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Cyclone Bola

Chapter 1   Inundation & Devastation  -  Introduction and background information regarding Cyclone Bola throughout New Zealand.

Chapter 2   Disintegration & Destruction  -  The collapse of the Wairoa Bridge and all Service Utilities.

Chapter 3   Survival & Tragedy  -  The conditions and heartbreak in the first week after Cyclone Bola.

Chapter 4   Isolation & Transitional  -  Initial response to Wairoa's total isolation from the outside world.

Chapter 5   Provisional & Interim  -  Alternative transport routes provided to access both Wairoa north and south.

Chapter 6   Restoration & Construction  -  The planning and contruction of the new High Level Wairoa Bridge.

Chapter 7   Unification & Celebration  -  The Opening of the new Wairoa Bridge and the unity of the Wairoa township.

Chapter 8   Memories & Recollections  -  Personal stories and recollections contributed by our Readers.

Chapter 8 - Personal Stories and recollections

My Memories.

We had a ring prior to the bridge collapsing: about 6.00am and we went down and had a look round 7.00am. This was on the south side of the bridge. We both could not believe our eyes when we saw the huge gap in the Wairoa Bridge.

Tom and I then walked to the Bowling Club via Carroll Street and were dismayed to see the state of the greens. We met up with another bowler and it was decided we had to do something to save the greens. Soon about six other members arrived to help. On the first day we watered and pushed the silt into the ditches with a hose. The water pressure was useless and all we had to use was rubber squeegees.

On the second day we shovelled the silt from the ditches into barrows to clear them. Once done Tom and I went to the bridge area to see if we could help anyone and we were directed to the Tirohia Flats along Ruataniwha Road where we helped with the cleanup.

I have memories of the Pontoon boat taking ladies to Mothers Day on the otherside and even high heels were allowed.
I also went in an aluminium boat across the river amongst the debris and that was real scary.
The Love Boat was neat, I loved my crossing aboard it.
We did travel over the Holmleigh Bridge and along the Awamate Road to come to town. That sure was a long trip.
We also crossed over the Railway bridge to come around to town. That was quicker.

Below are a few of the photos I took during Cyclone Bola.

Wairoa Bridge

The photo above was taken on the 8th of March at the Wairoa Outdoor Bowls Club. As you can see the greens were completely flooded.

Wairoa Bridge

Once the water subsided the greens were covered in thick silt.

Wairoa Bridge

What was left of the Wairoa Bridge taken at lunchtime on the 8th of March. This was taken from the north side. Notice how high the water level was above the base of the lighthouse and also along Marine Parade.

Wairoa Bridge

This is a photo of the first water hose strung across the river by the Gisborne Fire Brigade. The hose was not strong enough and when the water was turned on and filled the hose, it sunk into the Wairoa River.

Cyclone Bola March 1988 - When Strangers became Companions.

Betty McNabb

A Landmark Gone.

I lived in Wairoa for 42 years before I moved to Napier. I remember Cyclone Bola and the devastation well. I was down at the river on that fateful morning of the 8th of March and I could not believe it when I saw the Wairoa Bridge collapse. The Bridge was a landmark allowing us to cross the river.

We travelled through Tutira on the first day the road was opened. It was one lane in parts and very muddy. Our trip was slow.

Below are photos I took in Wairoa during that time.

Wairoa Bridge

This photo was taken after the second lot of water hoses were strung across the bridge. You can see the first water hose, which was not strong enough, dangling in the water from the weight.

Wairoa Bridge

This photo was taken in 1989 on a Sunday. They had been leveling the ground ready to start the on ramp. Much of the ground around the Paul Street and Marine Parade intersection looked like this and the dust coming off the roading into the shops was dreadful. It was a continuous job cleaning the counters, floor and stock.

Wairoa Bridge

This is a photo of both old and new. Notice the water and sewage piping on the old bridge which serviced Wairoa for around 18 months.

Ruth Whateley

A Face in a Window.

I remember Cyclone Bola March 8th 1988.
I was share milking for Jim Taylor on Frasertown Road, but was living in town on the south side of the river.
At about 2.30am in the morning of March the 8th I received a phone call from Phillip Jane a fireman and was told that the bridge was not likely to hold against the torrent of water and logs jammed against it.
Thanks to Phillip I was able to make phone calls to arrange for a worker to do the milking before the bridge went taking the phone lines with it.
On Wednesday the 9th I crossed the river by helicopter and stayed out at the farm.

By the following Sunday the road through Awamate to the North side of the river had been opened and telephones had been set up in the old Dairy Company parts workshop so phone calls could be made North to South.
In the meantime Onenui Station had been asked by Civil Defence to bring their tug boat (The Banana Boat) in to Wairoa to ferry people across the river. I decided to come across so I could take a car back, I rang my wife Margaret and asked her to come down and meet the tug boat. I was dropped off at the 'Banana' Boat being driven by Allan Spark. There were 13 of us standing on the boat, as it backed off the ramp and turned, it rolled on its side tipping us into the river.
I was wearing gumboots and a swandri (try swimming with a Swandri on). People on the bank waiting to cross over, helped those in the water. Gunther Winkler helped me to shore.
One of the passengers a child had been in the cabin with Allan and was trapped inside under the boat. We could see him through a window. With a superhuman effort the boat was uprighted and Allen jumped in to rescue the child. I doubt if anyone who saw the child at the window will ever forget it. There was another boat there that was able to take me across. Margaret had watched this happen from the town side. I went home for a much needed shower and change of clothes.

The Banana Boat was not used again but Allen Spark had his own boat The Defiant there and with modifications the Onenui barge was attached to transport passengers. Allen with his set up gave Wairoa residents an excellent service until the Army arrived to set up and take over from him.

Later the foot bridge was built and I rode a bike across and carried it in the van that I left on the North Clyde side. This I did until the New Wairoa Bridge was built and all traffic was back to normal

Walter Rofe

Silt, Mud and a Dreadful Smell.

On Monday the 7th of March 1988 I had come across the bridge from the north side to post leaflets at the Post Office. On the way home I stopped after crossing the Wairoa Bridge on the south side and stepped out of my car to have a look at the rising river waters. Little did I know at the time but that was the last time I was to see the Wairoa Bridge in one piece that had serviced my family and myself since 1933.

This was the second bridge that had collapsed in my life time from Mother Nature's elements. I was only a toddler when this second Wairoa Bridge was built. Although I have no memories of the first bridge built in 1888, I am one of an elite group of people who can say they have crossed all 3 Wairoa Bridges.

I was 6 months old when the Napier Earthquake hit the North Island. My Mother put me in a Dress Basket and carried me around. When I grew up I was told my Mother had told everyone she had put me in a Dress Basket so that I did not fall through the cracks the aftershocks might make.

Back then the Wairoa Barge was one of the mains means of transport. Not only did the barge cross backwards and forwards over the river but it also travelled up to Frasertown and back. Frasertown Township was larger back in the early 1900s and the shopping area well used by the locals. We lived along Awamate Road then and my parents did their weekly shopping at Frasertown. We did not shop very often as back then most of our food needs were delivered. I can remember catching the bus to Frasertown School and I can also remember catching Tommy Hall's bus. He carried the cream Cans and as long as the bus was empty we could sit up the front otherwise we had to sit at the back with the Cream Cans.

My husband Joe and I rose early on the morning of the 8th March 1988 and put on the kettle for our early cup of tea. We were living along Waihirere Road when Cyclone Bola hit Wairoa. When we turned on the radio the news of the bridge collapse came across. We just looked at each other in disbelief. We headed to the door to look outside, the water was right there in front of us lapping the veranda. Joe checked on the stock and they were ok. The back of the property was not as flooded as the front. We went back inside as we were not worried. As it turned out we had not realised how bad it actually was. We found out later the river had flooded around behind the show grounds and the water had come around and back across. As the morning progressed the water continued to rise and by early afternoon had come over the veranda at the front of our house. Water slowly surrounded us as far out the back as our eyes could see. I don't remember being scared, but I guess I was. The water had risen so quickly through the night and the day of the 8th I did not really get a chance to think about it.

Civil Defence Relief Workers started evacuating our whole area. We had no choice and we were told we had to move over to Waitaki, the local freezing works. Waitaki had turned their Cafeteria into a welfare centre and had borrowed many mattresses and bedding. Around 350 of us on the North Clyde side were evacuated
We did not go to Waitaki though, we stayed with friends. For 2 days we were forbidden to return to our home by the Civil Defence Workers. No one knew where we were. The telephone service was out and we were unable to make phone calls to any of our family. We were meant to be at Waitaki but we had not gone there and hence unknown to us we were classed as 'Missing'.

Telephones were hung on the walls of the old Dairy Board Office and eventually we went down there to make phone calls to our families.
We did not go without provisions. Milk and bread etc were flown in and Waitaki's Relief Centre was given plenty of stores we were able to have for our meals.

On the 3rd day, the 10th, we were allowed back home. Our cat was sitting on the veranda waiting for us. Our property was covered in mud and silt including the whole front yard and the road. The paddocks behind were also covered in silt. The photo below shows the front of our house.

Wairoa Bridge

I remember the smell was dreadful. We checked through the house but all was ok. The flood waters had not come into the house. We were lucky compared to many other residents along Waihirere Road as many homes were flooded throughout.
For the next few days we shovelled the mud and silt off our property into wheelbarrows and empty them onto the back paddocks. We had no water pressure; it just dribbled out so hosing the veranda and concrete was impossible so we used brooms. The smell was really horrible, the smell was everywhere, I could not get away from it. Even inside I could still smell it.
The one thing that did really annoy me was the sight seers. Cars drove up and down and starred at us cleaning up. This was horrible and I remember this well. If they had so much time on their hands why did they not help us instead of watching us?

Life slowly returned to normal except for transport. In the first weeks we had to travel the long way around travelling out along the Lake Road turning and coming back down along the Awamate Road and to town. Because it took us about an hour and a quarter travelling we only did our shopping once a fortnight.

I remember Joe disliked the water and he could not swim. Joe went to the club every Thursday and the thought of using a boat or the Ferry was scary to him. Nonetheless the call of the Club was strong and he gritted his teeth and travelled across the river on the Ferry. I also used the Ferry on numerous occasions to come across to the south side. There was no timetable for the Ferry, everyone just waited until there were enough people to fill the Ferry and then we were taken across. Joe and I were pleased when the rail bridge was altered and we could travel across this and of course like everyone we were even more pleased when the new Wairoa Bridge was opened.

Wairoa Bridge

The Photo above was taken from the south side on the day the bridge collapsed.

Wairoa Bridge

The above photo I took from Marine Parade of the Army barge that ferried us across the river. Notice the silt covering the bank.

Mary Heath

CB Radios - Our link to the Outside World.

My husband and I were up early the day the Wairoa Bridge collapsed. One of our neighbours had come and told us the old bridge was shaky and not expected to with stand the pounding it was taking with the flood waters.
My husband went down to the river and I sat and listened to our CB Radio. We were Citizen Band Radio Hobbyists back then and spoke with many people from around the world.
While my husband was down at the river I spoke with many locals receiving updates as to the state of Wairoa and the out lining areas.

My husband returned after witnessing the collapse of the Wairoa Bridge and we just sat at our kitchen table in shock and discussed what was going to happen to North Clyde. Where was our water going to come from? Would the power come back on, how long would our telephones be out. How will we cook, eat, bath, wash... so many unanswered questions.
Our back yard by this time was covered in water but not high enough to come inside the main house.
We owned a Motor Home which was out at Mahia. We worried about the Mahia district and our Motor Home out there. My husband wanted to go and get it and bring it in but of course by now all the roads were closed from the massive flooding around Wairoa.

Back then we owned a family business in Paul Street called The Video Parlour. We headed down to check on the condition of the building as we knew the flooding was up to the road from the overflow of the Wairoa River. Luckily our building was dry and sustained no water damage at all through Cyclone Bola.

I did not open the shop that day, very few retailers did. Hornby's Chemist on the corner had sand bags all the way around stopping the water enter their shop. Many shops along Marine Parade did the same. The local Wairoa people were great and all helped to keep the flood waters out stacking sand bags along the footpath.
The entrance to the Wairoa Bridge was all closed off and the Civil Defence workers were kept busy keeping the local site seers off the bridge and away from the river.

We returned home and continued to listen to the CB Radio. The Police called in and asked if they may use our call sign and frequency to relay messages to Gisborne. Their radios were not operational. Hence we were kept busy from then on writing down incoming messages and sending out messages.

As the days went and life sort of returned to normal we decided not to open the Video Parlour again. The Council spoke to us about moving and obviously a new bridge would need to be built and on a much larger scale. This would mean making room for it. Weeks later the Council offered to move us down Marine Parade East where Vegie Wise was which now houses a second hand shop. But these premises were too small plus along way off the beaten track so we declined the offer.

Our son Larry was living across at Kihitu at the time. Most of the land over there was flooded and the locals headed to the Marae for safety. At one stage they thought they may have to be air lifted out but thankfully the water level stopped rising.
I remember this story as to this day I still laugh about it. Larry had sent his girlfriend and their two children to the Marae. He had also sent their two kittens and dog to the Marae with them. Larry did not go with them instead he stayed home to look after the chocks. The chocks were not swimming to well so Larry put them in crates and the crates floated around his back yard loaded up with terrified chocks.
Our son Larry has passed on now, but this is one of the many stories he has left us with that I have told many times.

I will always remember Cyclone Bola with mixed emotions.
It was a time of destruction and mess and yet it was a time to celebrate as our small town all came together as one and helped each other through the many trials and attributions. I was proud of our people and proud to be one of them.

Teressa McNabb

Keeping the Channels Open.

Theresa and I were up early on that fateful day of the 8th of March and listening to our CB Radio for any news on the flooding in the North Island. We had just made a cup of tea when a neighbour called in to say the bridge was not looking too stable.
I found my camera and headed down to the Wairoa Bridge to take some photos. Never in my wildish dreams did I think I would be taking photos of the bridge collapsing into the Wairoa River and floating out to sea. But that is exacting what happened and along with many other Wairoa residents I stood on the riverbank in total disbelief as the old bridge caved in. The water and sewage pipes broke and a lot of wiring that has run along the bridge also broke. The middle of the bridge floated to the top and with the force of the current floated down the river and eventually out to sea. To my knowledge this part of the old Wairoa Bridge has not been seen since.

I headed home to my wife and joined her on the CB Radio talking to many locals and non locals as to what I had just witnessed. As Theresa has said we helped many relaying messages especially assisting the Police until their radios were restored. We sat up all night having very little sleep keeping the frequencies open, manning the radio and helping as much as we could. It was an amazing time in our lives as Wairoa came together assisting each other.

I was concerned about out Motor Home at Mahia and soon as I was able I rode across the river by speed boat and headed out to Mahia to bring her in. I left her at my brothers house in Mahia Avenue until the Awamate Road was cleared for traffic and then I drove her all the way around and home. That sure was some slow long trip. We were all pleased when they opened the Rail Bridge to traffic.

Over the next 18 months I took many photos and also videos of the events that happened in Wairoa covering the old collapsed bridge on the day, the temporarily water pipes being hung, the barge being bought around from Mahia and across the bar to both the foot bridge and new Wairoa Bridge being built. It was History in the making.

Doug McNabb

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