This past year, Kiwis have battled a significant number of disasters and emergencies, including floods, fires and a global pandemic.

We first saw a powerful storm sweep across Southland – submerging paddocks, washing away roads and deeming many homes uninhabitable.

We saw a wildfire that devastated the picturesque village of Lake Ōhau, burning through people’s homes and land as raging flames tore a path through the small-town community.

We saw more flooding in Northland, Napier, Plimmerton…

And of course, there was COVID-19, the virus continuing to wreak havoc around the globe, plunging the world into crisis and taking the lives of millions of people.

With the scale and breadth of disasters increasing year on year, it poses the terrifying question of where – or who – will be next?

A story of survival

One such community hit hard by disaster this year was Napier, a city renowned for its vine-draped countryside and streets of stunning architecture. But as is common when disaster strikes, the flooding of November 2020 came when it was least expected, its residents waking that day with no way of knowing what was to come - the largest storm to strike the city in over a century.

For Leanne, her partner Damien, and all seven of their children, they watched on anxiously as wave after wave of surging floodwater came ever closer that day. At first gushing through the fence, then the front door, and eventually over the floorboards, torrents of water grew quickly, drenching everything in their path. “We tried to barricade areas where the water was coming in but, in no time at all, it was too fast, too much,” says Leanne.

Beginning the day like any other, the Browns didn’t think much of the rain when it first started. But unbeknownst to them, it had just begun, its sound growing more and more deafening as it soaked yards, roads and living rooms, inching closer and closer towards the Browns’ family home.

“It wasn’t until waves started bursting through our front door that I really panicked. The carpet began bouncing like a trampoline and I remember thinking oh no, what are we going to do!? What are we supposed to do? The water outside was waist high so there was no way out.”

A hug of support

Fleeing to safety, the Browns were taken to Kennedy Park, an evacuation centre where a New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team (DWST) was ready and waiting to provide the children with dry clothing, as well as critical care, compassion and support.

But as the days began to pass, and the overwhelming stress of that first day began to fade, Leanne faced a new wave of anxiety on returning to their house. Still standing, but buckling under the weight of trapped water, Leanne grieves for her family’s memories and belongings saying, “Seeing our home and thinking about everything inside, I just didn’t know what we’d be able to save.”

Carma Anderson, team leader of Hawkes Bay's DWST, who was on the ground as soon as the flooding began, knows just how important providing emotional support in these times can be. “A lot of the people (like Leanne and her family) who we’d reached over those few days felt really distressed. The event had a strong emotional impact on the people affected, and it is going to take a long time to recover from.”

Red Cross' response

Like many others that day, Leanne and her family were forced to flee their home and everything they held dear to survive, with New Zealand Red Cross disaster response teams coming together from across the nation to provide life-saving assistance ‑ offering essential emotional support, distributing food, water, blankets and toiletries and helping with evacuations and first aid.

Recalling the frantic nature of that day, Leanne says, “If it had got any higher, we wouldn’t have been able to get out. But when we got to the evacuation centre, Red Cross were there to see if we needed anything. It made me feel that people really do care, that we’re loved.”

Only made possible because of the ongoing generosity of our supporters, this is why New Zealand Red Cross teams remain in communities long after disaster strikes ‑ we know that people continue to need support coming to terms with their losses and rebuilding their lives.

We don't know where we'll be needed next, but we do know we'll be there.