Cyclone Gabrielle: Tokomaru Bay locals crowd around flickering internet pop-up: ‘It’s pretty overwhelming… the power of Mother Nature’

The people of Tokomaru Bay are working to reconnect the city after it was cut off by flooding and road damage. Video / George heard

The locals of the remote coastal community of Tokomaru Bay, scrambling for days on their only flickering internet connection, mirror every other residential hub in the Gisborne region.

For the 500 or so people who live 90km north of Gisborne, that source of information and communication is the local fire station, where on Friday night around 20 listless locals were waiting – on foot and in their cars – to connect to WiFi.

The small town of Tokomaru Bay on SH35 has been isolated from the world with just a Starlink at the local fire station. Photo / George heard

“As you can see, there is devastation everywhere. All access is blocked. There’s about three or four bridges going down and quite a bit of stuff coming down the river,” says local Johnny Pethybridge.

“It was hard. It was hard to communicate with people but I reached my brother in the South Island yesterday and got a text from my mum. I still haven’t heard from my dad, but I know he’s fine.”

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In Gisborne town center this phenomenon is compounded by the fact that several hundred people wait over an hour to get 10 minutes of WiFi time at the community-run Lawson Field Theatre.

Council officials manage the line so only 10 people go to the theater at a time to avoid overloading the Wi-Fi.

Johnny Pethybridge and his family. Photo / George heard

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The only store open in Tokomaru Bay is a Four Square. It is one of several communities north of Gisborne that have been cut off from road access for six days since the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The nearby town of Te Puia Springs on the east coast, which houses a small hospital for dementia patients, has also been without electricity, water and a way out since Monday.

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Both communities are grateful that there have been no deaths there. The biggest challenge for Tokomaru Bay locals is the damage caused by the cyclone.

“There’s a lot of devastation, like the cost of everyone … like on our block, all the fences are gone, silt has appeared, logs all over our farm, but at least nobody was hurt or killed,” says Pethybridge.

Brad Turei from Tokomaru Bay at the local fire station. Photo / George heard

“There are all kinds of emotions just with the damage. We live 10 minutes down the road. It’ll just take a while to get over it, yeah. When you see the damage it’s pretty overwhelming especially when you see the power of mother nature and all the bridges have been destroyed, three or four in the area. So I don’t know where to go from here, just stay positive. The good thing is that the entire community is helping out where they can, which is great to see.”

Brad Turei is frustrated by the lack of emergency contact with Tokomaru Bay but proud of his community’s response.

“As everyone knows, we are stranded at the moment. Yes bro, we have wifi and electricity in some places. Assuming the first few days of no power and things like that would be a big change,” he said.

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“The weather has been bad brother, the wind and the rain and all the damage it has done to the roads. Good to see all the contractors out there trying to open things up. They all took part.”