Eugene and Emily Urlich are helping people in Kaipara communicate with loved ones, despite power cuts and internet and phone connectivity problems.
The area was badly hit by Cyclone Gabrielle, but the Northland couple are making sure the community can keep in touch with friends and families amid widespread mobile and power outages.
Eugene Urlich paddled to nearby homes in Pukehuia and Omana roads, checking people were safe and well, while wife Emily stayed in house making calls on behalf of neighbours.
Emily said the couple were well prepared as they had saved enough solar power to charge phones. The pair had been able to restore their wi-fi connection and were using a kayak to reach people who were cut off.
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“We live on the corner of Pukehuia and Omana Rd. It was today [Thursday] early morning that we got the power back. We are still flooded, so we can’t access the road.
“Because we live up high, we could see the surrounding areas. As we saw [water] was rising, we could see [neighbours’] houses flooded. They had no phone, no power.
“My husband is amazing. He took his kayak out to check if people down there were alright.”
She said they were nervous, but they didn’t have any other option.
“We were a little bit cautious initially because there were quite strong currents. We started [using a kayak] only when the wind started to die down a few days ago.
“The water was so high. The paddles couldn’t touch the ground.”
Eugene Urlich figured out a way to connect the wi-fi. The couple had saved enough power to charge their cellphones, as well as run their fridge, freezer, shower and TV – to watch weather updates.
“All cellphone towers were down, but luckily my husband figured out the wi-fi, and we used our phones to contact people on behalf of people.
“There were loved ones out not hearing from their families, friends and elderly parents. A lot of people did not know what was going on here.”
Luckily, their service provider was still connected.
“The other saving grace was that approximately one year ago we had solar panels installed, which meant that we had a small percentage of power – enough to keep phones charged and boil the jug.”
The Urlichs had solar panels installed to safeguard themselves from an extreme weather event after floods hit them about two years ago.
The couple are keen to have a safe place in the neighbourhood for people, their belonging and animals.
“When it all calms down, we will probably set up a meeting with the community and just see who would be keen to join us to work on having a shelter in the area.”
The nearest evacuation shelter is in Dargaville, about 33 minutes drive from the flooded area.
A National Emergency Management Agency spokesperson said: “While Nema does encourage people to check on their neighbours if it is safe to do so, we would not encourage people to enter floodwaters in kayaks or other small vessels due to the threat to life and health.
“If people are using kayaks they should do so with extreme caution and be vigilant.”