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.