A grieving father has been forced to dig his little girl’s grave for the second time, after a devastating storm buried her final resting place under meters of mud and silt.
Peter Lafferty buried his precious firstborn Sarah 21 years ago after she tragically died aged five from pneumonia.
Sarah was buried in a small private cemetery on the banks of the Mangaone River in the Hawke’s Bay region of the North Island of New Zealand.
A heartbroken Mr Lafferty, 59, feared the worst after Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle and raging floods left a massive trail of destruction earlier this month.
The entire cemetery was left unrecognizable after floodwaters dumped five meters of silt and debris onto the cemetery’s 120 tombstones.
Armed with only a shovel and wheelbarrow, Lafferty managed to find his daughter’s grave last week after an hour of painstaking digging by hand.
Peter Lafferty’s eldest daughter, Sarah (pictured, aged two months) was born with cerebral palsy.
“I didn’t think I would do this again but someone has to,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
“It was heartbreaking to have to get down on my knees and keep digging until I found Sarah’s grave.
“I am also devastated for the other families whose loved ones are buried here.”
Lafferty said he had buried his daughter twenty feet below the ground and was “relieved” to find her tombstone and coffin after the extensive excavation.
“I buried Sarah here with the help of my dad 22 years ago, digging seven meters deep,” he said.
“I was very relieved to find it, but at the same time it brings back sad memories.”
A vacant lot is left by Sarah’s grave so that Mr. Lafferty can be buried next to his little girl when the time comes.
The recent experience brought back heartbreaking memories of his beloved daughter, who was born with severe cerebral palsy.
Both Sarah and her mother were lucky to survive the traumatic birth.
“Sarah was deprived of oxygen for 45 minutes,” Lafferty recalled.
“The doctors told me that I would not survive 10 hours.”
Peter Lafferty (pictured) hopes to recover all 120 graves from the cemetery.
Peter Lafferty had to dig his daughter’s grave for the second time 21 years after burying her
Lafferty said her daughter suffered many health battles throughout her short life.
“His mother was in an induced coma afterwards, so it was a month before I was able to hold her for the first time,” she said.
‘Sarah was a living doll unable to sit or stand, walk or talk. But she was so strong.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.
Mr. Lafferty’s work at the cemetery is far from over.
Nearly a fortnight after the disaster, in which a state of national emergency was declared for the third time in the country’s history, the massive cleanup has only just begun.
The cyclone caused widespread damage across New Zealand’s North Island, claiming at least 11 lives as the country’s most damaging natural disaster of its century.
A makeshift bridge has been built over the Mangaone River after the Rissington Bridge was washed away.
Being on the banks of the Mangaone River, the cemetery suffered the full impact of the cyclone and continues to be a scene of devastation. covered in mud and littered with debris and driftwood.
Peter Lafferty’s daughter, Sarah (pictured), tragically died of pneumonia in 2001
The cyclone left a huge trail of destruction at the private cemetery.
Mr Lafferty is now determined to find all 120 graves on the site, privately owned by the local Absolom family with whom he grew up.
He spends up to 10 hours there almost every day.
He could be digging for weeks looking for 50 graves that have yet to be found, including several relatives.
Much of the work is done with shovels rather than mechanical excavators, mindful of the potential risk of destroying graves deep below the surface.
Cleaning up the cemetery has been almost exclusively a one-man job, with soldiers helping to remove huge piles of dirt that blocked the front gates.
“It’s a big job, the whole cemetery was buried under five meters of silt,” Lafferty said.
The tombstones are very fragile, so you have to be very careful.
‘I know where most of the graves are, since I played here all the time as a child.
“Some of the graves are over 120 years old, including a mother and son who died within days of each other during the Spanish flu epidemic.”
The cemetery suffered the full impact of Cyclone Gabrielle. In the photo, the devastating consequences a week later.
Mr. Lafferty is also desperately searching for the porcelain teddy bear that was next to Sarah’s headstone, which has been sentimental value.
The memento was delivered by friends Lafferty met while living in Australia during the 1980s and working as an interstate truck driver.
Mr. Lafferty’s other children, Amy and Luke, are proud of his tireless efforts.
“He’s been out in the sun every week doing work no one should have to do, and I’m heartbroken that I can’t go home to help,” his son told Daily Mail Australia.
“The whole family was relieved to know that Sarah is still there and really appreciates the work she’s doing.”
The entire cemetery was buried under five meters of silt after the cyclone hit.