Kōrero: Floods

Zac the cat

Zac the cat

It’s said that a cat has nine lives. But when Laura Wilson got caught in the Manawatū floods of 16 February 2004, she believed her cat Zac had reached her quota. Laura, who lived with her partner on her parents’ property near Feilding, describes the day.

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Contributed by Laura Wilson of Palmerston North.

It was 5.20 a.m. and I woke to a gurgling noise outside our door. I asked Andrew, ‘What’s that noise? All the cars are slowing down and it sounds like we’ve had a lot of rain!’

He shrugged it off and told me to go back to sleep.

After another half hour or so I tried to get out of bed and see what was happening outside. I managed to get to the door and switch on the light. There was at this stage no water in our room, but on opening the door I saw that the water was rising extremely fast. There wasn't much time before it would be inside! I grabbed the telephone and dialled my mum. She didn't sound concerned. Andrew and I moved our valuables out of the way into a storage floor above our room. I managed to get the most important thing, my dog, to safety.

By now it was 6.30 a.m. The water was still rising, and must have been half a metre above ground level. All our cars were under water and unable to be moved. Andrew’s was not insured, but he managed to shrug that off for the time being and concentrate on helping others in more need.

After about another 15 minutes the water had risen another half metre and didn’t look like it was going to slow down any time soon. Both dogs were safe inside, but we hadn’t seen or heard from our cat Zac. We were hopeful that she had managed to get to a high spot in time, but we had our doubts.

The sun rose and we could see the damage. Fences were knocked down, pieces of wood and other shrapnel that had been lying around the property was now down in the neighbours’ yards. The road was closed. The toilets were not working because the outside pump was underwater. The day seemed to drag as I was not allowed to go outside. I stayed in and helped mum bake.

Then I heard a faint cry coming from under the house in my sister’s bedroom. My heart and stomach sank. I knew that sound. Zac was trapped under the house and the water was still rising. I asked dad to see if we could cut a hole in the floor before the water got too high and get her out, but dad said that we don’t know exactly where she was so we might not be able to reach her, and on top of that water would flow into the house. We kept calling her every couple of minutes or so just to make sure she was still there. The water finally stopped rising, but it didn't seem to be going down in any hurry.

We waited. About 3.30 p.m. the water started to go down. Finally dad said that he would cut a hole in the side of the house and we could call her to come out. Even then we weren’t sure that she had enough energy left to stay up high and keep her head out of water and swim through the freezing cold water to get to us. It took about 35 minutes to get her to jump in the water and swim to daylight.

We took her inside and dried her off with some of mum’s old towels. We put her in front of the fire and left some milk and cat food out for her to nibble.

We watched the news that night and saw how bad the Ōroua River had gotten. The whole area from Feilding to where we live was flooded. We learned that a lot of people were devastated that day, and that there were a lot worse off then us. We lost a lot of possessions, but we did not lose any of our pets. The 2004 floods were horrific, but there is always a silver lining in every cloud!

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Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Eileen McSaveney, 'Floods - 21st century floods', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/community-contribution/9771/zac-the-cat (accessed 16 July 2019)

Story by Eileen McSaveney, published 12 Jun 2006, reviewed & revised 1 Aug 2017