Cyclone Gabrielle: Hawke's Bay man forced to swim for his life after house lifted by floodwaters

One Hawke's Bay man was forced to swim for his life when his house was lifted by floodwaters and swept nearly a kilometre down the road. 

The man lived in Eskdale, which was one of the worst hit areas, and where some residents are still missing. 

A debris-strewn, is what remains of treacherous State Highway 5 in Eskdale. 

A proud community with the land they loved now in ruins. 

Eskdale Resident Nicki Panchaud said the truck stop was where many took shelter. 

"Some of us got out, some of us didn't. Some of us got swept away in caravans," Panchaud said.

She managed to get to safer ground in her house bus but can't believe what's been left behind.

"I just can't comprehend it to be honest. I can't soak it in. It's just not nice, you've got to feel for everyone," she said. 

The force of the torrent that tore through the area is becoming clearer with one home ripped from its foundations and swept away. 

"She was 900 metres up the road opposite the church. It's floated on the polystyrene blocks all the way down the railway line which used to be there," said Eskdale Resident Luke O'Connell.

O'Connell's wife and children got to safety but he was with an elderly neighbour in his ute when the floodwaters suddenly took control.  

His truck flipped as he desperately tried to escape the floodwaters. 

The former surf life saver said he and his neighbour were then faced with having to swim for their lives, finally taking refuge on the roof of a house further up the road. 

"We swam out, me and an old neighbour. He did a blinder of a job staying above water," he said.

This is now all about a community and family effort, it's about mateship and machinery. 

Shalako Ellis made it to his roof as the waters continued to rise.

"We had a blow up pool toy covering us from the rain and then we started freezing so I ripped off some of the roof and got inside the roof," Shalako Ellis said.

Inside his home, a nightmarish mess of mud and water with floodwaters ripping through that were 2.5 to 3 metres tall.

Eskdale is known for its orchards - the once prized export quality apple trees have been destroyed.  South Pacific Growers Director Rob Sykes owned 24 hectares, with all of it now destroyed.

"This is beyond belief. I've been growing apples in this district since the 1920s," said Sykes.

USAR teams are double checking properties for people who are unaccounted for, and it is painstaking, difficult work.

In a place where the loss of homes and possessions is so immense, locals told us they are "just material things."

Most people are just grateful that they still have each other.