AN­DREA WIL­LIAMS

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - EMERGENCY RESPONSE -

We needed to give them hope that it was go­ing to be okay.

is a sergeant in the New Zealand Po­lice and works in the Maori Pa­cific Eth­nic Ser­vices team in Christchurch as an iwi li­ai­son of­fi­cer. An­drea was part of the Kaik­oura re­sponse team when the earth­quake hit.

The day of the Kaik­oura earth­quake was my birthday and I had ac­tu­ally taken the day off from my job as a po­lice sergeant. It was just af­ter mid­night, and be­cause we still have af­ter­shocks in Christchurch from the Can­ter­bury quakes, it was like, “Oh, here we go again.” But then it just didn’t stop and I knew it was bad; it wasn’t your av­er­age af­ter­shock. The phone went nuts be­cause the 111 line had gone down due to the over­load. So my com­mu­nity started to ring me. The tsunami sirens were pierc­ingly loud and peo­ple didn’t know what to do. They were pan­ick­ing and they just needed to talk to some­one and work out what the plan was and where to go. I am the iwi li­ai­son of­fi­cer so af­ter talks with my boss and iwi, we flew up to Kaik­oura, straight to Taka­hanga Marae, which was set up as the Civil De­fence shel­ter. I was def­i­nitely gag­ging to get up there. I knew what needed to be done – I had lived and worked through the Can­ter­bury quake and wanted to be part of bring­ing these peo­ple back to­gether. As soon as we landed we were straight into giv­ing peo­ple ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like food, wa­ter and shel­ter. Peo­ple from all over were flock­ing to the marae for help. The key things were to smile, re­as­sure them and an­swer their ques­tions. The big­gest dif­fer­ence from Can­ter­bury is that Kaik­oura is iso­lated. There was no way out and no way in, as far as the roads go. So on top of ev­ery­thing else, that was re­ally scary. There were about 10 whanau at the marae and they did as they would nat­u­rally do and took care of the visi­tors and tourists – fed them and gave them a place to stay in the main whare. A lot of them were ac­tu­ally sleep­ing in their cars. It was truly or­gan­ised chaos. You didn’t have time to chat to the per­son who was help­ing you de­liver wa­ter, food, and sup­plies. I was work­ing 15-hour days, but I wasn’t the only one. I tagged in with the whanau nav­i­ga­tors based at the marae to do rounds of the town and go to the aid of those in iso­lated ar­eas. I met lots of peo­ple whose homes had been de­stroyed. We went to many homes that even­tu­ally got red-stick­ered and we just sup­ported those fam­i­lies and did what they needed us to do. Some of them were he­li­coptered out of Kaik­oura and oth­ers were con­tent to stay at the marae. Some peo­ple have been too ter­ri­fied to go back into their homes, even though their houses were okay, which I un­der­stand be­cause ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent from now on. There was a fam­ily at the marae whose chil­dren be­came so anx­ious ev­ery time their par­ents tried to take them home, so they were liv­ing in a car­a­van at the marae. There is heal­ing and re­cov­ery that has to go on af­ter the fact. There were times when even I, walk­ing down the cracked roads, was scared for my safety. There is so much dam­age, es­pe­cially in the north of the town. We had a fam­ily come down from Blue Duck and the whole side of the hill had ac­tu­ally fallen over the tun­nel they had to pass through. I’m amazed they even got through. It was un­be­liev­ably dan­ger­ous and they were vis­i­bly shaken and traumatised. I said, “You can’t go back through there,” so they ended up be­ing evac­u­ated. It’s go­ing to be a long time be­fore that tun­nel opens again, if ever. The grat­i­tude and re­silience among peo­ple was huge and it gave me more en­ergy to cheer peo­ple up and get a laugh out of them – that’s what they needed. There was one woman I came across who looked af­ter lots of el­derly peo­ple from the Lions Club and the RSA. She said, “I have 30 grumpy and up­set oldies who don’t want to go to the marae, so I need food packs for them. Can you help?” The next day we de­liv­ered 30 food packs and popped them on her lawn and she came out and burst into tears. She was so grate­ful and she said, “How did you man­age this? Thank you so much.” This is what it was all about. We needed to give them hope that ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be okay, and that they and Kaik­oura would heal.

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