South Auckland tornado: Cancer patient struggles after home ravaged nearly a month ago
An 80-year-old cancer patient is struggling through the coldest nights of the year after her home was ravaged by the tornado that ripped through Papatoetoe nearly a month ago.
Ngawini Brunt’s house on Shirley Rd was one of 251 homes in the path of the tornado on the morning of Saturday, June 19.
Part of her home’s roof was blown off, the bedroom windows smashed, fences bowled and debris from nearby properties was strewn through her backyard.
Brunt, who lives alone while she undergoes chemotherapy for an incurable Myeloma blood cancer, has been sleeping on her couch since the tornado struck because of the stench of rotten wooden boards that were barricading the bedroom windows against Auckland’s frigid winter wind.
“I couldn’t get in my bed, the room absolutely stunk, it made me feel nauseated,” she said.
Not a single community member from the local council or emergency services has knocked on Brunt’s door since the tornado to see if she needs help, she says.
“I was watching the news and communities were giving out meals and I was just hoping that someone would knock on my door,” she said.
Brunt, whose husband served in the Vietnam War, was particularly upset that the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) had not attempted to call or visit her after her friend contacted them, despite their website claiming “our mission is to remember and care for all those impacted by service for New Zealand”.
A spokesperson for the RSA’s headquarters said they were “completely unaware that Ngawini had made an inquiry” as each club operated independently.
“We would absolutely be prepared to help her with her situation as her husband is a veteran,” they said.
Brunt has only wooden boards blocking the smashed windows in her bedroom, which are damp and still allow chill air into her home.
Although her insurance company, Vero, put her on a high priority list because of her health battle, Brunt says the firm has yet to take any considerable action to restoring her home.
“Somebody only come to fix the roof a fortnight ago, as well as a company to clear my broken fences, which I found out were asbestos,” said Brunt.
Brunt’s neighbour’s windows were also smashed in the tornado, but they were fixed within a week.
Executive manager of speciality claims for Vero, Matt Williams, said the company was “very sorry to hear that Ngawini is unhappy with her claims experience”.
“We have reached out to her directly to understand what else she might need that we can help with.”
He said some elements of the repairs needed at Brunt’s home needed to be custom made and the company had asked that the work be prioritised.
“[We] hope to complete this work soon,” said Williams.
Brunt said if If it were not for her good friend Sandra Fahey looking after her over the past few weeks, the 80-year-old “wouldn’t be here anymore”.
Fahey has been checking on Brunt every day, despite suffering major health problems herself.
“I would put Ngawini before anything that I need doing myself,” she said.
“If I found out that there are any elderly people in the same situation that I can help then I would” she said.
The worst is far from over for many Papatoetoe families and individuals, with a total of 62 homes being deemed either unhabitable or unsafe to enter because of significant tornado damage.
Andy Zhang’s is one of the homes that has been classed uninhabitable.
Zhang, wife Kelly Huang and their two daughters are living with family members in Mangereand face at least a six-month wait before their home is liveable.
“There has been many expenses including a second-hand car, which was much more expensive than my previous one,” said Zhang whose work van was written off after his brick chimney fell on it during the tornado.
“We need to drive an extra half an hour to send our daughters to school,” he said.
Despite all, Zhang and his family remain positive, saying “we now know so many New Zealander’s that care for us. This event will only make our family relationship stronger as we overcome it together.”
As of July 1, 397 applications had gone to Ministry of Social Development’s Civil Defence Fund and another 32 to the $260,000 Mayoral Relief Fund, which supports people who need urgent financial assistance, as well as community groups providing support on the ground level.
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