For Tapeka Henare and her hometown of Moerewa, it’s a reality that many generations of locals have lived through.
“We’re always aware of when the big rain is coming,” she says.
“We’re surrounded by rivers in Moerewa and we’re in a valley, so once the water is here, it doesn’t go anywhere. Over the years, we’ve learned a few tricks about trying to keep it out of areas like maraes and schools, but it definitely heightens the anxiety in town. It’s hard not to stress about it. For some whānau, the pressure of life in general is a bit much, so having the flooding just compounds everything.”
Every winter brings its floods but in July this year, the area of Northland endured what was referred to as a ‘once in 500 years’ weather incident, swamping the area and causing devastation.
“On top of the after-effects of Covid-19, the flooding was kind of the cherry on top, pushing everyone over the edge,” Tapeka says.
“Kids having to stay at home because schools are closed, that puts stress on the whānau. But we live in a resilient community and we just muck in and get it done, so that we can carry on with life.”
Tapeka says it’s the clean-up, rather than the flood itself, that is the demoralising part.
“Our wastewater and sewage systems can really struggle here in Moerewa and it affects everything, including our local schools, playgrounds and rugby fields.”
The saving grace, every time, is how proactive, compassionate and resilient the community is.
“We’ve got some good community leaders and whānau who have been through generations of this kind of stuff, so we’ve been able to learn from them about how we can deal with it,” Tapeka says.
“We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react and fix up the situation, so that the stress is alleviated for some of our whānau.”
These community groups are the ones who help organise individual family aid such as food parcels and sanitation parcels, as well as coordinating larger responses like having Northland Waste bring down skip bins so that whānau and schools are able to clean up their properties without worrying where they’re going to put the rubbish. But the most important act these groups bring to the community? Driving around and popping in to see how everyone’s going.
“That goes a long way,” Tapeka says.
“We have a lot of elder members of the community who are isolated anyway, so just being able to see the groups coming around and offering nursing services or food parcels is great. Once our schools were able to open, they were able to provide meeting points for our whānau – especially our rural whānau – to be able to come in for a chat and a meal.”
The importance of checking in on your neighbours and helping where you can was modelled for Tapeka by her parents and her grandparents. Tapeka’s grandmother, one of the oldest members of the community, still goes on regular visits to those who need it.
“Nothing beats a visit from someone, so you can have a cup of tea and a good yarn about what’s been happening in your whare or your school,” Tapeka says.
That plus the social vibe at local spots like the community gym or the marae helps connect people in good times and bad.
The close-knit community is one of the best parts of living in Moerewa, Tapeka says.
“We’re quite a resilient community – not just with natural disasters and Covid-19, we have a lot of underlying issues in our community. But the people here are what makes living here so good. Even though we get knocked down, we get back up and at the end of the day, we’re all connected in Moerewa, we’re all whānau.”