Thursday, April 10, 2008

It was a dark and stormy day

On the 10th of April 1968 there was a storm in Wellington which killed 54 people. A passenger ferry, the Wahine, sank killing 51 people. Two more passengers died as a result of their injuries after returning home, and one little girl died in bed at home when a sheet of corrugated iron blew through her window. The Wahine storm happened before I was born but I have grown up with the stories and here, for the fortieth anniversary, are three of those stories.

My father had recently returned to New Zealand bringing my mother with him. They were staying at my grandma's house in Eastbourne, just across the harbour from the centre of Wellington. My mother had been warned about Wellington southerlies. My grandma had even said that the front fence was getting pretty rickety and it would probably blow down in the next decent southerly and so, when it did, she was not particularly alarmed. It was only when she went for a walk on the beach and saw the lifeboats that she realised that there was something unusual going on.

My stepfather-in-law, DB, was working as a builder on a house in Seatoun, a part of Wellington which is very exposed. When it became clear that the wind was making working dangerous the foreman sent the crew home. The noise of the wind as he went home is something DB will never forget. So many sheets of roofing iron were flying past high in the air that there was no let up in their ghostly howling.

I know a lovely, vivacious woman and she has a friendly, capable daughter who is a bit older than me. They were on the Wahine when it hit the rocks. The woman I know, the everyday woman, stood on the heaving, rolling, sloped deck of a sinking ship and threw her baby to a stranger in a lifeboat.

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