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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)

A Flood Reminiscence

page 91

A Flood Reminiscence

I joined the Railway service in 1891 at Napier and was transferred to Invercargill district in 1899, on promotion. I have been stationed at Dunedin, Ashburton, Lyttelton and Christchurch. The most trying experience I have had in connection with my railway career was on the Napier section in 1897. I was then stationed three miles from Napier. Easter of that year was ushered in by the biggest flood in the history of the Hawke's Bay Province. Three rivers, the Tuki Tuki, Tutaekuri and Ngauorora burst their banks, and for many miles the country was under water to a depth of several feet. The length I was on which ran through Clive, received the full force of the storm. I remember the water rising at a very rapid rate, till at last we were compelled to leave the station (Clive) and were conveyed in a dray to an adjacent hotel, where we had to take to the upper storey until the flood receded somewhat. What boats that could be obtained were being used to rescue the residents of Clive, who were in a sad plight, and a special train was sent out from Napier with additional boats, but the train could only get within 1 1/2 miles of Clive station. Here the boats were lowered, and plenty of volunteers were at hand to man them, for a number of Napier citizens came out with the train for that purpose.

Unfortunately a sad fatality occurred in connection with the first boat lowered. A sergeant of police, a constable, and eight Napier citizens, men well known and highly respected, manned this boat and pushed off. They had hardly got fairly started when the force of the water burst a shingle bank on which the railway was built, and the boat was taken out to sea with all hands. All were drowned. To the best of my recollection only two bodies were recovered. It was nearly dark at the time, and nothing was seen of their sad fate.

The flood water commenced to recede at 8 on Friday evening. I left for my home, some three miles away, on Saturday morning at 6 o'clock, and we rowed the three miles over the tops of fences. I was landed near my home which, although a very small house, accommodated 28 of the neighbours who had been flooded out of their own homes situated on lower lying land than mine. The houses were silted up to a depth of over 3 feet. The railway was washed away for miles, and, in some instances, was washed to a distance of 100 yards.

The problem was where to start to effect repairs, and where to get the material—all sleepers, etc., having gone to sea. However, large gangs of men were soon on the scene, and a temporary track was laid for 1 1/2 miles through a swamp. This temporary line took six weeks to complete. It was packed in the first place with bundles of scrub, of course it was subsequently ballasted. During the time repairs were going on, I had to leave my home shortly after 5 a.m. and did not arrive back till about 7 p.m., completely done after a long and strenuous day's work in mud and slush. It was over two years before the line was reconstructed in its old position, two bridges having to be built.

Not only were the Railway Department heavy losers through this flood, but some hundreds of settlers had a severe set back. Not only had they lost their stock, but their land was silted up to a depth of from 3 to 4 feet. Over £30,000 was collected to assist the sufferers, but this did not go very far in relieving their distress.

If the world owes every man a living, every man owes the world a service.