to ignore as things start to rot in cut-off Napier. Bonnie Sumner reports from on the ground. 

“Napier is an island,” said a resident who has been trying to drive from Palmerston North with a generator and supplies to help neighbours, but as yet can’t get through.

The air is filled with the sound of helicopters, generators and sirens.

Countdown supermarkets have opened today and more petrol stations but the queues already stretch for a kilometre at each one by 9am today.

However, the milk, along with all the bread, meat and everything else frozen refrigerated all had to be thrown out from the two Countdown supermarkets in town because without a generator they couldn’t open the electronic doors to get in.

Milk at Countdown Carlyle St waiting to be disposed of. Photo: Bonnie Sumner

The access between Napier and Hastings opened then closed yesterday, leaving people who had traversed the 20km between the two centres trapped away from home.

“It’s really weird being in Hastings as it feels so different to the plight of people in Napier – shops here are open, cars getting their petrol at Z, I saw people getting their Macca’s in Havelock! It’s crazy, compared to 20km down the road where it’s a war zone,” said Nick Fitness who took his family there yesterday to check on his in-laws and got stuck there.

Any fresh food is starting to perish now and people are cooking and stewing the remaining food in their freezers if they can.

“Eventually we’ll be able to look back and see what happened to us.”

Without showers, families are relying on cold flannels or bucket baths, and the hand washing of clothes has begun. But it’s not just old food and unwashed clothes and people that are starting to smell.

An abandoned car on Hawkes Bay Expressway. Photo: Nick Fitness

As the waters clear and the silt and debris covers everything, the stench is overwhelming. The constellation of animal carcasses, sewage, debris and who knows what else is hard to ignore now it is congealing into a foul-smelling quicksand that covers everything in the affected areas.

Many have told Newsroom they can’t imagine how they will return to their properties.

A woman who wishes to remain anonymous, along with her daughter and two others, swam 15 horses out of her grazing property in fast-moving chest high water on Tuesday. She says she can’t even think about what will happen with her house and land now. It was completely destroyed.

Her house, paddocks, tack shed, stables, arena and multiple horse floats were all destroyed.

Norman the throughbred, who had to be euthanised after spending a day trying to keep his head above water. Credit Rachel Sumner

She said she’s still waiting on insurance before she can decide anything but her brother who lives overseas is having more luck getting through on her behalf than she is.

Next is just taking care of all the horses, now grazing at a nearby property thanks to the kindness of its owners.

A chopper came over from Taupo and brought hay and feed. Someone drove up from the Wairarapa with hard feed.

For so many, the loss of animals hits very hard.

Slash covering the beach all the way from Tangoio to Napier. Photo: Rachel Sumner

In Meeanee a thoroughbred horse who arrived with his owner after spending a day trying to keep his head above water had to be euthanised. His owner’s feet were bleeding from the long walk pulling him to dry land but the horse was too exhausted and couldn’t survive.

The horse’s body will be put with the pile of cattle beasts that didn’t make it, on a piece of land not far away.

Stable Hearts, a riding school in Pakowhai, lost all 11 of their horses.

Growers have lost entire orchards in Bay View to floodwaters, and fruit and vegetables litter the ground in Meeanee.

The airport today is jam packed with people trying to get out.

Amelia Kaui the hostel manager of Hukarere Girls School was at the airport seeing off all the boarders who could get home. Their Esk Valley school was destroyed but they got out early before the flood water rose.

She’s not sure what happens next.

“For many we’ve lost our college but our families are affected, our students our staff. Our priority is to get our girls home.”

The students who come from Wairoa are staying with staff at one of the evacuation centres in Napier until they can contact their families.

Despite all of this, people in Napier are out walking, cycling, talking to each other, sharing resources. There is a lot of kindness. Ryan Huthnance from Uncle Cafe in Ahuriri is grinding beans by hand and giving out coffees and barbecued food for koha – if you have it.

“It’s a place to get together and talk to each other. People just happy to have somewhere and something hot.”

Ryan Huthnance from Uncle Cafe. Photo: Bonnie Sumner

But the lack of power, cellphone and internet affects morale in ways beyond the mundane. Not being able to see what is happening on the news means people still don’t know the extent of the devastation.

“Eventually we’ll be able to look back and see what happened to us,” said one resident.

Steve Gregory is the controller at PIM. He said they are focused on looking after people displaced by the floods.

Yesterday there were about 70 people, which he says is probably an encouraging sign.

“But just like the 2020 floods it takes a month. We’ll start seeing these people because they’ve outstayed their welcome with friends and family.”

Bonnie Sumner is part of the Newsroom Investigates reporting team

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