Cyclone Gabrielle: Recovery of volunteer firefighter's body a bitter blow for tight-knit Muriwai community

A body, thought to be that of Muriwai volunteer firefighter Dave van Zwanenberg, has been recovered from a massive slip in the Auckland's Muriwai.

It's a bitter blow for the tight-knit west coast community, where many locals haven't been back home since Cyclone Gabrielle decimated the village.

Slips scar the landscape and houses are now matchsticks in Muriwai. The community is battered and devastated after Cyclone Gabrielle claimed one of their own.

"We've just received news that in the search for the missing firefighter that a body has been located, yet to be identified," said Civil Defence Minister Kieran McAnulty.

"Our deepest condolences to the family, the community and to all volunteers in emergency services. No doubt this will hit hard."

Van Zwanenberg is believed to have become trapped in a landslide while serving his community. The news is bringing a lot of hurt to the idyllic west Auckland settlement that bore the brunt. 

"It's really horrible what's happened to these firefighters. They are well known and well respected members of our community and our hearts go out to their families," said Muriwai resident Bobby Fox.

Jaaco Foote was forced to flee a decimated Motutara Road on Monday night, and on Wednesday morning he is still dejected by both destruction and tragedy.

"I have been down there and it's a bit of a warzone. We're just trying to be respectful and leave them to do it and let them do their thing and hopefully get the guy out," said Muriwai evacuee Jaaco Foote.

But this is a tight, resilient community.

"Everyone knows everyone. There'll be a lot of devastated people in this community. Everyone else is going to rally around them and look after them," said Foote.

The devastation in Muriwai is eerily similar to fatal slips in 1965.

Glen Lloyd's family has lived on Muriwai's clifftop for generations and they've seen the damage Mother Nature can do, but not this.

"We've never had anything like this before in regards to how wet it was and the damage it's done, never seen anything like it before across this cliff front," said Lloyd.

Unprecedented devastation, as a community begins to heal.