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Family trying to stay positive in search for Waikato family of four, uncle says

The search for a man and his three young children on the west coast of Waikato has continued amid bad weather.

Search teams on Tuesday looking for Thomas Philips and his three children.

Searchers are out in hail, rain and gale force winds.

Locals haven’t given up hope that 34-year-old Thomas Phillips from Otorohanga and eight-year-old Jayda, six-year-old Maverick-Callum and five-year-old Ember will be found.

The four were last seen near the small coastal community of Marokopa, west of Te Kuiti, and about two hours drive from Hamilton.

Phillips' vehicle was found at the beach in Kiritehere late Sunday, and the family was told on Monday morning.

Locals on Wednesday helped police make their way across swollen inlet so they could go north to Marokopa, using a boat with a quad bike.

"Our ground-based search teams covered a sizeable area yesterday and continue to reassess coastline areas today," Waikato West area commander Will Loughrin said.

He said weather conditions meant it wasn't possible to begin using an Eagle helicopter or the Coastguard NZ fixed-wing plane for the search today.

"This is being continually reassessed."

1News reporter Carolyn Robinson said thermal imaging searches overnight were not successful.

“Conditions are very different this morning”, she told Breakfast, with "very difficult" windy and chilly weather.

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1News reporter Carolyn Robinson says weather conditions remain “very difficult” in Waikato. Source: Breakfast

If the group was sheltering in bush somewhere, they would have had an "extremely rough night", Robinson said.

She said locals were increasingly "feeling very worried" as the search entered its fourth day. But, they were trying to remain upbeat.

“Everyone’s trying to rally around, buoy each other up, and hope very much today will bring positive news, or in fact any news at all."

She said the "well-loved" Phillips was known for being a "devoted father".

There was "no question" in locals' minds about his state of mind when he headed out, and they believed this was a case of misadventure, she said.

Paul Phillips, Thomas' uncle, earlier told 1News they immediately contacted police.

"It was felt that there was nothing unusual about Tom’s behaviour on Saturday," he said.

"Because of where the vehicle was found we are understandably very anxious and fearful that they all could have been swept off the beach due to the wild sea conditions.

"We are hopeful that he has gone camping with the children, that is our greatest hope, that they are safe somewhere.

"We, however, have no knowledge of this or if he had plans to do so."

Thomas Phillips' ute, a 2004 silver/grey-coloured Toyota Hilux. Source: NZ Police

Thomas and his children lived in Otorohonga, but often visited the family farm at the coast, he said.

He thanked the community for their support, and the efforts of SAR, police and Coastguard.

He urged anyone with information to come forward to police.

"We’re just praying that Tom and the children are safe, and if they have been washed out to sea, so be it.

"We’re just being positive because if you’re negative and then you get the bad news it makes it doubly worse."

Police continue to ask for sightings of the group.

They're also looking for information about any movements of his 2004 silver/grey-coloured Toyota Hilux prior to it being located on the beach at Kiritehere on Sunday.

"Police remain focused and committed to finding Thomas and his children and bringing them home, and we continue to work with and support their extended family," Loughrin said.

Ground and air searches resumed on Wednesday at 7am.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 105 and quote file number 210913/1952.