Cyclone Gabrielle: Dargaville couple cling to fire engine in dramatic rescue

Dargaville’s Civil Defence evacuation centre is a haven for Ash Nayyar after clinging to the side of a fire engine in a dramatic ‘life and death’ Cyclone Gabrielle rescue in the darkness. Video / Supplied

Northland’s Ash Nayyar says he has been inspired by the human spirit after a dramatic life-and-death rescue from raging floodwaters in the early morning darkness.

Nayyar and his wife Mamti clung to the outside of a fire engine as they were rescued in the dark from their Awakino Point home about 4.30am on Tuesday, amid driving rain and rapidly rising floodwaters from the Awakino River.

Kaipara District Council (KDC) councillor Nayyar was up early, meditating, ahead of meeting up with Northland Regional Council Kaipara councillor John Blackwell to continue checking on the Dargaville community.

“My wife looked out into the darkness from the house and said, ‘You won’t be going anywhere’.”


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Swirling floodwaters were rapidly rising through their deck, about half a metre off the ground. Nayyar rang 111.

“It just happened overnight. It was life and death,” Nayyar said.

The fire engine, loaded with half a dozen people clinging to its outside, drove along State Highway 14 towards town, into the darkness from their home on the eastern outskirts of Dargaville to a nearby safe point at the distinctive giant grain silos alongside the highway not far from their property.

“The water levels were rising quickly. My wife was praying as we clung to the side of the fire engine.”


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One of the other evacuees clinging to the fire engine was a guest from the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (Woofer) project who was staying with the Nayyars.

Nayyar said a lot was going on around them in the darkness at the grain silos as about 10 soaked evacuees gathered. Business owners were at their premises all around the light industrial area trying to secure their properties. There were flashing lights in the raging wind and rain.

“I was shivering. I remember a kind man, a volunteer there to help us, giving me his jacket,” Nayyar said.

The first-term KDC councillor then got the opportunity to see his council’s Dargaville Civil Defence evacuation centre – where he would end up staying for the night on Tuesday – first-hand.

He called Blackwell, with whom he had the previous day organised to meet that morning anyway, asking for a lift to the Holy Trinity Anglican church.

Nayyar went to the evacuation centre, checked on his wife who had already been taken there, then headed straight out into the streets of Dargaville with Blackwell to help the community.

“I just love Dargaville,” Nayyar said.

He and his wife were able to return to their home to sleep last night and have begun the long process of cleaning up.

“I got to see the good in people in a time of distress. That’s the message I have taken from this,” Nayyar said.

Yesterday he was able to pick up his goat Betty, the single goat saved from his two swept away in the floodwaters. Betty had been taken to the nearby Northland agricultural field days site by a member of the Brethren community and into a barn for safety.


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The Nayyars’ plastic houses, where Mamti was growing Asiatic vegetables, were destroyed.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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