Evacuation ‘unsettling’ for elderly residents

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Wyndham resident Betty Gray arrives at Southland Hospital in a Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter last week. Photo: Corrina Jane Photography

AN evacuation by an air force helicopter proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a group of elderly Wyndham residents caught up in Southland’s flooding emergency last week.

However, the experience was nerve-wracking rather than exciting for at least one of the residents who had never flown in a helicopter before.

Wyndham Rest Home resident Betty Gray (83) said she did not enjoy the experience one bit.

“I was worried we would never land,” she said.

“My nerves got the better of me.”

The elderly evacuees were flown to Southland Hospital where some were then settled at Invercargill rest-homes while others were cared for in the hospital’s rehabilitation ward.

Mrs Gray was taken to the Bainfield Park Residential Care home on the outskirts of the city.

The staff and the other “inmates” were all lovely, she said, but she could not wait to return to the Wyndham Rest Home and regain a sense of normality again.

“It really shook me up having to be evacuated. It was very unsettling.”

Mrs Gray was one of 21 residents from the Wyndham Rest Home evacuated on Wednesday last week as floodwaters reached the town three went to stay with family members and 18 were flown by Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopter to Southland Hospital.

Wyndham Rest Home nurse manager Annette Sinclair said the approaching floodwaters had not been a threat to the rest-home, but the flooding had reached the town and access was shut off.

When the decision to evacuate was made, they were required to get out very quickly, she said.

She thanked her staff, Southern District Health Board staff and volunteers for their assistance in moving the residents.

“They went above and beyond.”

Once it was realised the residents were to be evacuated to a community hall and be required to sleep on mattresses on the floor, staff made the call to relocate them to rest-homes in Invercargill instead, she said.

Some of the residents were in wheelchairs and one was 102 years old, she said, so it was not appropriate for them to sleep on the floor.

Eight rest-homes in Invercargill opened their doors to the refugees.

“The homes which took them in were amazing. We were so grateful the residents were able to sleep in a bed rather than on a mattress in a hall.”

The residents returned to Wyndham on Friday, this time travelling by road rather than air.

Mrs Sinclair said the residents had returned to the rest-home tired but happy to be home. “It had been a very traumatic day for them.”

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