February 2011: Quake deaths and devastation


Where were you at 12.51pm on February 22?

I was walking down Cameron Rd with family when my son's partner received a message on her cellphone that Christchurch Cathedral had been destroyed and her grandmother's house wrecked.

Stunned and tearful, desperate to find out more, it was a little scene repeated in thousands of other locations around New Zealand.

Were her parents safe in their Lyttelton house and what about my sister and her children in Christchurch? Everyone's nerves were stretched as we desperately tried to reach them - a group of people huddled on a street corner, feeling helpless.

It was an event of massive significance, not only for Canterbury but for New Zealand, and what unfolded was worse than anyone could have imagined.

The headlines called it "Absolute carnage" and Prime Minister John Key said: "We may be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day."

It was all of that, and more, casting a deep sadness over the country while bringing out the best in people, including Tauranga urologist Peter Gilling who rolled up his sleeves and pitched in to ease the plight of the injured.

Mr Gilling had just returned from a run in Hagley Park and was in the shower on the top floor of a downtown hotel when the quake hit. He described it as "terrifying" and "immensely powerful".

After hanging on as his room disintegrated, he gathered his wits, got dressed, and joined his medical conference colleagues outside to start work.

Everyone's hearts went out to a broken city.

A couple of days earlier, a tragedy played out closer to home when Sandra Brown, 59, was murdered in her Bellevue home and daughter Kate suffered multiple stab wounds. Graham Pl was convulsed by the attack and Mrs Brown, well known as the woman who ran Brookfield New World's playland for 20 years, was deeply mourned.

And the year's grim pattern of multiple fatality road crashes continued when two young Tauranga people died as they were driving home from an indoor netball tournament in Hamilton. The February 20 head-on crash near Lake Karapiro killed Rose-Ana Leigh Mitchell, 21, and Eruera Eriata Munroe, 22.

The month was only three days old when Aongatete man Eric Webster, 59, died when his tractor rolled down a steep bank and left him trapped under the machine in a pond. Two days later in another nearby tractor accident, a 73-year-old man managed to leap clear of his out-of-control tractor, leaving him alive but with back injuries.

An inexplicable accident in which a boat smashed into a channel marker on Tauranga Harbour killed Canadian Brian Evans, 63. The skipper and lifelong friend of the dead passenger, 65-year-old Keith Longley, sustained severe facial injuries from the impact which happened on February 7 as the boat was returning to Omokoroa jetty. In a finely balanced judgment which took account of the remorse Mr Longley would feel for the rest of his life, he escaped a criminal conviction on payment of $3000 to Tauranga Coastguard.

It was a bad month for fatal accidents when, the next day, a Petone pensioner drowned in the surf off Papamoa as his wife and other family members watched helplessly. He got caught in a rip just four days after paid lifeguards went off duty at the end of the summer season.

Seventy-year-old Maketu man Ngahu Moko drowned in the Kaituna River when he and a friend tried to cross the river during a hunting trip. They were following their dogs which were chasing a pig.

Another death happened when Tauranga teacher Sarah Nicholson, 38, got caught in a rip at the Coromandel beach settlement of Whiritoa on February 13.

A Tauranga City Council decision to abandon tsunami warning sirens was inevitably going to come back and bite it on the bottom. Sure enough, people living along the city's vulnerable coastal strip did not share the council's faith in new technologies and made their views loudly heard, resulting in a good old fashioned U-turn back to sirens.

Talking of bottoms, wannabe British rap star Claudia Aderotimi died of a suspected heart attack after she took a course of silicone jabs to increase the size of her "booty". She thought that having a bigger behind would help her quest for fame in music videos.

A Tauranga restaurant manager who stole $140,000 in takings was so cocky that he even offered to help the owners investigate where the money was going.

The owners of the Lone Star Restaurant had the last laugh when Vijay Singh was jailed for 21 months.

And Deepak Nagpal was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a 20-year non-parole period, for the brutal murders of Ravneet Sangha and her 2-year-old daughter Anna at the Sanghas' Ngatai Rd home on June 6, 2010.

The month's most bizarre story was the discovery of a mummified cat believed to have become stuck in the walls of the Tui St, Mount Maunganui, house when it was built 55 years earlier. Found during alterations, the cat had no hair or eyes but was otherwise intact, including skin and claws.

The biggest oops story was a botched dog grooming session. Tauranga woman Susie Jones refused to pay for the trim carried out by a commercial groomer when her wheaten terrier emerged with bald patches and raw skin on her neck, chest and backside.

Ripped-off Trade Me customers had the satisfaction of seeing Maketu man Frank Redmond sentenced to community detention and community work when he failed to deliver on nearly $10,500 worth of vases, plates and crystalware that he auctioned.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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