Weathering the Storm
When Amy Keats from Napier Corps woke up on 14 February 2023, she thought she had escaped the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle. Little did she know that she was hours away from disaster.
Amy lived with two flatmates in a cottage on her dad’s property in northern Awatoto, a suburb of Napier stretching along the coast south of Te Awa. When Cyclone Gabrielle initially hit Hawke’s Bay, Amy thought she had dodged the worst of it. ‘I went to sleep the night before and slept through all the rain. In the morning the sun was out and I thought, What cyclone?’
But at 8am the power went out. Amy still had cellphone service and watched as locals posted videos of flooding on Facebook. ‘I saw a video of one of the bridges being swept away. I was like woah! But it didn’t cross my mind that there was any possibility that things would get worse—that rivers would burst their banks.’
One of Amy’s flatmates had gone down to the beach to check out the debris from the storm, while the other slept in. The trio had no way of knowing their lives were about to change forever.
At 10.30am an emergency alert came through, instructing residents of Taradale and those living south of the Tutaekuri River to evacuate, but the alert didn’t include Awatoto. A second alert came soon after, but again Awatoto was not specifically included. ‘I really wasn’t sure what to do, as we are geographically a bit higher than the surrounding areas. But in hindsight, if you get an emergency alert anywhere near you, it’s time to go,’ says Amy.
Amy headed down the driveway to find her dad. As she did so, Amy saw that the golf course that abuts their property had turned into a lake. Only 20 minutes had passed since the first alert. The water was rising rapidly, and it was clearly time to leave. Taking a few minutes to run back to the cottage and rouse her flatmate, she hoisted some precious belongings to safer heights, grabbed the cat and headed down the driveway.
‘As we walked toward the road the water was already waist deep and that’s when panic set in. I had gumboots on and even though it wasn’t a super strong current at the time, it was hard to walk. Dad had backed down the road and was waiting for us, but the water was rushing past the bottom of the car door. We jumped in and drove to higher ground to re-group and consider our options. We’d just left everything behind!’
Amy and her household escaped with their lives and spent the next five weeks with extended family. Camping equipment was a godsend, and the now expanded household was self-sufficient thanks to solar powered batteries and gas bottles until the power was restored a week later.
Amy returned to the cottage once the water receded. ‘I walked into my room and broke down in tears. I thought, Oh Lord, I’ve lost everything. I was in shock as I tried to take in what I was seeing and wondered what I was going to do.
A registered nurse, Amy is well suited to the profession. ‘My faith is strong and that is part of the reason I’m a nurse—I’m the type of person who wants to help others.’
She was first introduced to God by her nana, who used to take her to church and planted the first seeds of faith. A Bible in Schools teacher watered those seeds, and then Amy found her way to youth group at Napier Salvation Army as a teenager. Encountering God at an Easter Camp in 2015, Amy’s faith blossomed. In 2019 she became a soldier of The Salvation Army and is now a member of the corps leadership team. Amy is the only Christian in her immediate family.
‘Getting back into a routine of being present with God has been hard following the shock and devastation of the cyclone,’ she says. ‘But God has given me the strength I needed to not just get through it, but also to support Dad and my family.’
Amy offers two lessons from her cyclone experience. First, ‘no matter how hard it is—whatever kind of storm you are facing, whether it’s literal or metaphorical—take time to feel the emotions. Don’t push them down. Be present in that moment.’ Second, Amy suggests, ‘Let go of what you can’t control. Acknowledge the feelings but accept there are things you can’t change that will prevent you from moving forward. Give it to God and ask for his strength to get you through.’
In a Facebook post a few days after the cyclone, Amy expressed gratitude to God and her family. ‘We survived,’ she wrote. ‘This has been one of the most traumatic and frightening things to experience. I know as I write this that others in our community weren’t as lucky. My heart goes out to everyone affected.’
Amy and her family have not yet returned to their home but, thanks to insurance, renovations are due to begin later this year. Despite so much disruption, Amy is still thankful.
‘I’m most thankful that we had a safe place to go, and that we were able to remain together. I’m also thankful to all the people who even now still check up on me—especially those at church. It’s so nice that people haven’t forgotten that this is still big for me; six months on and people are still caring for me.’
Kia kaha Hawke’s Bay!
‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.’Isaiah 43:2