Weather: Muriwai evacuees reveal 'horrendous' devastation after Cyclone Gabrielle causes destruction in community

This is what total devastation looks like - Muriwai, in Auckland's west, stuck in a nightmare as houses tumbled down waterlogged hillsides.

"It was blowing and pissing down. And then the rain eased off after a while and the wind picked up. And so we've had the wind most of the night," one resident told Newshub.

"A huge slip coming down the back of the house and it took the house out.... They've lost everything."

The biggest slips locals have ever seen scarred the hillside, falling into the streets below and claiming one of their own.

Newshub understands volunteer firefighter Dave van Zwanenberg was responding here on Motutara Rd when he became trapped.

"For me personally I found this quite distressing. Also having a connection to the fire brigade previously. I just really feel for their family who they left to go and help their community. And now they’re looking to find them," Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty said.

All of it comes as a community struggles to comprehend the damage.

"Yea it's horrendous and we've got some friends who are not doing well at all… It's heavy," Muriwai evacuee Brendan Christensen said.

Even for those cut off from their homes, their thoughts are elsewhere.

"It's the volunteer firefighters I’m thinking of… Pulling people out of a house and they get caught out," Christensen said.

Ross Grant lives on Motutara Road, just down the road from this tragic sight.

"We got the message that something had happened up the road and then our neighbour, he's one of the volunteers here, gave us the head's up to vacate and get out," Grant said. "You could hear all the trees all cracking and starting to move."

Up above him is Mike Glamuzima's place. His property is now atop a 70-metre landslide that caused so much damage on Motutara Rd below.

"It was a rumble, you could hear the trees breaking, cracking... It was chilling, to say the least, spine-chilling," Glamuzima said. "You knew it was the end of the road. It was awful."

Angela Little and Simon Spiller also managed to escape, hunkering down at Trusts Arena - now a makeshift evacuation centre for those who got out.

"What started out like a normal winter's evening... turned pear-shaped really quickly," Spiller said.

From relative calm to chaos in an instant - and now a community is picking up the pieces.