Saving Edgecumbe's residents on the back of a lorry

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Media captionSaving Edgecumbe residents on the back of a lorry

Among the evacuation of people from the flooded town of Edgecumbe, New Zealand, one son-in-law's rescue mission has ended up saving dozens of stranded residents.

When the Rangitaiki River burst, Tautini Hahipene was working on the opposite side of town to the affected area, which included his mother-in-law's house.

By the end of a frantic day, he had helped to rescue nearly 30 people.

"It wasn't that bad to start with," he says. "But they still had to get people out.

"When it all started off, while I was at work at Edgecumbe Dairy Company across the river, a colleague on the same street as my mother-in-law said it was OK.

"I carried on. About 8.30, 9am, I heard people were being evacuated. I rang my mother-in-law but the phone was cut off.

"I rang my wife, asked about my mother-in-law. She said they'd got water right through the house, and 'to get over there, she's on her own, she's crying'."

Image copyright Tautini Hahipene
Image caption Tautini Hahipene's friends have referred to his efforts as 'Tau's Ark'

When Tautini informed his work colleagues he was going to get his mother-in-law, one of them let him borrow his 4x4 utility vehicle.

Although the Civil Defence Force was in attendance, Tautini found the situation more difficult than the vehicle could handle.

"Water was halfway up my wheels and then a large wave of water came towards me so I backed up, but I passed a guy pulling a trailer.

"I said 'You've got to go back! There are still people there'."

'A swift torrent'

When Tautini reached his mother-in-law's, he found her hanging on to the side of her house on a trestle with her dog.

"We had to take baby steps but we got her and her next-door neighbour on board the trailer.

"We heard neighbours call for help. We ended up with 20 or 30 people, including a guy in a wheelchair, his wife and his son.

"The water was moving in a swift torrent and there were lots of elderly people. Luckily it wasn't too cold.

Image copyright Tautini Hahipene
Image caption "Water was halfway up my wheels," says Tautini Hahipene

"The Civil Defence guys were busy elsewhere, tied down co-ordinating refuge for people. Me and my buddy were directing people out.

"We were moving slowly through dirty water all the way and we had to ask people 'What's below us? Is it grass or concrete?'

"One lady, it took four or five of us to lift her. There were more kiddies, more families. The fire brigade turned up with a tractor and got the kiddies away."

'Couple of beers'

People who know Tautini have said he deserves a medal from the Queen, but he is modest about his accomplishments.

"I was lucky I saw the guy with a digger pulling a trailer," he says. "A normal 4x4 would not have been good enough."

And his mother-in-law is well, having a "couple of wines" with Tautini's wife while he has rewarded himself with a "couple of beers".

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