'That was the calm before the storm,” Sally says.
Over the course of the day there would be many close calls in which a handful of officers nearly drowned but, in the end, “relief that we didn’t lose anyone”.
“So many teams saved so many people’s lives and they all have their own stories to tell.”
Sally’s 6.30am instructions to all staff were direct: log in, always stay in pairs, carry an OSA, don’t drive through water, do what you have to do.
For some officers doing what they had to do was move on people who were refusing to evacuate – a recurring issue.
“The water was rising fast, banks were breaching, and officers were up to their chests in water rescuing people – one very close to drowning as she was nearly swept away,” Sally says.
And then the stopbanks burst.
“It was a race against the unbelievable wall of water… officers were up to their necks in water and in danger of drowning as they were swept into a hedge while rescuing an elderly lady,” Sally says. All were rescued, thanks to a digger driver who even had one of them in the bucket.
Co-ordinating the rescue response meant managing all hands on deck to rescue hundreds of residents and deploy boats off the side of a bridge and to pick up people from house roofs – that’s how high the water was.
“While jet boats and inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) were battling against the raging waters, they were also having to dodge floating containers, logs, debris and cows and horses that were swimming for their lives… it went on for hours,” Sally says.
A woman winched to safety by helicopter dropped the dog she was carrying but luckily someone in a rescue jet boat managed to scoop the pooch from the water and save it.
Sally says she is unsure how many people her team, aided by many members of the public, saved but it was well over 300.
“People and animals were collected into patrol cars. One little girl asked if she needed to put on her seatbelt as they sped off from the roof rescue.
“People were freezing, scared for their lives,” Sally says.
“Did I want to rush out and help rescue people? Oh my god, yes, but I knew if I didn’t keep doing what I was doing, I couldn’t keep track of staff.
“I have never been more proud. All I could do was hug them as they slowly started arriving back at the station, soaked from head to toe.
“That was day one.”
Police News March 2023Police News MagazineNZPA
In this issue
- President's Column: Dedication as evident as devastation
- Iam Keen March 2023
- Catastrophic weather - policing it, surviving it, recounting it
- 'Stranded and no one knows we're here'
- In the eye of the storm
- Adrift in a sea of fellow house hunters
- Obituary: Senior Constable Rosalie Sterritt, QSM
- Ten Questions with Susan Roberts