Friends who met in quake now re­unite

Four strangers brought to­gether by the Kaiko¯ura earth­quake re­united for the first time this week. Alice An­geloni re­ports.

Sunday Star-Times - - News -

It was just past mid­night when the 7.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake rat­tled Kaik­oura; Dick White got out of his mo­torhome and howled at the sky.

Stand­ing be­side State High­way 1 be­tween Kaik­oura and Blen­heim, White as­sessed his ve­hi­cle’s dam­age, said a karakia and, un­der the light of a full moon, roared three times.

‘‘It was a way of re­leas­ing a wee bit of ten­sion,’’ White said.

He con­tin­ued driv­ing north, his car crawl­ing along the coast avoid­ing boul­ders, slips, and a bridge that had risen about 30 cen­time­tres.

Not far along, Ce­leste Sharplin sat on train tracks over­look­ing the beach, hop­ing the mo­torhome she over­took on the way had sur­vived. Sharplin had to­talled her car when she hit a risen bridge at 100kmh.

See­ing a car, she ran bare­foot and cry­ing, wav­ing her arms. In White’s head­lights, he saw her.

This week, Sharplin and White, to­gether with mo­torhome driver Doug Thom and train driver Paul Fos­kett, were re­united in Kaik­oura, where they had all come to­gether as strangers that Novem­ber night last year, when the quake struck.

‘‘When I saw them all and I heard all their voices and saw their faces, it all came back to me, it was sur­real,’’ Sharplin said.

‘‘These were ran­dom strangers that un­der any other cir­cum­stances I never would have crossed paths with, but I’m now so con­nected to them be­cause we were with each other in the most vul­ner­a­ble state you could

pos­si­bly be in. It was al­most clo­sure to see them all again and talk about it with peo­ple who re­ally do un­der­stand.’’

The re­union was or­gan­ised after Sharplin’s sur­vival story, and on­go­ing bat­tle with nerve dam­age as a re­sult of the ac­ci­dent, was re­ported last month. Sharplin, then 19, was driv­ing from Kaiko¯ ura to Blen­heim.

As the four strangers united, hugs were ex­changed, fol­lowed by an end­less stream of chat­ter over lunch at the lo­cal pub as they re­called the night.

Sharplin hopped in White’s van and they car­ried on up the coast un­til they came to a man stand­ing on the road, madly wav­ing a torch. Fos­kett had stopped the pair mo­ments be­fore they drove into a gap where the earth had opened up. He had fin­ished his shift 10 min­utes be­fore and was on his way home to Pic­ton.

‘‘I could not hold onto the car door and keep my feet on the ground. And that’s when the ground started open­ing up,’’ he re­called.

Fos­kett was on the first pas­sen­ger train to Kaiko¯ura since the line was re­stored. At its open­ing, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern asked him, ‘‘Were you ever scared?"

‘‘No, we were too busy to be scared,’’ he replied. ‘‘Every­body found a job to do and they did it. We got our­selves or­gan­ised.’’

This re­union was more im­por­tant to him than meet­ing the prime min­is­ter.

Thom was also sig­nalled by Fos­kett on the road. He cred­its Fos­kett for sav­ing his life.

At the re­union, Thom firmly shook Fos­kett’s hand. ‘‘I’ll take this time to thank you very much, other­wise I wouldn’t be here. I think about it quite a lot.’’

I’m now so con­nected to them be­cause we were with each other in the most vul­ner­a­ble state you could pos­si­bly be in. Ce­leste Sharplin

Kaik­oura earth­quake sur­vivors. from left, Ce­leste Sharplin, Dick White, Paul Fos­kett and Doug Thom, with part­ners Gil­lian Chuter, Judy Thom. (In­set) Sharplin has a 7.8 tat­too in mem­ory of the earth­quake.

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