Katipo brings back traumatic memories
There were mixed emotions in the Kaiko¯ura community as Exercise Southern Katipo ramped up on Wednesday.
The military had a large presence in the recovery operation after the November earthquake. The sight and sound of helicopters flying overhead and armed men brought back traumatic memories for residents who had been through last year’s earthquake.
Kaiko¯ura played the role of a coastal border town in New Zealand’s largest military exercise, held every two years, which involves more than 2000 soldiers from a dozen countries.
Kaiko¯ura District Council social environment recovery team leader Susi Haberstock said the exercise was bad timing for a town still suffering from the effects of last year’s devastating earthquake.
‘‘People were really freaking out and finding it really insensitive,’’ she said.
On Sunday, just three weeks out from the first anniversary of last year’s earthquake, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake hit Kaiko¯ura leaving many residents shaken.
‘‘We’ve just had an earthquake, we’re close to our first year anniversary which is a really tricky time from a psycho-social point of view - people are nervous around this time anyway.’’
Wednesday was the first day any significant army presence was seen in the town, as about 100 troops were transferred from HMNZS Canterbury to Churchill Park. Armed soldiers were seen walking around the CBD and along the Esplanade near Kaiko¯ura Primary School in a scenario where Kaiko¯ura plays the role of Alpira, a peace-loving coastal border town.
It was a similar scene to the one many experienced during the civil emergency last November when the Navy evacuated many residents, and Churchill Park was crammed with helicopters delivering emergency supplies.
Haberstock said she had taken calls from concerned people alarmed at the noise from choppers overhead, and seeing armed men around town.
‘‘People are getting freaked out. People are in a really bad state and this is adding to it.
‘‘We are not a well community. The road north is still closed and people are having insurance problems.
‘‘The hospital is maxed out working with psycho-social recov- ery.’’
The children from Kaiko¯ura Primary School seemed unaffected.
Kaiko¯ura Primary School office manager Deb Cotter said the children were loving having the army in Kaiko¯ura, although the school had been concerned to begin with.
Principal Nigel Easson had taken a daisy chain that some of the pupils had made to the army personnel stationed on the Esplanade .
Cotter said when the helicopters flew overhead the building shook, but the kids were so excited no one noticed.
‘‘They’ve been outside waiting for the helicopters.
‘‘We’re happy with it,’’ Cotter said.
Haberstock said there needed to be some clarity about the exercise because it had brought back the events of last year and some had been thrown back to a state of post-earthquake stress.
New Zealand Army Lieutenant Michael Witty said they had been concerns the exercise may create a few issues, but it had been planned over the last two years. Witty lived in Christchurch at the time of the earthquakes and understood the apprehension.
‘‘The training we are doing is for humanitarian aid response which was provided in Kaiko¯ura last year and in Fiji when the New Zealand Defence Force worked alongside the Fijian military supporting communities devastated by Tropical Cyclone Winston. This training allows us to respond to situations like earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, he said.
US Army Sergeant First Class Benjamin McDougall said any discomfort people were feeling was not intentional.
‘‘The outcome of the training exercise is for the people as well as for training purposes.
‘‘Our military is working now to engage the civilian population because we understand you can’t just conduct military operations in a civil environment and disregard the civilians,’’ McDougall said.
Soldiers, Mendes from Timor Leste Defence Force and Blair from the New Zealand Army on the Esplanade.