Cyclone Gabrielle: Esk Valley residents clearing silt out of written-off homes to help with grieving process

Esk Valley residents whose homes are likely an insurance write-off are clearing the mountains of silt out of them regardless, saying it is part of their grieving process.

One whānau has been working with wheelbarrows and shovels for almost three weeks - despite health risks posed by the silt - to salvage what they can of the home that's been in the family for more than a century.

Rawinia Gray was the fifth generation of her family to live in that house. Her grandfather's horse statue and family photos are among the precious few things recovered from what was head-high silt. With so much lost, it's the little details of home that leave the biggest hole.

"I grieve the most that I'm not going to be able to see the hallway light on, or not going to be able to hear my crusty sliding door out the front," Gray said.

Though a little shy to appear on camera, Gray wants to tell her family's story.

"You kind of just cry about it and keep going and chip at it every day as we have been, and just grateful to be alive really."

She's grateful because for six hours on the night of the flood, they were huddled on their boat with her aunty as her dad, partner, and brother held ropes keeping them tethered to the house.

Since then, help has appeared every day.

For families like the Grays - and there are so many, both in Esk Valley and across the region - they are running on adrenaline and are dealing with what's in front of them right now. But when they do come to dealing with insurance, they need that process to be as smooth as possible.

Gray said officials advised them against clearing out the silt.

"How much of that silt's been through wastewater, how much has that silt picked up other contaminants? The advice is that that silt may be toxic," said Tim Grafton, Insurance Council CEO.

The Insurance Council told Newshub homes as damaged as the Grays will probably end up being demolished. But for this whānau, this is part of the healing process.

"It's our grieving and we wanted to get all our valuables we could. We wanted to see our house the way it was. I cried because I could see the floor," Gray said.

Despite being unrecognisable, it's still home.

"It's not just my land, not just our whenua, but all around us it was greenery. The vineyards, they're just vineyards, but they're beautiful to us. It was our paradise," Gray said.

Because though home might be changed forever, Gray does not plan to be the last generation of her family living here.

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