Gisborne neighbours band together after Cyclone Gabrielle to clear silt, sludge

By Amy Williams for RNZ

Sludgy, like a cow pat, stinky, and easier to move with your hands than a spade - that's how one Gisborne resident describes the silt that buried his expansive backyard garden the night Cyclone Gabrielle struck.

Hugo McGuinness is on Marian Drive, a lovely stretch of road near the city where houses back onto the river.

A week on from the storm, the street had a number of yellow stickered homes and at least one that cannot be lived in.

For the last six days, McGuinness and his neighbours had to have diggers in to push the silt back into the river.

"It didn't smell at first, it smells pretty shitty now. It's got a very definite aroma. I think it gets worse when you work it, when you turn it," McGuinness said.

"The consistency was like a fresh cow pat, which was quite easy to shovel by hand but quite difficult to work with a machine because it's like treacle."

A keen gardener, McGuinness said he worked hard on his garden and enjoyed its fruits, but the flooding would not stop that.

"I'm a hugely keen gardener and we don't have a garden now, nothing, it's all gone," he said.

"I'm kind of looking at it as a blank canvas to create a whole new garden.

"Sometimes you look out there and think 'holy hell, that's pretty daunting', because it's quite a big section and it's just gone, but it didn't come through the house - I'm so thankful for that."

He said the adrenaline from the initial shock and response had worn off.

"I'm actually quite emotional about it now, but I wasn't really on the day. I think everyone just knuckles down and gets on with it.

"Now, when you've got a little bit of time to think about it and just all that pent up emotion from very little sleep and the stress of the whole thing... I've just noticed today I'm quite emotional about the whole thing."

Many Gisborne properties were washed over with silt from floodwaters, like these washing down Ormond Road.
Many Gisborne properties were washed over with silt from floodwaters, like these washing down Ormond Road. Photo credit: Tairawhiti Civil Defence

He was already thinking about replanting the vegetable garden and sewing grass seed onto the silt once it was levelled off.

"That was basically our vegie garden along here, and it's really easily reinstated, I'll just turn it over and plant some vegetables. The silt, I believe it's quite rich in nutrients."

Alerts from the National Emergency Management Agency

  • Keep up to date with advice from your local CDEM Group or from
  • Floodwaters may be full of sewage, chemicals and other hazardous materials and should be avoided as much as possible
  • Floodwater can carry bacteria that can contaminate food
  • Protect yourself when cleaning up flood water and mud by wearing a properly fitted P2- or N95-rated mask, goggles, gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and gumboots or work shoes
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater
  • Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • In power outages use torches instead of candles, and only use camp cookers and BBQs outdoors.
  • Conserve water where you are advised to
  • Check the location of pipes and cables before you dig; see Chorus' Before You Dig website and for all utilities
  • The best way to assist in the response is through financial donations and NOT through donated goods.


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