A CORK woman living in New Zealand, which has been battered by Cyclone Gabrielle, has told The Echo of her experiences surviving what has been described as the country’s “worst storm of the century”.
“It’s been a pretty eventful few days here in New Zealand,” said Cathy O’Sullivan from Carrigaline, who previously worked for The Echo and is now editor of CIO New Zealand, a technology news group.
Thousands of people have had to be evacuated, and a national state of emergency has been declared in New Zealand. Four people have been confirmed killed in the storm, including a child and a firefighter.
Ms O’Sullivan said “it was a pretty scary time.
“The whole house was shaking for two days. The winds were so high, they were blowing around the bins. It lifted the roof off our spa pool. It blew over big trees.
“I’ve never really experienced anything like it, but I think we were lucky to escape without any damage to our house.
"The damage around the country has been fairly extensive, with lots of flooding. Lots of people stuck on their roofs, because they’ve had to go out of their houses and wait to be rescued.
“There are loads of people without power. The last I read, there was nearly a quarter of a million people without power.
“It’s quite difficult for people to go and fix power lines and cellphone towers when the winds were so high.”
In Auckland, Ms O’Sullivan said her friends and family had time to prepare, with forecasts last week warning that Cyclone Gabrielle was coming.
“Unlike the Auckland flooding a few weeks ago, we were prepared for what was to come.
“We spent the weekend before it started, ramping up, taping up the windows, filling up the bath with water just in case the water would go, and making sure that we had enough food for a few days in case we got cut off.
“We had the camping stove, and the gas barbecue ready to go.”
With her partner, Mark Ellis, Ms O’Sullivan managed to avoid an electricity blackout, but others weren’t so lucky.
“There are places that are completely cut off. Bridges washed away. Rivers have burst so there is no way in or out of those communities, and they have no power or cellphone coverage, as the towers have been taken out.”
New Zealand’s armed forces and emergency services are trying to contact those areas cut off by the cyclone.
“They literally have nothing at the moment. Everything has been washed away. It’s been quite devastating. They are saying it’s the worst storm of the century.
“I think we are so lucky here where I live to avoid the worst of it. We were pummelled pretty hard by the floods a few weeks ago, so there have been lots of landslides.
“There are a few landslides around Auckland, particularly on the south coast.
“More houses have collapsed and certainly we haven’t escaped without some damage in the area. But I’m really counting my blessings that we’re okay.”
The floods and storms have woken up her adopted homeland to climate change, and its devastating effects, added Ms O’Sullivan.
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