Surf lifesavers called out by police to rescue a family from rapidly rising floodwaters using their IRB carried to safety a household of four adults, a newborn baby, two older children, 3 rottweilers, 4 hunting dogs and a PlayStation.
Father and son lifeguard team Hamish and Campbell Reid are members of the Whakatane Surf Life Saving Club’s emergency call-out squad, and were called in to help with a flood evacuation at about 5am on Friday 5 July.
“A storm had come through overnight with heavy rain – it was a really intense bit of weather, and it dumped a lot of water into the Urewera Ranges, and that came down the Whakatane River like a flash flood, so it was very high,” Hamish Reid says.
“And that coincided with the rising tide. The river gets pushed back with the in-coming high tide, and the river had actually breached the stop banks up near Taneatua, in the build-up up to high tide, which was coming at about 8.30am.”
The family, in a house on Rewatu Road, south of Whakatane and next to the river, had woken in the dark just before 5am to find overflowing river water surrounding the house and rising around them. It was already more than 2 metres in places and too deep to escape safely.
The Reids quickly picked up the club’s already-prepped call-out IRB and the club’s new 4WD, donated last year by the Grassroots Trust and Toyota Financial Services. The 4WD meant they could drive straight through the storm debris and shallower flooding to the deep end of Rewatu Road, and launch the boat right into the water on the road, Hamish says.
“It was pitch black, the water was coming up fast, and there was lots of stuff in the water.”
“A lot of plant debris had come up from the maize paddocks, and it was like a blanket of maize husks on the top of the water that we had to manoeuvre through, and get past things like fences hidden under the water.
“We were keeping an eye out for how high the water was up to the power lines, and we could see porchlights a couple of hundred metres away.”
The family came out to meet them, and the lifeguards made four trips back and forth with an assortment of children, dogs and adults.
Whakatane Surf Life Saving call-out rescue squad member Campbell Reid was among lifeguards who went door-to-door making evacuations during the 2017 Edgecombe floods. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media.
“They were calm, but they’d been starting to get a bit nervous as the water was coming up their driveway.
“When we got there the dogs were jumping around having a ball, and jumping in and out of the water, and the kids thought it was a bit of an adventure - one of them had made sure to rescue his PlayStation.”
Once loaded into the IRB for the trips across the older kids who were about ten and 12 years old, and the dogs all sat still, and the lifeguards guided the rescue boat very slowly and carefully through the hazardous floodwater.
“As we were doing the rescues we could hear a deep gurgling rushing noise, and as the light came up we could see that it was from all the water gushing over the floodbanks,” Hamish says.
“Once the river starts going over it can rise pretty fast. It was up at least another metre while we were out there, and it was like - ‘I’m glad I’m heading in the right direction’.”
After rescuing the family the lifeguards quickly checked on two more houses also surrounded by the water, but on higher ground.
“They were okay, and didn’t need assistance.”
Hamish, who is president of Whakatane Surf Life Saving Club, says this is the third job the call-out rescue squad has been to this winter. Including a job two weeks ago where they helped rescue a man who called police to say he was floating about 2 kilometres off the coast holding onto a log.
“All our surf lifesavers are volunteers, and we train hard for these sorts of situations. It’s vital for water rescues that we are there to help, with the right equipment and the right skills for these sorts of challenging situations,” he says.
“Most of our call-outs are bad weather, in the dark, and normally pretty dangerous situations for the people who need help. When we can bring them back to dry land safely it’s all worth it, that’s a pretty special feeling.”