Friday, March 18, 2011

Personal tragedies combined recently...

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 01:  New Zea...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Personal tragedies combined recently...

By Peter Petterson

First published at Qondio:

I recently posted a story about the massive earthquake in my home town of Christchurch, in New Zealand's South Island. I had not been home for fourteen years and the tragedy of not just one earthquake, but two in the last five months had affected me because I still have family down in that previously beautiful city in the Canterbury plains.
The 7.1 magnitude earthquake on September 4 2010, last year, had caused extensive damage in the CBD, the suburbs and out in the countryside. Along the faultline out in the countryside there was a 25 mile long trench-like furrow across the landscape. There were only two serious injuries and no deaths. The earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning when a large proportion of the population were fast asleep in their beds.

But on February 22 2011, just a month ago, a 6.3 earthquake, much shallower than the first and centred on Port Lyttleton occurred a few minutes before 1 pm when people were working, shopping, doing their business in town and the children were at school.The Canterbury Television building appeared to be struck the hardest, had many people coming, going and inside.

Within hours help had arrived from Australia, and from many other countries within the next couple of days. Urban search and rescue experts, police, fire-fighters, medics, doctors and nurses and other experts arrived in the country. The reaction to New Zealand's tragedy from our close neighbours, Australia, had been extraordinary - but New Zealand had previously reacted to Australia's Queensland floods in a similar manner.

The Christchurch Hospital and other small hospitals in the city soon became full, and the Australians set up a couple of field hospitals in nearby parks.

The tragedy played out on world television, and the death toll mounted daily. The accounts of injuries, deaths and rescues were seen on prime time television. At one stage over 200 people were reported missing and the expected death toll was expected to soar well over the 250 mark. But people were found by USAR teams in the CBD buildings and expected toll was revised downwards. It stands at present around the 166 mark - the last figure I received. This will be amended once bodies are identified and become part of death rate statistics, instead of missing persons.

The central CBD area looks like Beirut and out in the suburbs there is extensive damage to homes and buildings and the slimy grey liquefaction that comes out of the ground is everywhere. Slowly but surely they started cleaning up sections and putting the dried silt on the sides of streets to be collected by contractors later.

Electricity, water and sewerage services were cut and slowly restored within days and weeks in the eastern suburbs, There are still many homes without sewerage, and these people have had to rely on portaloos in the streets, and chemical toilets eventually arrived from the US. Many suburban streets have been damaged.

But just a fortnight ago we had our own personal family tragedy when my younger brother, Richard, had a relapse of his cancer. He had previously been cleared of lung cancer, but it spread to his liver and his health deterioated rapidly. Twenty fours hours after I learned of this and had rang him at his home, he died suddenly. The day before he was refused admittance to Christchurch Hospital because it was full of earthquake casualties. He was treated at home and consideration was given to getting him into a hospice next morning. But he didn't last that long.

As a consequence I flew down to Christchurch with my eldest son and daughter. We witnessed at first hand the incredible damage done to my home town, as described above. We were not allowed into the CBD, obviously, but relied on television to be updated on the continuing crisis. We drove around the eastern suburbs and saw the damage for ourselves. We were in Christchurch from the Wednesday morning and flew home to Wellington on the Sunday morning. Whilst we were pleased to meet members of the family we hadn't seen for many years, the occasion was extremely sad and stressful. It has had a profound affect on me personally, but I have continued to witness the tragedy as rescuers searched for eight or nine days in the rubble of the city.

The urban search and rescue experts have gone home now, along with the police, firefighters, doctors, nurses and medics. But just days ago the Japanese earthquake and tsunami struck, a nuclear power plant exploded, and rescue teams that were in NZ went to Japan, including a large contingent from New Zealand.

Today there was a memorial service in Christchurch's large central Hagley Park. Prince William, the Queen's eldest grandson, attended with a number of politicians, including NZ Prime Minister, John Key, and Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff, dignitaries and entertainers. Personally I believe the memorial service was far too early and ill-timed, because there is a lot of work still necessary to get many families housed after the earthquake and to identify the fatalities. While we have been sobered by the Japanese tragedy, the situation in Christchurch has improved only slightly - many public services are nearly fully restored, excepting for the sewerage which could take some time yet. Most schools have reopened, but there has been extensive damage to many. And the aftershocks continue!

Christchurch will rise up and return from the ashes. Goodbye brother Richard.  Goodbye Richard

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