Cyclone Gabrielle: Firefighter caught in Muriwai slip named

  • 14/02/2023

A volunteer firefighter who was caught in a slip on Auckland's west coast on Monday has been named. 

Newshub understands Dave van Zwanenberg is one of the firefighters who became trapped in a slip while investigating flooding at a house on Motutara Road in Muriwai. 

Van Zwanenberg and another firefighter were in the house when a landslide occurred causing the house to collapse on Monday night. 

One of the firefighters was rescued and taken to hospital in critical condition, according to Fire and Emergency New Zealand deputy national commander Steph Rotarangi. 

But efforts to rescue the other firefighter, who Newshub understands is van Zwanenberg, have been suspended due to concerns over unstable land.

Rotarangi said finding the missing firefighter is the top priority. 

As well as being a volunteer firefighter, Van Zwanenberg is a vet, pilot and father of two young children.

Muriwai was hit hard by Cyclone Gabrielle on Monday night with more than 200 people being evacuated since the early hours. 

Muriwai resident Gerry told Newshub his nephew's house was one of the properties caught in the landslip.

"[It was] a huge slip coming down the back of the house which took the house out," he said.

"They've lost everything - [a] young family," Gerry said, struggling to hold back tears.

Follow Newshub's live updates on Cyclone Gabrielle

While the rain started to ease in Muriwai overnight, that was when the devastating winds picked up, Gerry said.

Other emotional locals told Newshub they were "shaken up".

"Everyone's doing OK. I think we're just waiting for the all-clear to go back to our homes," one resident said.

"[I] think we had 12 people in our house last night that had to get out of their homes," said another.

"Three of them were trying to clear the water from behind their house, then heard a tree crack and got out - and they were one of the first people who lost their house.

"Apparently two houses are gone but... I know that people's garages are gone as well."

Speaking to reporters early on Tuesday morning, FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said there were serious concerns for the unaccounted-for firefighter's welfare.

"This morning, our firefighters will be back out there again… doing a geotechnical assessment of the area to ensure it's safe and progressing with a search for the other trapped firefighter in there, but we do have grave concerns for the safety of that firefighter."