Cyclone Gabrielle: Miracles and heartbreak in isolated Hawke's Bay communities

Nine people have been confirmed dead and Police have grave concerns for around 10 more - among the thousands yet to be contacted.

Search and Rescue teams are still working to reach isolated Hawke's Bay communities including Rissington.

Five days after Cyclone Gabrielle hit Hawke's Bay the flood waters are receding but the devastation remains.

In the cut-off community of Rissington, it's hard to comprehend just how high the river rose.

"The water was halfway up the windows about to break the glass," one firefighter said.

Newshub hitched a ride in on a supply flight on Saturday and quickly found Nina O'Connor, who was visiting what had been her home.

"We were living in town, our dream was to move out here with our kids and we did it. Been here for six weeks, now it's gone," she said.

The aspiring homesteaders wanted to create their own little piece of paradise. But that won't happen here, now.

O'Connor doesn't know what on earth to tell her two and four-year-old kids and she's missing her beloved cat, Leaf.

Incredibly though, she finds a small box of wedding photos completely untouched.

But downstream is a concerning sight. Inflatable rescue boats can be seen heading out to sea where Newshub has been told they're retrieving bodies - although police warn against speculation about the death toll.

"We released info on all the deaths we're aware of. We don't have any more bodies with us despite rumours across the community," Police Deputy Commissioner Glenn Dunbier said at a standup.

About 5000 people still haven't been heard from. Of those police say they have grave concerns for around 10.

"We triage reports of people missing and clearly those that we have heightened concerns for will come to the top. That is a small number, and it fluctuates day-to-day," Deputy Commissioner Dunbier added.

That's because Search and Rescue teams are still working to reach isolated communities.

Locals in Rissington think everyone's OK, but know they can't check every corner.

They've had no power, water, comms or road access for five days. Both bridges into the rural town of 300 people are completely gone and the old 40-metre Rissington Bridge will need to be replaced with one double its length.

Andrew O'Rourke was the last person to stand on it as he evacuated neighbours, just before it collapsed.

"It was a groaning noise - booming," he said.

Locals are trying their best to make a start on the cleanup. But it's a mammoth job.

Where the Rissington Bridge once stood is a flying fox locals are using to ferry fuel across the river. Across the river you can still see one house up to the eaves in mud. What you can't see is the three others completely washed away on this river bend alone.

There's a different kind of heartbreak for Peter Lafferty. He's at the cemetery trying to unearth the headstones of four relatives, including that of his five-year-old daughter.

"I didn't think I'd be doing this again in my lifetime," he said. "It hurts, it hurts."

But late afternoon there was a small victory for O'Connor after Leaf was found scared, but alive - hiding in the ceiling.

"I feel stupid for being happy right but I am," she said.

One tiny thing to be happy about in the face of all this.