Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke's Bay family's grave fears for housesitter who 'disappeared underwater'


A woman is still missing in Hawke's Bay after the Eskdale property she was housesitting was suddenly inundated with floodwaters early on Tuesday morning.  

The owners of the house, Maik Beekmans and his daughter Frederieke, were flying back from overseas when the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle devastated their home and orchard.  

Their friend Gareth and his partner were housesitting the property in Eskdale, where the Beekmans grow apples, avocados, pears, walnuts and more.  

At about 2.30am on Tuesday, floodwaters ripped through the house at an "absolutely mad speed", even though the building had been designed to survive floods - it was built on 1.2 metre piles. 

Maik's friend Gareth was inside with his girlfriend. 

"Gareth decided to secure some of our more valuable stuff and he didn't think it could get much worse," Maik told Checkpoint.  

"But the water kept rising. At that stage, he simply could not flee the property in a safe way because the water was well beyond any vehicle being able to drive out of there. No boat. Nothing to get out of there.  

"So Gareth and his girlfriend sought refuge on our benchtop in the kitchen, and the water kept rising, he smashed his way through the GIB board in the ceiling.  

"They clambered up into the ceiling space. And when they were up there, a 40-foot container took the front half of our house off. 

"It smashed through the walls of the living room. 

"That's when the house actually opened up," Maik said. Gareth, now injured in hospital, had described the scene to him over the phone.  

"We think he lost his girlfriend that night. She disappeared underwater. She disappeared under the house and she's been missing. 

"He told me he's never been as scared in his life as yesterday.

"They both managed to get into the ceiling. When the water kept rising into the ceiling space they had to clamber onto the roof.  

"And as they were trying to work their way from the ceiling space onto the roof, only Gareth made it," Maik said.
"He tried to help her obviously but a log separated them," Frederieke said.  

The Beekmans' Esk Valley property in a past flood.
The Beekmans' Esk Valley property in a past flood. Photo credit: Supplied via RNZ

Gareth managed to get onto the roof and was rescued by a helicopter after his daughter in Napier had reported him missing. 

"We reported [Gareth's girlfriend as missing] this morning when we saw the report of a body found on Bay View beach." 

Maik said Gareth is his best friend and was looking after their property to get some space from his apartment.  

"It would work well with us because we've got three big dogs - we had three big dogs - and they'd be able to stay on the orchard where they know everything." 

Maik and Frederieke flew home from Los Angeles on Tuesday. They had been following the movement of the cyclone, but had no reason to suspect it would be the cataclysmic event it turned out to be.  

"We're in Auckland city right now. We landed here, we can't actually make our way back to Napier. 

"So we can't actually assess the damage other than eyewitness reports of our property and photos that have been sent to us.  

"We actually don't know anything we're trying to locate our dogs but not holding my breath for that. 

The Beekmans' Eskdale property after the Cyclone Gabrielle flood.
The Beekmans' Eskdale property after the Cyclone Gabrielle flood. Photo credit: Supplied via RNZ

"Everything we had, it's all gone. The orchard's completely ruined. The house is gone. Sheds, trucks, there's nothing there. There's literally nothing there now," Maik said. 

"We got sent a photo, and you can see where the house is meant to be," Frederieke said. 

"There's literally nothing. It's not even like it's just underwater, you know, there's just nothing under there." 

"We can't be with our mate," Maik said.  

"We can't be with Gareth. And he's sacrificed so much for us to have a f***ing holiday.

"The last place we want to be now is in Auckland."