“It’s just the worst experience I’ve ever had. Within half an hour to an hour, the house was flooded,” says Leeanne Brown, a Napier resident.

Leeanne, her partner Damian West and all seven of their kids were in the lounge when the wild weather started to take its toll in Napier on 9 November 2020. As the heavy rain intensified, the floodwater level along their street rose quickly. And with large vehicles continuously driving by causing waves of water toward their direction, it didn’t take long for the water to seep through their doors.

“The water got pushed through the fence and then through our front door. And then, the water started coming up on the floorboards, then it just got flooded everywhere. We tried to barricade areas where water would have come in, but after some time, we just gave up because the water was coming in too fast,” Leeanne recalls.

Living in the said house for the past five years, Leeanne says that she has not experienced anything like it. At 8pm, more rain prompted a State of Emergency to be declared in Napier – 237mm of rain struck the city, making it Napier’s second-wettest day on record since 1870.  For Leanne, as the floodwater inside their home rose as high as halfway up their shins in the middle of the night, her main concern was the safety of their kids.

“If it got any higher - oh my god - what were we going to do? What were we supposed to do? You really can’t do anything at that point - you can’t drive anywhere because the water outside is like waist-high,” she says.

Getting a ride to safety

Leeanne and Damian with three of their older kids.

Early morning the following day, the rain finally stopped and the water began to gradually recede. As a result of the unexpected flooding, however, the family was left with a home in a mess – with soaking wet carpets, some damaged furniture and an intolerable damp smell. The place was clearly an unsuitable place to live in, so Leeanne rung her tenancy manager to ask for help.

“I did say to my tenancy manager, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I was stressing out because I don’t know what to do, you know, with the kids and all. Where were we supposed to go?” Leanne shares.

“My tenancy manager said, ‘Leave it to me.’ Then, a few minutes later, it seems she had everything sorted with Civil Defence and Red Cross – they came to pick us up and we were brought here [at Kennedy Park].”

Upon their arrival at Kennedy Park, Leeanne says she somehow felt a bit of relief. During that time, their most pressing need was a warm, dry and safe space – and this was something addressed by their safe transfer to the evacuation centre.

“Red Cross has brought us some dry clothes, which we’re grateful for. They also check on us to see how we are, if we need medicines and all. It makes me feel that people do care, that we’re loved,” she says.

More than what meets the eye

Amber, a New Zealand Red Cross disaster response volunteer, checks up on Leeanne and her family at Kennedy Park.

Aside from looking after the physical needs of people affected by the flooding, New Zealand Red Cross’ Disaster Welfare and Support Teams (DWSTs) on the ground also provide them with necessary psychosocial support through Psychological First Aid (PFA) during such a distressing time.

Team Leader of DWST in Hawke’s Bay, Carma Anderson, says, “As Red Cross disaster response volunteers, we do what we can to provide affected people with practical and emotional support, such as lending them a listening ear, offering to accompany them back to their homes to pick up basic essentials they’ve left, or even just handing out a blanket to keep them warm.”

For people like Leeanne, more than ever, this kind of support is something that is really appreciated. Leanne explains, “It does help when you talk about it, the experience you’ve been through, you know, and you can hear what other people are going through as well.”

To date, she says that she’s working her way through to overcome the stress brought about by the floods – the experience they’ve had as well as all the extra work needed to do to fix their house.

“After everything in the house gets sorted – I don’t know how long that’s going to take – I’ll be a lot better. I’ll be a lot better once we can move back home,” she says.

Red Cross’ response to Napier flooding

New Zealand Red Cross’ DWSTs have been on the ground since the waking hours of the flood, helping transport people to safety and providing the people affected access to their immediate needs.

In the past two weeks since the flood happened, around 30 disaster response volunteers have been out and about in the community, knocking on people’s doors, conducting welfare checks and providing essential emotional and psychosocial support to people experiencing distress.

New Zealand Red Cross’ DWSTs consist of committed volunteers from across Aotearoa New Zealand who are experienced at responding to emergencies and providing Psychological First Aid to people in crisis. They are equipped with proper knowledge and skills that are kept up to date through regular training all year round through the generous support of all our regular donors.