Happy New Year, everyone! I really hope 2022 has started well for you and that you have been able to enjoy some time with friends and family along the way.
However, as we also know, it can be a lonely time for some, so our thoughts are with those for whom the year has not started well.
As we went into the Christmas break, my mind went back to January 2021 when the December dry spell broke and parts of Waitaki suffered from extensive flooding.
It was my hope that we would avoid any emergency situations or tragedies as we entered the new year, but then along came a sevengill shark which, uncharacteristically, latched on to one of our young people in Oamaru Harbour. Not a great way for 13-year-old Alvira to start her year, but what a story she now has to tell!
Then a couple of days later, we had a very damaging fire take out the Lower Waitaki water supply pump shed, cutting water to hundreds of properties, including businesses and farms.
At first glance, the fire looked like it would be a major challenge for council staff as they worked to get the pumps and controls back up and running, and it certainly has been. But with a lot of good work by the team and a number of tradespeople, an interim fix was quickly put in place, and the longer-term solution is being worked on.
However, all of that pales in comparison when we consider this year’s biggest natural disaster, which has happened on our doorstep, and which affects many of our locals and their wider families. That, of course, is the massive eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai.
As I write this, the world is still struggling to find out the details of what happened, and more importantly, getting a clearer idea of the full impact that the eruption and its subsequent tsunamis have had on Tonga, as the country is still without most of its communications links.
My thoughts are very much with the people of Tonga, and our local Tongan community as they anxiously await word on whether everyone is safe.
With our large Pasifika population in Waitaki, such an event affects many of our people, and I have every confidence that many locals will step up to provide whatever help they can. By the time you read this, more information will be available on the scale of the disaster, its effects and the assistance required by the island nation to get everything back up and running.
Even now though, it appears that the rebuilding of Tonga will be neither quick nor easy.
So over the next weeks and months, as other news stories come along and the eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai fades from our screens and newspapers, I hope we continue to think about what we can do to help the recovery, and how we act to make that happen.
With all of the challenges each and every one of us will face this year, helping others is more important than ever.
As the old saying goes, charity begins at home, and looking after our own community — both here and in the Pacific — will once again show why Waitaki is such an awesome place to live in.
Take care everyone, and all the best for 2022.
– Gary Kircher is the Mayor of Waitaki