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Chris McCartney helps clean up in Esk Valley after devastating flooding caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: SUPPLIED

‘Mammoth task’ to clear silt in Esk Valley

When Tararu man Chris McCartney went to Hawke’s Bay on March 3, he was met with devastation.

It was a mere three weeks after the flooding events caused by cyclone Gabrielle. Chris, the owner-operator of local business Civil and Property Solutions, had decided to volunteer with the clean-up effort.

“[Tararu] got away relatively lightly from the latest storms from Gabrielle,” he said.

“I said to my wife, ‘Well, I think I should go down and give them a hand’.”

Armed with two diggers and other equipment, Chris was directed to the Hastings Sports Centre, where the Hawke’s Bay ManUp chapter had set up a volunteer base.

He was supplied with a bed and some food, and put to work.
“The first job was in Esk Valley, and one of the houses was basically devastated – water over the roof, silt up to the windows when everything receded,” Chris said.

“We were basically digging a three metre trench around the house. We then removed some windows and shovelled all the silt from inside the house to where we’d dug.”

That first home took 30 volunteers, two diggers and a couple of days’ work to clear.

“It’s quite a mammoth task for each property. We were only throwing [the silt] as far as the diggers could reach. So the property owner would still have the onerous task to get the rest of the silt out of their property – which was probably another three or four thousand cubes. And I don’t know who was going to help them do that.”

Chris spent a week in the area, and helped clear four properties.

“A lot of these people were elderly people, and in their 70s – mostly retired so they had no real way of doing it themselves,” he said.

“It was pretty overwhelming for most of them. They weren’t getting much help out of the authorities, so it was really only the volunteer labour that was getting them anywhere.”

Another property he volunteered on was a Christmas tree farm.

“A lot of the volunteers helped stand up – these were probably one year old trees – desilted just around them and stood them up, and so the guy at least will have a crop probably two years down the track. That was his retirement plan, he was saying.”

Chris was impressed by the number of people who had come to help.

“There were quite a few local people who had come in, they had taken a week off work or had holidays,” he said.

“There were a couple of blokes out of Christchurch, there was about five ladies come down from Warkworth that I saw there – there were people from pretty much all the way around the country.”

The area still needed untold hours of labour, Chris said, and he was keen to encourage people to see what they could do to help.

“If we weren’t volunteering, I don’t know how these people would be getting their properties cleared at all,” he said.

“They need thousands of people and hundreds of machines, even now. It’s incredible.”

Contact ManUp Hawke’s Bay at to volunteer to be a part of the clean-up effort.

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air