Looking back at devastating Cyclone Bola - 30 years on

No weather event had such an impact here.

No weather event had such an impact here.

Aerial view of Tolaga Bay. File pictures
Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon.

TE Karaka farmer and former Gisborne mayor John Clarke says he has empathy for the plight of Hawkes’s Bay today as he looks back at Cyclone Bola, which devastated the Gisborne district 30 years ago.

He has never seen any weather event as bad as Bola, which claimed three lives at Mangatuna.

The devastation began on the night of March 7 and 8 and continued for three days, with winds of up to 100kmh and torrential rain, which caused landslides, closed roads and cut power.

The population of Te Karaka scattered, with about 400 peope evacuated when the Waipaoa River threatened to break its banks.

Mr Clarke said people moved to a nearby marae, to the top storey of the Waikohu Club, and about 30 to 40 elderly people went to the farm of Ian and Marie Cranswick on higher land.

Another 3000 people were evacuated from elsewhere on the Poverty Bay flats.

Mr Clarke, then chairman of Waikohu County Council, said Te Karaka would probably have been wiped out if not for recently-completed stopbanks.

The stopbanks were built in about 1987, but were not yet completed at the Kanakanaia end of the township when Bola struck. They had long been planned but it was a protracted process, he said.

Farming and cropping sectors 'devastated'

The farming and cropping sectors were devastated. Much of the farming structure was destroyed.

Dead sheep stuck in fencing was a common sight over much of the district. A lot of crops were washed away.

But Mr Clarke said a good autumn and winter followed, in terms of rainfall, allowing much cropping land to soon return to production.

Many homes suffered, including John and Barbara Clarke’s. Their home was surrounded by water.

Floodwaters reached the house windows and almost submerged the car. Water lapped the keyboard of their heirloom piano but photo albums were safe on top. Later, most of their farm and vineyard lay under a thick coating of silt.

Fortunately, their grapes had been picked during the previous week. And Bola was like an adventure to their young children, said Mr Clarke. They appreciated their school being closed.

Labour govt of the time 'generous with their support'

The Clarkes never rebuilt their house, deciding to relocate to a hill site. Mr Clarke said the David Lange Labour Government was very generous with their funding support.

The Prime Minister flew over much of the district and met many people. The $111m relief package included a $50m farm assistance fund and $34.3m in road repairs.

Flooding affected some 3600 hectares of farming and horticultural land, with the associated losses estimated at $90 million.

1765 farmers affected by damage

  • Records show 1765 farmers were affected by damage to their land and crops and stock losses.
  • Cyclone Bola hit some areas just as harvesting was about to start.
  • Repairs to Gisborne’s water supply cost an estimated $6.6 million.
  • Damage to East Coast forests was estimated at $8.6 million.

An inquiry into flood management followed.

Recommendations included soil conservation work, improved river control and management, and better land use planning.

But there were farmers who did not return to farming. Bola had followed drought, high interest rates and low returns, along with the 1987 stockmarket crash.

Waipoa Bridge ‘rumbling and shaking’

THE 30th anniversary of Cyclone Bola has bought back strong memories for Mayor Meng Foon.

Mr Foon and his brother Richard had taken over their parent’s vegetable growing business in Willows Road.

“The experience is very fresh in my mind,” he said.

“It just rained and rained.”

The brothers, armed with spades, tried to create drains in their gardens.

“Prices were very good at that time. Lettuces were $2.50 each wholesale.

“But still the rain came for eternity, when we relied on the weather for a living.’’

Mr Foon said he took the rotary hoe off his new four-wheel-drive tractor, put chains on and “drove around to see who needed help”.

“I neared the Waipaoa bridge. That was rumbling and shaking. The whole of the Patutahi and Manutuke area was like a large lake. There wasn’t a lot one could do until the water receded.

“I had little knowledge of the council then. But from my knowledge now, the community came out in force along with local bodies and the Labour Government to help in the recovery process.

“Gisborne MP Allan Wallbank and Prime Minister David Lange flew over the region to witness the devastation first-hand. So my thanks to all that helped.’’

'Water everywhere, erosion on hills devastating'

Mr Foon said he followed Gisborne Herald coverage and national television coverage with great interest.

“There was water everywhere and the erosion on the hills was devastating.”

In Tolaga Bay, his friend Marshall Savage was neck-deep in mud with his grape vintage.

“John Burnett’s kumara were covered in water. Cedenco tomatoes were all over the place. Leaderbrand squash lay rotting. Tony Hyland’s rock melons were no more.

'Fences down, dead sheep'

“Many fences were down and dead sheep stuck in fences were just some of my recollections.”

Mr Foon said the water came up to the window sills of the home of his in-laws Kwong and Toi Wing who lived in Whitmore Road at Ormond. “The family appreciated the community who rallied around and helped to clean up.

“What a stinky job — the freezer and its contents floated out the door, and there were maggots all over.”

'No vegetables to harvest'

Mr Foon estimated 90 percent of his vegetables were damaged or destroyed. “Prices went sky high, but that is of no benefit if there are no vegetables to harvest.”

Mr Foon said the huge government grant that come to Gisborne and the East Coast “was a life saver for many, I know.”

Commemoration service at Tolaga Bay

A commemoration service took place today at the memorial gates at Tolaga Bay.

It was to remember the three people who died in a car that went under the floodwater at Mangatuna during the deluge that Cyclone Bola brought to the region 30 years ago.

Rutu (Ruth) Maurirere, Nancy Carroll and Harry Sutherland died that night as desperate efforts were made to tow their car through the rising water.

Cyclone Bola in 1988 was one of the most damaging storms to hit New Zealand. It brought torrential rain for more than three days.

Floodwater overwhelmed stopbanks, covered houses, swept away bridges, roads and railway lines, and destroyed parts of Gisborne’s water pipeline.

TE Karaka farmer and former Gisborne mayor John Clarke says he has empathy for the plight of Hawkes’s Bay today as he looks back at Cyclone Bola, which devastated the Gisborne district 30 years ago.

He has never seen any weather event as bad as Bola, which claimed three lives at Mangatuna.

The devastation began on the night of March 7 and 8 and continued for three days, with winds of up to 100kmh and torrential rain, which caused landslides, closed roads and cut power.

The population of Te Karaka scattered, with about 400 peope evacuated when the Waipaoa River threatened to break its banks.

Mr Clarke said people moved to a nearby marae, to the top storey of the Waikohu Club, and about 30 to 40 elderly people went to the farm of Ian and Marie Cranswick on higher land.

Another 3000 people were evacuated from elsewhere on the Poverty Bay flats.

Mr Clarke, then chairman of Waikohu County Council, said Te Karaka would probably have been wiped out if not for recently-completed stopbanks.

The stopbanks were built in about 1987, but were not yet completed at the Kanakanaia end of the township when Bola struck. They had long been planned but it was a protracted process, he said.

Farming and cropping sectors 'devastated'

The farming and cropping sectors were devastated. Much of the farming structure was destroyed.

Dead sheep stuck in fencing was a common sight over much of the district. A lot of crops were washed away.

But Mr Clarke said a good autumn and winter followed, in terms of rainfall, allowing much cropping land to soon return to production.

Many homes suffered, including John and Barbara Clarke’s. Their home was surrounded by water.

Floodwaters reached the house windows and almost submerged the car. Water lapped the keyboard of their heirloom piano but photo albums were safe on top. Later, most of their farm and vineyard lay under a thick coating of silt.

Fortunately, their grapes had been picked during the previous week. And Bola was like an adventure to their young children, said Mr Clarke. They appreciated their school being closed.

Labour govt of the time 'generous with their support'

The Clarkes never rebuilt their house, deciding to relocate to a hill site. Mr Clarke said the David Lange Labour Government was very generous with their funding support.

The Prime Minister flew over much of the district and met many people. The $111m relief package included a $50m farm assistance fund and $34.3m in road repairs.

Flooding affected some 3600 hectares of farming and horticultural land, with the associated losses estimated at $90 million.

1765 farmers affected by damage

  • Records show 1765 farmers were affected by damage to their land and crops and stock losses.
  • Cyclone Bola hit some areas just as harvesting was about to start.
  • Repairs to Gisborne’s water supply cost an estimated $6.6 million.
  • Damage to East Coast forests was estimated at $8.6 million.

An inquiry into flood management followed.

Recommendations included soil conservation work, improved river control and management, and better land use planning.

But there were farmers who did not return to farming. Bola had followed drought, high interest rates and low returns, along with the 1987 stockmarket crash.

Waipoa Bridge ‘rumbling and shaking’

THE 30th anniversary of Cyclone Bola has bought back strong memories for Mayor Meng Foon.

Mr Foon and his brother Richard had taken over their parent’s vegetable growing business in Willows Road.

“The experience is very fresh in my mind,” he said.

“It just rained and rained.”

The brothers, armed with spades, tried to create drains in their gardens.

“Prices were very good at that time. Lettuces were $2.50 each wholesale.

“But still the rain came for eternity, when we relied on the weather for a living.’’

Mr Foon said he took the rotary hoe off his new four-wheel-drive tractor, put chains on and “drove around to see who needed help”.

“I neared the Waipaoa bridge. That was rumbling and shaking. The whole of the Patutahi and Manutuke area was like a large lake. There wasn’t a lot one could do until the water receded.

“I had little knowledge of the council then. But from my knowledge now, the community came out in force along with local bodies and the Labour Government to help in the recovery process.

“Gisborne MP Allan Wallbank and Prime Minister David Lange flew over the region to witness the devastation first-hand. So my thanks to all that helped.’’

'Water everywhere, erosion on hills devastating'

Mr Foon said he followed Gisborne Herald coverage and national television coverage with great interest.

“There was water everywhere and the erosion on the hills was devastating.”

In Tolaga Bay, his friend Marshall Savage was neck-deep in mud with his grape vintage.

“John Burnett’s kumara were covered in water. Cedenco tomatoes were all over the place. Leaderbrand squash lay rotting. Tony Hyland’s rock melons were no more.

'Fences down, dead sheep'

“Many fences were down and dead sheep stuck in fences were just some of my recollections.”

Mr Foon said the water came up to the window sills of the home of his in-laws Kwong and Toi Wing who lived in Whitmore Road at Ormond. “The family appreciated the community who rallied around and helped to clean up.

“What a stinky job — the freezer and its contents floated out the door, and there were maggots all over.”

'No vegetables to harvest'

Mr Foon estimated 90 percent of his vegetables were damaged or destroyed. “Prices went sky high, but that is of no benefit if there are no vegetables to harvest.”

Mr Foon said the huge government grant that come to Gisborne and the East Coast “was a life saver for many, I know.”

Commemoration service at Tolaga Bay

A commemoration service took place today at the memorial gates at Tolaga Bay.

It was to remember the three people who died in a car that went under the floodwater at Mangatuna during the deluge that Cyclone Bola brought to the region 30 years ago.

Rutu (Ruth) Maurirere, Nancy Carroll and Harry Sutherland died that night as desperate efforts were made to tow their car through the rising water.

Cyclone Bola in 1988 was one of the most damaging storms to hit New Zealand. It brought torrential rain for more than three days.

Floodwater overwhelmed stopbanks, covered houses, swept away bridges, roads and railway lines, and destroyed parts of Gisborne’s water pipeline.

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