The Most Significant Weather Event to Affect New Zealand this Century
From February 12th until the 16th, Cyclone Gabrielle lashed New Zealand causing over US$8 billion in damages while also impacting parts of Vanuatu and Australia. The worst storm and most significant weather event to affect New Zealand this century, the island country announced a national state of emergency for only the third time in its history.
Over 10,000 people were displaced from their homes; additionally, thousands remained missing for weeks onwards, and eleven individuals lost their lives. The cyclone’s strong winds and heavy rain brought destructive flooding, storm surge, and landslides to the region where homes and buildings were enveloped in flood waters causing people to shelter on roofs. Along coastal areas, entire homes were swept away.
Fallen trees, downed power lines, and cut-off roads all resulted in immense obstacles for immediate recovery. To overcome them, an international effort was paramount to source the necessary amount of emergency assistance and required expertise to send to New Zealand to carry out successful clean-up operations to help people return to their homes safely.
Thanks to Air Canada, Team Rubicon Canada’s Greyshirts Deploy to Hawke’s Bay
As damages were being assessed in the aftermath, Airlink launched a response to assist its NGO network with transport needs and mobilization. Specifically, Team Rubicon Canada’s Greyshirt volunteers were requested to deploy a multi-disciplinary team to link-up with Task Force Kiwi. Called upon due to their niche experience in working alongside Indigenous communities in remote areas of Canada, their skill-set includes sawyer capabilities to cut hazardous trees, IMT support, and disaster mapping. To get Greyshirts in the air and on the ground as quickly as possible, Airlink’s aviation partner Air Canada generously donated 19 tickets to Airlink to support two waves of volunteers to reach Hawke’s Bay, one of the regions most severely hit by the storm.
Paying it Forward: Greyshirts Describe their Experiences on the Ground
Arriving in Hawke’s Bay with flight support, Greyshirt Jeff Becker explains what it’s like to be part of a team effort, “It’s been an exciting experience integrating into the community here. We are seeing the community rally together, and having the opportunity to be a part of that, is fantastic. Serving with TaskForce Kiwi, it’s been impactful for us to more deeply understand the culture here and our impact while also being part of this community solution. It’s been amazing to see neighbours helping neighbours, and to be part of that is really humbling.”
Fellow Greyshirt Rodger Sloan, also receiving flight support, holds 30 years of military experience that comes in handy for situations just like this one. He describes why he decided to travel to help, “The cyclone dumped 500 millimeters of rain in 24 hours in this community, and basically, all the hills became funnels and put all that water in people’s backyards leaving 2 meters of water in some people’s houses. The amount of devastation the storm left behind and all the muck we’re cleaning up is devastating. My wife always asks me why I do this stuff, and I say well, I spent 30 years in the Canadian military going to some of the most challenging places trying to help there, and that’s what I’m born to do. Coming out here now, serving these communities, and having led a good life myself, I’m hoping this is paying it forward.”
The Power of Aviation in Disaster Response
When thinking about a weather-related disaster occurring in New Zealand, many wouldn’t guess that assistance would be arriving from Canada, but the reality of disaster response is that it requires an international effort to utilize the knowledge of skilled teams to deploy where they are most needed to save lives. Therefore, Airlink is grateful to its aviation partners like Air Canada for utilizing their resources to help alleviate the financial burden of transport and logistics for nonprofits through in-kind donations. Especially in the Asia and the Pacific region, aviation is oftentimes the only viable option to reach communities in crisis living in island countries.
For many of Airlink’s partners in its NGO network, the majority of their fundraising is reactive and occurs after disasters hit. Because of this lag in funding it can be challenging to send volunteers where they are needed the moment disasters strike. By leaning on Air Canada’s assistance, Airlink can better address that challenge. Bryan Riddell, CEO of Team Rubicon Canada shares, “While many companies and individuals enable our work, I want to specifically thank Airlink and Air Canada. They have flown us into the fight time and again. You are enabling us to get skilled Greyshirts onto the ground to help those impacted by floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and an unprecedented cyclone in New Zealand. You make it possible for us to help others on their worst day. Thank you!”
A Long Road of Recovery Lies Ahead
Two months after Cyclone Gabrille, Greyshirts are still being requested to fill the gaps in recovery that are emerging due to exhaustion and capacity depletion. It is estimated that the damages in New Zealand total US$8.4 billion and as Airlink knows from experience, long-term recovery will last years to come. Layered on top of the physical rebuild, is emotional healing and difficult decisions for residents. Whether they should leave or risk returning to rebuild their homes, is a challenging one to make under the threat of the next major storm or cyclone.
Thank you to Air Canada for being a trusted aviation partner. Over the past year, Air Canada has donated 40 tickets to support Airlink’s international responses, including the Ukraine crisis and Pakistan floods. This is in addition to pledging 20 tickets for usage in 2023 to meet additional demand. Air Canada also routinely supports Airlink’s cargo operations to deliver humanitarian relief worldwide.
Thank you to our donors for providing flights for 26 responders to fly to New Zealand, including personnel from Disaster Relief Australia and RE:ACT. To learn more about this response, visit Airlink’s Cyclone Gabrielle Response page.