Tuesday 21 February 2012
New Zealand Earthquake: 1 Year On
New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster in 80 years struck Christchurch during its busiest hour, at lunchtime, on February 22, 2011.
The 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit just 6.2 miles away from the South Island city causing significant loss of life, casualties and widespread damage to infrastructure. Violent aftershocks continued to rattle the stricken city as well as its 400,000 inhabitants.
“We may be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day,” said the country’s Prime Minister John Key after seeing the scene of utter devastation in the center of Christchurch.
ShelterBox was able to respond immediately by mobilizing a Response Team made up of ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) volunteers from New Zealand. Walter van de Kley, Arnold Kelly and Lyndon Tamblyn worked with local authorities, Rotary and emergency services to assess the need for emergency aid.
“It was surreal coming home from deployment to rest, but instead finding myself responding as an SRT volunteer to a huge earthquake in my home city,” said Kelly. ‘Never did I ever consider being deployed to my own country, but as we say in the ShelterBox game, expect the unexpected and it came our way”
“During the first few hours after the quake, I was checking on the well-being of my relatives in the city, including one of my own daughters, while communicating with ShelterBox Operations and local agencies. I then dug my own car out of the rubble before loading my one demo ShelterBox and hitting the road in search of a worthy recipient. Not something one has to consider while on deployment in some other country.”
There was carnage in the streets, scores of collapsed buildings and cracked roads. ShelterBox New Zealand Director Lindsay Thorburn was having lunch less than two miles away from the city when the quake struck:
“There were people cut and bleeding everywhere, luckily I was not one of them. People were in absolute shock. The roads were in gridlock and no public transport was operating so people were walking home dazed and confused. I felt fortunate to be unscathed and to have been able to make it out of Christchurch alive.”
Deployment was unusual
The deployment was unusual in the way that tent shelter was not generally required as alternatives were available like campervans and motels on the outskirts of the city. Tamblyn described how the tents were put to an alternative use:
“We set up ShelterBox tents as shelter in local schools, but as there were so many casualties we mainly set up tents to be used as triage for all the injured people requiring air evacuation. We also distributed water containers to several water supplies as the water was cut off.”
“I felt proud to represent ShelterBox and Rotary in my own country and also show my local communities the work that ShelterBox does and what it represents. I also felt honored to work alongside not just local police, fire services and emergency management teams, but also other New Zealand-based SRT volunteers. We worked well as a team and enjoyed fantastic local Rotarian logistical support.”
“It was great to go on to represent ShelterBox at the cluster meetings that followed weeks after the disaster.”
One year has passed
One year has passed and the center of New Zealand’s second largest city continues to suffer from frequent aftershocks.
“To this day, more buildings still come down to make way for new sound structures,” said Kelly. “Thousands of aftershocks later, the city remains cordoned off in many areas.”
Walter van de Kley currently lives about an hour from Christchurch and he recounts his experience when he first arrived on the scene after the disaster as well as talks about where Christchurch is at today: