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.