When I first decided to move to New Zealand, I knew there’d be adjustments. For starters, I’d be driving on the left, celebrating Christmas in summer, and using the word heaps more in a few months than I ever had in my whole life. Looking back, it seems I left out, “preparing for impending cyclones.”
Sure, Pete had mentioned a thing or two about storms in Wellington growing up. Everyone knows Wellington weather is terrible; it’s a city notorious for high winds and constant rain. But that was Wellington, and I was moving to Christchurch. Surely we’d be fine…
Four months ago, Pete was busy house hunting for us while I was stuck in the States waiting for my visa. Our favorite, the house we chose, has a giant fenced in backyard for our dog and an idyllic view of the Heathcote river from our bedroom window.
He mentioned the house came with a tiny disclaimer.
Last July a 20-year flood had raised the river and brought water to the base of our house. It hadn’t actually made it inside and since we’re only renting, we didn’t worry too much about it. I mean, what were the odds of another 20-year flood happening only one year later? Guess we forgot to factor in climate change.
We got the knock at our door on Monday night. Someone from Civil Defense was letting us know we lived in a high flood zone and handing out emergency preparedness fliers.
On Tuesday morning the forecast predictions had the storm tracking right over Canterbury. Around 3:00pm, Christchurch declared a state of emergency and encouraged residents in high-risk areas (AKA us) to evacuate while it was still light outside and before the worst of the storm hit around 9:00pm.
Last night, Pete and I along with our pup Cash, self-evacuated. We packed up a nights worth of clothes and toiletries, put as many of our things onto higher surfaces as we could, and high tailed it out of our neighborhood. They were predicting over 100mm of water, about 4 months worth of rain in one night, and we didn’t want to be trapped if roads started closing.Luckily, our friends took us in and even had mulled wine heating on the stove for us when we got there.
We settled in to wait out the storm.
Waking up around 6:45am, I checked my phone for a damage report. Turns out we only got half the rain they’d predicted. The water pumps had worked and high tide hadn’t pushed the river over its banks. I’m still glad we left because when the river does overflow, it happens fast. I didn’t want to risk a 3:00am pick up from Civil Defense in a rescue boat on our front lawn.
We were lucky.
Takaka, at the top of the North Island, is still totally cut off from civilization while they work to clear slip damage that turned the only road in and out of town into a river. Other cities lost power and a bridge between Fairlie and Geraldine was washed out.
Before hitting New Zealand, Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga, causing significant damage to almost 75% of the country. You can help by making a donation to Habitat for Humanity’s Emergency Response Disaster Fund or by choosing from a range of campaigns on Give a Little’s Cyclone Gita Relief Efforts page.
Weather in this part of the world can be extreme, Monday was a beautiful summer day and by Tuesday afternoon the sky was dark and waves over 6 meters were thrashing New Zealand’s West Coast. It never hurts to be prepared and I know I’ll be taking the time to put together an emergency kit for our car ASAP.