Papatoetoe’s hellish year of Covid and tornado destruction ends in hope, tenacity

Some of them have the means to rebuild but nobody to do the work. Others in Papatoetoe don’t even have the means to get their lives back together.

The south Auckland suburb had a year from hell. In February, a local student and her family tested positive for Covid-19, plunging Auckland back into level 3 lockdown.

Four months later, a tornado killed Janesh Prasad, damaged more than 1000 homes and left dozens uninhabitable.

And just when many people arranged the necessary paperwork or money to rebuild, the new Delta outbreak and level four lockdown arrived, stifling reconstruction.

Despite these challenges, community leaders are confident Papatoetoe will emerge more resilient than ever, and with its big heart intact.

Months after the tornado, and as Auckland lingered in the long Delta lockdown, Apulu Reece Autagavaia said the community was still scarred.

“Just driving around, you can still see a lot of roofs with tarpaulins on,” the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair said.

One of his biggest jobs after the tornado was figuring out how to coordinate all the people and groups offering to assist people in need.

“There were so many groups, organisations, volunteers, temples and churches wanting to help.”

But he said some people were left behind in the cleanup efforts, and imagined many of them were uninsured or underinsured.

Autagavaia said others were ready to rebuild but two months after the tornado, the suburb entered lockdown.

“It’s been up to the private insurers to get their ducks in a row.”

For the first few weeks under level four restrictions, the local board took calls from people seeking advice on how they could continue cleaning up the mess.

Autagavaia said the Delta lockdown added to pre-existing stress but the community had shown tenacity.

It had also shown initiative by taking Covid-19 vaccination seriously.

By November, the suburb had vaccination rates comparable to the highest in Auckland – but warned that eligible adult vax rates did not tell the whole story.

“We have a large Māori and Pacific population that is more susceptible to the outcomes of catching Covid.”

The neighbourhood also had a relatively young population, and he was still concerned the Delta variant could devastate Papatoetoe and nearby South Auckland suburbs.

“Even if we get to 90 per cent [double jabbed], that’s not enough.”

Autagavaia said hundreds or more people could still get seriously ill this summer if vaccination rates stagnated.

“I’m not sure if people have been turning their minds to that, because people want to have their freedoms, and deserve to have them.”

Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault said the community had a tough early lesson in the disruption and health problems Covid-19 could case.

He referred to Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare’s warning in October to Northland residents.

“To the Māori people, Covid-19 is on the doorstep of your houses,” Henare said as the Delta variant crept north.

“In our community, it started unpicking the lock,” Couillault said when recalling the local February cluster which grew to 15 cases.

But as summer approached, he was upbeat about vaccination rates in Papatoetoe.

“It appears that the community we serve at the school is taking on the call to vaccinate significantly, well into the solid 90s.”

Couillault said Papatoetoe had “been through the wringer” in 2021 and the tornado’s aftermath was still visible months after the disaster.

“There are still big tarps over houses. Some may not have been insured.”

Some people simply did not have the money to fix up homes. Others were ready to go, after handling insurance claims and liaising with architects, when level four arrived.

His school was decile three, serving a community that was not wealthy and where many people lacked enough food or resources for a lifestyle many other Kiwis took for granted.

But the principal said the community’s resilience seems to have impressed people from outside Papatoetoe.

“For me, I was really encouraged by the unusual number of out-of-zone applications we received.

“We probably had an increase, because the community responded so well.

“So there’s a strong sense of achievement but actually this year has been a challenge.”

He said the suburb was full of hard-working, aspirational people who were proud to call Papatoetoe home.

“I don’t get a sense that people want to get out of it. They want to get as much out of it as they can, which is quite a different paradigm.

“It’s always about the quality of the humans. They’re good people that work hard and look after their neighbours,” he said.

“There’s always a sense of hope.”

Source: Read Full Article