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Jim Guerin – our cyclone heroes

The Rescuers Jimmy Guerin and his team at Helicopters Hawke’s Bay pulled hundreds of people from roofs, risking their own lives in doing so.

Weeks on from the cyclone, Jimmy says those rescues remain a blur, as they spent hours and hours in the most impacted areas of Hastings and Napier searching for people and animals to rescue.

“It was all day, every day searching the worst hit areas such as Swamp Road, Dartmoor, Omaranui Road, Koropiko and Pakowhai. “What I do recall is that most of the people were emotionless when we picked them up, they were in such a state of shock and it wasn’t until we got them to safety that their emotions kicked in on what they had just gone through and a sense of loss.

Jimmy is well known in the rural sector with his helicopters usually used for crop protection and aerial spraying and like many involved in the response, the cyclone’s ferocity was unexpected.

“We heard reports to expect about 200 millimetres of rain, but have since heard stories of over one metre of rain, and when you are in the air, you could see the impact of all of that water.

He says if the flooding following the storm had been during the night, there would have been many more lives lost, as he recalls one rescue 36 hours after the cyclone struck.

His only vivid recollection is rescuing a farmer, his wife and their farm dogs.

“We went to one of the Joan Fernie Trust Farms and picked up a farmer and his wife off their roof and could also see that the farm dogs were on the kennel’s roof, that’s something that I will always remember along with seeing the stock loss and human loss. A few people didn’t want to leave, it was like they were the captain of a sinking ship and they wanted to stay, but it was just too dangerous.”

Ironically a few days before the cyclone hit, the Hawke’s Bay Emergency Management Group held a meeting about general civil defence plans, which Jimmy says focused more on the likelihood of earthquakes and Tsunamis.

“It’s a bit uncanny really that we had that meeting as we weren’t expecting that a natural disaster was just around the corner and here we were talking about rescue landing sites. He says that the region needs to lift it’s game in preparedness for future natural disasters, especially forecasted weather events where out of region helicopters are brought in on standby.

Locally Jimmy says there’s about 10 helicopters that can be called into action but with a cyclone it makes it difficult to get more helicopters quickly into the region after the eye of the storm has hit.

“Hopefully I don’t have to be involved in something like this again in my lifetime, but we are told that we should expect more regular weather events into the future, so with that in mind we do need to be better prepared.”

Since the early days of the cyclone response, Jimmy and his team have turned to supplying remote areas still cut off or with limited access to town with much needed supplies such as fuel, food, medical supplies and animal feed.

He says the road ahead for the region and many of his rural clients is long but “they’re a resilient bunch and they’ll probably stick to their knitting and rebuild. Time is a good healer.”

Jimmy is also grateful to the many people that supported his team during the round the clock rescues, many dropping off food and other supplies to their base at the Bridge Pa airport.

“That was pretty awesome really, we had all our hands on deck, but other people just turned up to help as well. Our families were also incredibly supportive, helping where they could, especially with us working such long hours.”