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.

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