SUSIE FER­GU­SON

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - EMERGENCY RESPONSE -

is a host on Ra­dio New Zealand’s Morn­ing Re­port. When the earth­quake hit, she pre­sented live cov­er­age from her stu­dio in Welling­ton.

When an earth­quake hap­pens in the mid­dle of the night, peo­ple are shaken awake, the adrenalin starts, the af­ter­shocks con­tinue and peo­ple are not go­ing to go back to sleep. They count on the ra­dio to keep them up­dated. In my view, this is what public ser­vice broad­cast­ing is all about. I got to sleep at about nine and I re­mem­ber wak­ing up yelling “earth­quake!” in my mind. Noth­ing got bro­ken but it was bad. I can’t imag­ine what it was like down in Kaik­oura. I woke my hus­band up and we im­me­di­ately got out of bed and went to the door frames of the kids’ bed­rooms, be­cause in an earth­quake I al­ways want to get as close as I can to the kids in case I need to grab them. It went on and on for such a long time. You could hear the whole house rat­tling. It was def­i­nitely the long­est earth­quake I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. When the place fi­nally stopped shak­ing, I headed straight for my phone. It was quite clearly a ma­jor earth­quake and I knew peo­ple would be in trou­ble. I think there were about seven peo­ple at the Ra­dio New Zealand (RNZ) build­ing that morn­ing. I was on the phone to the of­fice within 30 sec­onds of the shak­ing stop­ping so in ret­ro­spect the RNZ build­ing on The Ter­race was prob­a­bly still bounc­ing. It’s a re­ally bouncy build­ing, and I know this be­cause I’ve been in it dur­ing other earth­quakes. I spoke to our bul­letins edi­tor and she was in so much shock, she couldn’t even talk to me. When I ar­rived I said to Kim Griggs, the Morn­ing Re­port deputy edi­tor, “What can I do?” I had no ex­pec­ta­tion at that point of what I would be do­ing, I just thought I needed to get in and help. She looked at me and said, “Get in the stu­dio.” And that’s how it all be­gan. I got in there, put my head­phones on and Vicki McKay, the overnight pre­sen­ter, and I started talk­ing to each other. I have to say I was con­fronted with enor­mous pro­fes­sion­al­ism that day. Peo­ple wanted to do a good job and they were ab­so­lutely de­ter­mined. I guess the adrenalin gives you the fo­cus and the re­solve to get you through quite ex­tra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions. The de­ci­sion was very quickly made to go to rolling cov­er­age, which I think was ab­so­lutely the right one. And as one of my col­leagues said, “You just need to start and know that help will come.” And it did. A few more re­porters came in, some headed out onto the streets of Welling­ton to re­port the dam­age; even lis­ten­ers were tex­ting in in­for­ma­tion. I think ev­ery­body in Welling­ton felt the earth­quake. There have been a lot of peo­ple who were quite fright­ened by it, and there were a lot of peo­ple, even at RNZ, who didn’t want to leave their house un­til day­light, be­cause they didn’t want to go out and see what there was to see. Lots of glass had come smash­ing down in the CBD and sev­eral build­ings now need to be de­mol­ished. Had the quake hap­pened at mid­day rather than mid­night, I am fairly cer­tain lives could have been lost in Welling­ton as well. Half an hour af­ter the big shake the af­ter­shocks were still com­ing. There were times when my mic was bounc­ing up and down in front of me as I was speak­ing into it. But you only get that one op­por­tu­nity to do a good job for the peo­ple lis­ten­ing, who need in­for­ma­tion, and I think we did seize that op­por­tu­nity. One thing that I found re­ally over­whelm­ing in the days af­ter, was that I had tens of thou­sands of mes­sages on Twit­ter, email and, as­ton­ish­ingly, even let­ters and cards from lis­ten­ers. There was one per­son who said, “Thank you so much, Vicki and Susie, for your work that night. Be­cause of the in­for­ma­tion you were get­ting out to us, I made good choices for my fam­ily.” I thought, “Wow, that was some­one who wasn’t sure whether to stay in their home, or to leave to go up the hill away from the tsunami or what­ever it might be, and what we did made the dif­fer­ence to them.” And that’s why I do this job.

It was clearly ma­jor – I knew peo­ple would be in trou­ble.

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