"It's surreal, people's homes have gone."

تم النشر: 25 يونيو 2015 5:08 CET

By Hanna Butler, New Zealand Red Cross

At 5am last Saturday morning, New Zealand Red Cross volunteer, Gypsy Chant, began evacuating people from her community in Whanganui as floodwater rose around her. Gypsy is part of the Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team (DWST), a team of volunteers trained in disaster response and emergency management. The team responded to floods in Whanganui after heavy rains caused record flooding, not just in Whanganui, but also in Taranaki, Rangitikei, Hokitika and Dunedin.

“I thought we might get our feet wet, but I didn’t think the water would be waist deep and rise so quickly,” Gypsy said from a welfare centre in Whanganui.  “At the first home I went in I saw the contents of a bedroom floating. It was hard to ask people to leave their homes, but the situation was getting worse.”

For the rest of the day, Gypsy and other Red Cross volunteers helped people evacuate, making sure they brought along important things like medication, insurance forms and other essential items. Red Cross teams have helped to set up and run welfare centres and provided additional aid like finding accommodations for the displaced. They are also doing community outreach activities, checking on vulnerable people in their homes and delivering medication to those who need it.

“More Red Cross teams tried coming in from around the country, but as the roads were closed they only got in on Sunday. Whanganui was totally cut off, like a little island,” Gypsy explained. “People have been coming into the welfare centre seeking help, but everyone is different. Some people just want to talk and have coffee, and we are there for that too. People come in here and feel reassured, even if all we can give them is a cup of tea. I have been amazed by people’s spirits and seeing neighbours help each other.”

There are currently 20 DWST volunteers in Whanganui. Last November, the Red Cross conducted an emergency training exercise in Whanganui to prepare for disasters like flooding.

“I’m a kindergarten teacher, but I love my volunteer work with Red Cross,” Gypsy said. “I teach in Whanganui East, which was hardest hit by the floods, so I know a lot of the affected families, which makes it very real for me. It’s surreal, people’s homes have gone. The full impact of the flooding won’t hit home until people return to their houses, and they will need help as some have lost everything.”  

Two days ago, the New Zealand Red Cross launched an emergency appeal to help those most affected by the flooding, both in urban and rural areas, and both in the South and North Island. 100 percent of the funds raised for the Floods Appeal will go directly towards helping the affected communities.