Crisis response: firsthand reports from Kaikoura earthquake aid workers
LORRAINE DIVER is the Kaikoura Red Cross branch president. When the earthquake hit, she set up a welfare centre to deliver aid to people in the town. When I started as the Red Cross Kaikoura president, I wasn’t expecting to be thrown in at the deep end this way, but Mother Nature had other plans for me and my team. It was only a couple of months ago that we completed our training on how to set up a welfare centre. Oh, the irony of it. The earthquake was the most deafening and terrifying moment of my life. At one point we honestly thought our house was going to crumble and fall down around us. It was so violent, my husband threw pillows over me and threw himself over the pillows to shield me from the quake. It still brings me to tears. And then, as suddenly as the earthquake started, it stopped. It was like someone had flicked a switch. We went from this violent earth movement and the house swaying and everything falling down around us to nothing. It was the eeriest silence you can ever imagine. When the earth stopped shaking, my husband and I just looked at each other, gave each other a quick kiss, then threw our legs over the side of the bed and started getting ready. I’m Red Cross and my husband is Civil Defence, so there was an understanding that both of us had to get to work. I took off up to our Red Cross shed, which is on the top of the hill on the Scarborough peninsula, where I met my staff and we set up a welfare centre. Then my daughter and I spent the next three hours walking between the welfare centre and the Civil Defence Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). Telecommunications were down, electricity was down, everything was down. The only way we could pass on information was by walking backwards and forwards relaying information to the hundreds of people out on the streets. Once dawn came, we realised the huge number of people that had gathered at the welfare centre – we had people sleeping in the Red Cross shed, we had them sleeping outside or sitting outside with candles, blankets and hot drinks, and we set up a barbecue to feed them. There were so many people needing help. I met a single mum and her three children walking along the street and she was absolutely beside herself. Turns out her house had just been red-stickered and she wasn’t allowed back into her home to get anything for her children and herself, not even the bare essentials. She had
When a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Kaikoura two minutes after midnight on November 14, two people were killed and there was widespread devastation in Canterbury and the lower North Island. Kaikoura was cut off by road due to landslides and there were tsunami warnings for the eastern coasts of the North and South Islands and the Chatham Islands. Thérèse Henkin speaks to three women who leapt into action when the earthquake struck, working tirelessly to help those affected by the disaster.
nowhere to go. We took her down to the EOC and the welfare team found somewhere to relocate her. But the image of her walking down the street looking absolutely lost will always stick with me. What’s surprised me the most, however, is the resilience of the community. I have lived here for 36 years and this experience has blown me away. The sense of unity and the determination to not let the earthquakes win is inspiring. So many people wanted to help. On the day of the earthquake, just as the sun was coming up, a wonderful couple who own the local Four Square – Nick and Steph – brought their children up to the welfare centre. Nick got talking and agreed that my team and I could go with him to the Four Square building, which had been severely damaged, and collect as much food as we could before the aftershocks came. We collected so much, we were able to feed hundreds of people for the first two days. We soon realised this place wasn’t big enough to take everybody so we moved the welfare centre onto Takahanga Marae. Once external help started to come in, we set up a food distribution centre. We had some of the Red Cross staff based at the marae doing registration for all the visitors and locals who wanted to be evacuated out of Kaikoura by boat or helicopter. The other part of the team was based at the food distribution centre, making up and delivering banana boxes full of food. We were lucky because external agencies started flying supplies out to the areas that couldn’t be accessed by cars. My team and I worked 12 days straight, working up to 16-hour days. I think my training kicked in and I put the shock and fear to the back of my mind. To dwell on it would mean to take a step back, and I don’t need to take a step back and neither does the community. We need to just keep moving forward. We were looking into the biggest summer of our history in this community. All the shops had brought in extra stock, they had taken on extra staff, and it was going to be phenomenal. Now we’ve gone down to one shopping centre that only opens at 10am and closes at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. But there is a pretty gritty determination in our town to get things back on track and I’m picking that come 2018, we’ll be back in business.