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.
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.