Flaxmere community leader speaks of hope in face of disaster

It's been over a week since Cyclone Gabrielle’s blitzkrieg of wind and water.

Hundreds of people are still unaccounted for, vast numbers of homes and businesses have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of toxic silt covers the landscape.

But Flaxmere community leader Henare O’Keefe (Ngāti Kahungunu) said after all whanau have endured, they are still here.

“We’ve had Hurricane Bola, hail storms, Whakatu Tomoana Freezing Works shut down, Watties shut down, Morrison’s shut down... and look here we are, were still here.”

O’Keefe said “the love, compassion and unity of the community; the provision of food, clothes, manaaki, you name it, it’s been coming by the truckloads”

Despite the desolation, O’Keefe is excited by the community's unity, collaboration and willingness to help each other and people in need.

Galvanise the Spirits

O’Keefe said Flaxmere didn’t wait for the government and council to start the Civil Defence process. “We weren’t waiting for any of that. We just got on with it."

O’Keefe said he has seen more than 380 people needing emergency accommodation and supplies and, to help people through the tough situation, he is trying to be a beacon of hope.

“I take my guitar wherever I go, that’s my role, that's my gift, cook the barbecue. Others are more entrenched in the paru but my gift is to galvanise the spirits and the wairua of them.”