Community reels after death of five Tongan kiwifruit workers
The local community in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty are still in shock at the death of five local Tongan kiwifruit workers.
The local community in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty is still in shock over the death of five Tongan kiwifruit workers.
The men were killed after their car was hit by an unladen logging truck as they left work in a Katikati kiwifruit coolstore on Tuesday night.
Community members, workers and staff at Aongatete Coolstores gathered on Wednesday to mourn their loss.
Indira Stewart has more.
Staff at Aongatete Coolstores placed flowers this morning at the crash site which was followed by a blessing and cleansing ceremony at the pack house, the last place where most of the staff saw the five victims.
Simione Vakasiuola who is a church elder at the local Tongan Methodist Church says one of the victims was based in New Zealand while the other four were seasonal workers from Tonga.
He says 28-year-old victim Halani Fine was living with him and worked in the coolstore part-time while studying to be a Youth Counsellor.
Mr Vakasiuola is also a firefighter and arrived at the crash scene on duty last night.
SIMIONE VAKASIUOLA: I don't know. I, I can't get the picture in my head at the moment but it was a very, very sad thing to look at. I mean, you look at five people you know, died. And how to explain it? I don't know, I can't. It is my job to pull them out and a job that I refused to do last night because I know them.
Pack house manager Clive Exelby recruited the young men from Tonga himself and said they were well respected by staff and within the community.
He says two of the victims, father and son, Sitiveni and Koli Vaipulu, were supposed to travel home on the work bus, but changed their plans at the last minute.
SIMIONE VAKASIUOLA: They were very well liked. They're very jovial. They loved playing tricks on one another and joking with one another and that was one of the things they did last night. The last thing they did was instead of going to the bus, they ran into the car park because Halani was offering them a ride and they joked with the other Tongan men 'Haha, you didn't get a ride, we got a ride.
Mr Exelby says Sitiveni Vaipulu played a pivotal role in the company and had worked for them for the last eight years.
Sefita Hao'uli, the Registered Seasonal Employer coordinator for Tongans in New Zealand under the scheme, says the workers were just nearing the end of their contract.
SEFITA HAO'ULI: One of them was here for the very first time this season. The other two were here for over two years but one of the senior members of this group has been here since 2007. He's been here every year since the start of the RSE work program.
Clive Exelby says they were due to go home in about two weeks.
CLIVE EXELBY: Well yesterday I had actually just confirmed their air tickets to go back home. So we just booked those tickets and had them confirmed and there was excitement looking forward to getting back to their families.
After consultation among workers this morning, a fellow RSE worker Apolosi Tu'angalu says they've now all decided to return home early.
APOLOSI TU'ANGALU: We are heartbroken at what has happened. We really feel the loss of our colleagues. We met this morning and we've all decided we want to return together with our colleagues who died. We'll just come back next year. We all just feel that we want return together and take them home.
Sefita Hao'uli says the RSE workers were insured under the scheme which will cover the repatriation costs of the victims' bodies.
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