Back to top

Humble heroes honoured with awards

photo for TN

Pictured: Award recipient Neeracha (Neela Neela) Rattanaworametha with Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise at the awards ceremony on 7 September.


It is seven months since Cyclone Gabrielle hit Hawke’s Bay, and Neeracha Rattanaworametha is still serving meals for people affected by the disaster. 

Neeracha, also known as Neela Neela, is originally from Thailand. 

She was inspired to help the Napier community because of her experiences during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. 

Cooking initially in very difficult conditions, Neela Neela quickly set a new benchmark for caring for others, providing on average 1000 meals a day initially. It is estimated Neela and her helpers have provided about 100,000 meals to date. 

She was one of 28 individuals who received a Cyclone Gabrielle Recognition Award on 7 September, along with seven groups, at a special event held at the Napier War Memorial Centre.

Her nominators say Neela is a humble and kind person, who has a way of bringing people together, and motivating them. She is devoted to supporting the people of Hawke’s Bay for as long as she is needed. 

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise, addressing the recipients directly, said whatever story was behind each nomination, the community would not be the same without them. “You may not wear the leadership label in a job title or community role, but you have all proven yourselves to be leaders and role models through your actions taken on that day and its aftermath.

“Thank you for your sacrifice, your service and your mahi.”

A complete list of recipients, below:


Keith Bartleet

Hugh Mackay

The neighbours used a jet boat to rescue several people in the Esk Valley in the early hours of 14 February.


Claire Connor

Claire cooked and distributed meals for many weeks, and coordinated volunteers and items for the needy despite having flooding damage to her own home and familly farm.


Mary Danielson

Mary offered refreshments, made deliveries, organised fundraisers and opened her business premises, The Puketapu, to locals, all while her business was severely damaged.


Troy Duncan

Troy alerted many people in the Pakowhai area to danger, helping to rescue people and stock over many hours on 14 February.


Peter Eden

Peter, Moteo Marae chair, played a key role in coordinating the response and recovery efforts for Moteo, Puketapu, Waiohiki and other communities.


Brenda Ferguson

Brenda, a member of Tihei Mauri Ora, provided oustanding support and leadership during the response and recovery phase for many Hawke’s Bay communities.


Bill Henderson

Gabriella Henderson

Bill and Gabriella, from Waiohiki, sheltered 40-plus people in their home, and animals, looking after and supporting many long after the initital danger period had passed.


Michael Helliwell

Michael, a member of Land, Search & Rescue, with his wife Lyn, spent 14 February and several days afterwards checking houses and vehicles, including in Esk Valley, and conducting rescues.


Cathy Herries

Julie King

Cathy and Julie spent months helping in Puketapu, Eskdale, Brookfields and Eskdale, offering both physical and emotional support, and inspiring others to volunteer.


Rose Hiha

Rose, Petane Marae chair, was an outstanding supporter for her community, from getting stuck in to the clean-up, to ensuring people had the right information.


Sean Hughes

Sean, from Esk Valley, prepped and served food in Napier, drove people assisting older folks, and was part of the team which designed T-shirts that raised $35,000 for cyclone affected communities.


Amelia Kaui

Amelia, Hukarere Girls College boarding hostel manager, organised the school’s evacuation from the Esk Valley site, saving the lives of 50-plus students and staff.


Damien Kelly

Damien, from Wellington, towed a caravan loaded with supplies from the capital to Napier, and was involved in rescues.


Rikki Kihi

Ricki, involved in the jet boat rescue of more than 50 people in the Esk Valley, helped with the clean-up for weeks afterwards, and became a great advocate for mental health.


Greg Miller

Greg, Valley D’Vine restaurateur, offered shelter to Esk Valley locals during the response, later becoming the go to guy for coordinating counselling, and provisions.


Greg Morice

Lorna Morice

Greg and Lorna, from Dartmoor Valley, rescued families and animals, offered shelter at their hilltop property, and ensured the sick and vulnerable were flown out the next day.


Mohinder Nagra

Mohinder, Bollywood Stars Napier owner, was one of the first people to come forward and help feed people, ensuring hundreds of free meals were served to the needy.


Neeracha (Neela Neela) Rattanaworametha

Neeracha provided hundreds of meals daily since the cyclone, inspiring an army of volunteers who helped cook, pack and deliver those meals.


Rikki Reed

Rikki was part of a road crew which warned people on SH5, spent hours clinging to a tree waiting for rescue, helped with the clean-up, and became a great advocate for

mental health.


Nancye Rewi

Nancye founded the Hawke’s Bay Toy Drive, coordinating donated kai and toy packs all over the region, helping Neela Neela in her spare time.


Sammie-Jo Smaling

Sammie-Jo cooked and delivered meals to many, baked hundreds of cupcakes for volunteers, and opened her home for people to have quiet time, and children to play.


Todd Smith

Todd, from Whirinaki, saved the lives of many residents and their pets, and used his plumbing skills to keep the community running when no one had mains power or running water.


Richard Stevenson

Richard used his own vehicle to get essential supplies, news and updates to and from communities on SH5, at considerable personal risk.


Quent and Mel Swayn

Quent and Mel were a driving force behind the Bay View community hub, coordinating volunteers and resources, supporting those who needed advice and care.


Mike Teddy

Mike got stuck into helping his community, clearing roads, driveways and houses, volunteering himself, his staff and use of his equipment.


Lee Walmsley

Lee used a boat then a truck to rescue many people on Links Road, around Waiohiki, Omarunui and surround areas, risking his own life to evacuate others.



Bay View Fire Brigade The brigade evacuated and rescued people in the Esk Valley and surrounding areas, providing support for weeks afterwards.


Cyclone Hawke’s Bay Help

This Facebook group, was a successful hub for connecting people who needed help with volunteers, supporting the flow of resources and information.


Equippers Church

This Tamatea church was a civil defence evacuation centre, allowing people to stay until it was safe for them to return home, providing three meals daily and amazing hospitality.


Kings House Church

This Meeanee Church was a lifeline for hundreds of people, including 300-plus RSE workers, providing meals, welfare support and shelter to many.


Napier RDA

This organisation looked after horses and livestock for months after the cyclone, operating from Meeanee Speedway, as well as organising helicopter and plane drops.


Rapid Relief Team

The team fed hundreds and helped deliver resources to isolated communities, continuing to support people well after the initial response period had ended.


Re-Source HB

This organisation’s volunteers set up a distribution hub at Hastings Racecourse, ensuring vital equipment and resources – an estimated 100,000 items - got to the people who needed them the most.

12 September 2023

Back to Stories

Disclaimers and Copyright
While every endeavour has been taken by the to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up to date, shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of information on this website. Information contained has been assembled in good faith. Some of the information available in this site is from the New Zealand Public domain and supplied by relevant government agencies. cannot accept any liability for its accuracy or content. Portions of the information and material on this site, including data, pages, documents, online graphics and images are protected by copyright, unless specifically notified to the contrary. Externally sourced information or material is copyright to the respective provider.

© - / /