The Hawke’s Bay road policing officer describes the terror, adrenaline and ingenuity required to keep it all together on February 14. Once she realised the cavity in her ceiling wasn’t going to work, she managed to get an extension ladder to reach the exterior roof (the highest in her street) giving access to a “young couple and their newborn baby”, her neighbours and their dog, her dogs and a cat.
As the extent of the flooding became obvious Karen kayaked up the driveway to see if her friends were OK. “It was ferocious. It was an angry river. They were in their boat right by their house [with a] dog and a goat,” she says.
An older couple from nearby, their daughter and granddaughter were able to clamber onto the roof of Karen’s shed, as did her elderly tenant.
Karen had major difficulties trying to call 111; they couldn’t hear her and kept repeating the wrong address but she managed to finally get through to Eastern DCC and lodge her situation and whereabouts.
Then the ferocity of the weather seemed to calm.
“There was a stillness. We thought the baby is cold, we’re all cold, freezing and shivering,” so they clambered into Karen’s house where they kept above the water by sitting on tables and benches.
Karen says it would have been just five minutes later when a water surge hit them “like a tsunami”. They made it back onto the roof and within 15 minutes, the water had hit the height of the guttering.
“We sat there for hours. Hours we were watching jetboats go up and down my road… and helicopters… but no-one knew we were there.”
Finally, a jetboat reached them and rescued the young parents and their baby and the elderly neighbour, and eventually came back for others.
About 5.30pm, Karen waved down a helicopter. “They just managed to put the skids on the side of my roof and (in two trips) helicoptered us out.
“Those eight hours were petrifying,” Karen says, and calls her neighbour, Troy, a hero for rescuing people and animals in his kayak and shifting stock to the highest possible grounds.
“It’s not something you ever think you’re going to live through, that you’re going to ever have to do in your life. I guess… you know that if you don’t do something, you’re going to die.”
Karen has lost everything. She’s even had to borrow clothing, but says it’s replaceable.
Her distress, while on the roof, was watching her hand-reared sheep scream while trying to survive. Her other animals, “my babies”, made it.
Looking back, Karen manages to see the absurdity of aspects of her ordeal.
“It was really funny when I got rescued and we were taken in the ambulances and got checked out. Then one of my workmates took me to my friend's place and I knocked on his door drenched, with a towel around me, and he goes, ‘What are you doing?’ And I went, ‘Are you shitting me?’ and he goes ‘What do you mean?’ to which I said, ‘I’ve just been on my roof for eight hours waiting to be rescued by helicopter’, and he just didn’t believe me.
“Then he took me to my parents and they were the same. They just had no idea because there were no phones.
“My poor friend, I phoned him from my roof screaming for help, just screaming and screaming, can you please come and help me, I’m dying. He didn’t get that message for about three days and that poor bugger had to listen to it four days later.”
Karen says the amount of public and collegial support has been phenomenal.
“My police family have been the utmost amazing, most amazing people… my bosses. My boss – my inspector – even helped me retrieve my horses. That's how good my police family has been to me.”
Karen has some time off to help with her “logistical nightmare” of clearing up, and Police has organised a psychologist which she says she will readily go to. “As long as I sleep and eat, you fix my brain. That’s my motto.”