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Sergeant Al Peychers was busy with evacuations while waiting to hear if his wife and children had survived severe flooding at their home. Photo Bradley Goldfinch.

Valentine’s Day is usually for romance. For Detective Emily Baker and Sergeant Al Peychers, February 14 this year was spent wondering if the other was alive.


Emily and their two children, Harry (4) and Sofia (9 months), were at home in Pakowhai. Al was in Taradale moving police vehicles to higher ground before he joined his colleagues who were evacuating homes and rest homes.

“During this time, I had no comms with Em. I was taking people out of an old folks’ home when I heard over the radio that a 1W, a water rescue job, had come through to my address. It was a woman and two children on a roof. So, I obviously understood that was my wife and kids.”

Emily had a go-bag packed in case it was needed and she knew there were fellow police officers at a nearby bridge checkpoint.

She was about to leave but first needed to change the baby and in that short time their driveway had gone from puddles to a river. “I was like, holy shit. Do I walk into the river with the kids to the checkpoint? But I just saw the flow.”

Emily says her son is strong for a 4-year-old but she’d have to have him on her back and carry the baby, with the risk that Harry would be swept away.

“I stayed put and rang emergency services to get someone to come help us. I managed to get through once and then got cut off but I got our address across and that I was there by myself with no car and two kids. I continued to try to get back on the line, it wasn't working.”

Emily and Al’s place is on piles, but it started filling quickly with water. “I was getting pretty frantic by that stage.”

Emily’s only plan was to wade through the groin-deep water to a tree near their woodshed and scamper from that onto the roof of the shed.

“Harry managed to sort of climb off my back and stand in a ‘V’ in the tree. He’s tall enough to be able to reach the roof of that woodshed… he still had to work quite hard to pull himself up onto that roof. And he got up there.”

Then Emily had to pass baby Sofia up to her brother.

“This part always gets me choked up, because I really had to rely on him to really hold on to her tight, look after her, because I wasn't going to be able to get up the tree while holding her at all... He got her under the arms and pulled her up onto the roof of the woodshed. I just said, ‘Hold on to her tight, don’t let her go’.”

The trio sat watching water steadily rise around them and then Detective Sergeant Heath Jones and Detective Jaime Stewart came wading down the driveway.

“That was a real big relief just to not be alone there any more,” Emily says. “We trudged our way back up the drive onto the road in the fast-flowing current. We passed a couple of horses on the road… their legs were all cut up… they’d obviously either jumped some fences to escape or they'd been hit by debris that was flowing in the water.”

Al still had no update on his family and was working “full on”, commandeering a 6-metre-long boat, going through the suburb of Meeanee, and with the help of others, evacuated two rest homes. “And then we got four elderly people out of their houses on Kings Road… in one rescue we drove the boat up to the second level, and they jumped off into the boat.”

In another rescue, Al, who is nearly
2 metres tall, was forced to wade through murky water up to his armpits. “I'd heard from the cops doing rescues on the other side of the river that there was all sorts of debris like roofing iron that would chop your leg off if it hit you, barbed wire, stuff coming from orchards and houses in the river. You just don't even think about that until you experience it.”

Finally, Al had the news he’d been waiting for – Heath and Jaime had safely evacuated his family, but Al couldn’t get to them. “All the bridges were either closed or broken. It's just a case of trusting your buddies.
It was a bit of a relief for me,” he says.

About 8pm, Al and Emily finally got to talk. “We just had a very emotional phone call,” Emily says.

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