In the midst of chaos, Dallas Makafitu could hear the faint sound of a horn.
The Red Badge security guard was chest-deep in floodwaters helping panicked children at the Sundaise Festival when he noticed it.
It was midnight and the rain was unrelenting. Makafitu loaded more children onto the kayak, but the faint sound of the tooting couldn’t be ignored. He followed the sound and what he found scared him.
A mother and her two children were trapped in a van, screaming for help. The vehicle was filling with water.
“I got there and she was screaming. I just told her to grab on to me and I picked up her two kids and got them to safety,” Makafitu said.
“The kids were standing on top of containers in the van. The mum was scared. She didn’t know what to do.”
Makafitu said the two children were aged about five and six and the water had filled the van half way up.
He doesn’t want to think about what might have happened if he did not follow the tooting.
“The next morning, the lady and the two kids came back. They gave me a big as hug and said thank you … I was just doing my job.”
Red Badge regional manager Simon Lawrence said he is proud of Makafitu.
“He blew me away with it – it’s fantastic.”
Lawrence said his thoughts were with his team on Friday while he worked at the Chiefs’ vs Hurricanes match in Hamilton.
“All I could think about was these guys at Sundaise, down in a gully next to a river.
“I spoke to Matt [the organiser] about the weather. He knew that the weather wasn’t great a week out.”
Lawrence said the festival should have been cancelled.
One thousand festival goers were evacuated from the festival on Friday.
And despite severe weather warnings throughout the week, festival organisers decided to proceed with the event.
On Saturday, festival organiser Matt Griffiths said they had assessed the weather prior to the event.
“We’ve made some steps to mitigate the risks to our people. We’ve decommissioned a couple of camping grounds that were adjacent to the river and we’ve relocated those campsites higher,” he said.
“We’ve been constantly monitoring the weather. The weather shifted to the south … which flooded the river and that’s what’s caused us the problems.”
Repeated calls to Griffiths for comment went unanswered this week.
The New Zealand Defence Force, emergency services, Civil Defence, festival organisers, and Red Badge security team worked around the clock to evacuate the festivalgoers.
Hauraki District Council chief executive Langley Cavers and Waihi fire chief Murray Stevens expressed their disappointment that organisers did not heed weather warnings and cancel the event.
“I would have thought there were enough weather warnings going on. Most of that could have been avoided,” Stevens said.
“It’s a real dangerous situation to be anywhere near a river in those conditions, especially at night. You could lose somebody in two seconds.”
The NZDF said the costs of sending 14 men and two Unimogs were not available yet.