Four lives have tragically been claimed by raging floodwaters and slips caused by an extreme and unprecedented deluge of rain across Auckland and Waikato on Friday.
At a media conference, Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the death of four people was “horrific”.
“I think it’s been a traumatic experience … That’s the most horrific part of it that we’ve lost lives.
“Clearly alongside every Aucklander and New Zealander we share in our condolences and sadness with that person’s family.”
Man’s body found 1km away from where he went missing
The man who died after being swept away in floodwaters in the rural Waikato town of Onewhero was Dave Young.
He was a retired teacher who loved New Zealand so much that he emigrated here and became a citizen.
The small community of Onewhero rallied together in a desperate effort to save and locate Young after he got trapped in floodwaters during Friday’s deluge.
The 58-year-old’s body was found on Sunday – a drone operator discovered him 1km away from where he went missing.
A statement from Young’s family read that he was a devoted husband, father and grandad.
He had also been a science teacher at Pukekohe High School for 12 years before taking an early retirement in 2019.
“Since his retirement he had been enjoying playing with his grandchildren, working on his lifestyle block and helping his sons with odd jobs.”
Young and his family moved to New Zealand from England in 2007 and he had since become a citizen.
“The last 16 years were the happiest in his life. He loved New Zealand.”
Police said they were overwhelmed by the way the rural Waikato community has rallied around and gone above and beyond to assist with the search.
Locals have offered their time and effort, food, and support to others around them.
Waikato District Mayor Jacqui Church expressed her “heartfelt condolences” to the family.
In a later statement to the Herald, she said: “I am aware of who the grieving family is, and know some members of this well-respected family personally.
“In our tight-knit rural north Waikato we pull together in times of need. We are always there to help people, including their need for privacy, their need for support and their needs in grieving.”
Church said her personal community focus and the council’s role was to support its residents and empower their resilience and wellbeing.
“We are all truly gutted and saddened when one of our own dies, particularly so tragically. It is our collective loss, so we do what we can for the whānau while we send our sincere and very heartfelt condolences to the family.
“Also I am very grateful to the emergency responders, and particularly our wonderful local north Waikato rural communities and people for their absolute commitment to support the family, farmer and search that has found him for his family.”
Victim assists others before his death
Daniel Mark Miller, 34, of Wairau Valley was found dead in a culvert on Target Road on Friday about 7.30pm.
Miller had earlier filmed himself walking through the floodwater offering assistance to residents.
Miller posted several live videos on Facebook during the flooding.
In one of the videos, he can be heard saying “this is all bad … it’s all bad”.
“Something’s telling me to go up and check on the people in this house, so I’m going to.”
Miller can then be seen walking through floodwater talking to people outside their property.
In another clip, he appears to drop his phone in the water.
One of Miller’s friends told the Herald he was a “beautiful soul with such a big, kind heart”.
“He constantly was helping others,” she said.
“He worked incredibly hard to live a good, honest and meaningful life.”
In a statement, police said they extend sympathies to his family and friends. His death has been referred to the Coroner.
Kayaker gets trapped under culvert
Later that evening, about 12.30am, police were also called to a flooded car park on Link Drive, also in Wairau Valley, after a report another man was found dead.
The man was 25-year-old surfer and arborist Daniel Newth, of Sunnynook.
Newth was kayaking during the Auckland floods at the time of his death.
As floodwaters raged down the street near his North Shore home on Friday, the 25-year-old offered his mate his surfboard to brave the torrent and took a small kayak for himself.
His friend survived, but Newth’s kayak went under a culvert.
“He went down the road and it was too powerful, the water, and it swept him away, down underneath the culverts,” his father Craig told the Herald.
“He didn’t make it. He drowned.”
Newth was an adventurer, a professional arborist and an ardent surfer, Craig said.
He had also represented New Zealand several times in rock climbing competitions overseas.
“I called him the human monkey because he had the climb of his life in the first climb he did,” Craig said. “He topped the competition.”
Slip claims life of long-time MOTAT volunteer
Another victim has been identified as Dave Lennard.
Lennard died after his home was hit by a landslip on Friday evening in Remuera during the height of the Auckland floods.
He is being remembered as a respected mechanical expert and long-time volunteer at the city’s Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat).
Emergency services rushed about 7.30pm to his home in Shore Road after it was hit by a slip in the middle of a torrential downpour in which 180mm of rain fell in four hours – three Januarys’ worth.
The Herald understands Lennard’s son, who was also in the house at the time, managed to escape despite being initially trapped by one of his legs.
The son, who was near the front door when the landslip occurred, then tried in vain to find his father.
Lennard’s family have declined to comment. His body took some time to find.
A tribute posted by a friend on social media said he had spent more than 20 years as the “mechanical Mr Fix-it” for the museum’s Western Springs Tramway.
“If something needed repair or reproduction, he would work out how to make it from raw or repurposed materials and persist with determination,” the tribute said.
The many projects he worked on included the restoration of the Wanganui tram trailer No. 21 and the Baldwin Steam Tream No. 100.
“His legacy will live on in the many projects he worked on including 21 and 100 and the many friendships he made.”
– This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz