Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Their spirit is strong

3 comments
Kerre Woodham. Photo / Herald on Sunday, Sandra Mu, Getty Images
Kerre Woodham. Photo / Herald on Sunday, Sandra Mu, Getty Images

We thought we had dodged a bullet. We thought-after the September 4 earthquake that tore, wrenched and ripped at Christchurch - that we were indeed Godzone country. The damage to buildings and homes may have been terrible but no one had died.

An earthquake of that magnitude would normally have seen a death toll in the many hundreds-possibly thousands-but not here.

It proved we were lucky. The people of Canterbury picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and set about rebuilding their lives and their community.

They're stoic. The thousands of aftershocks frayed nerves but Cantabrians found ways of coping and the rest of New Zealand found ways to show they cared.

Millions of dollars were poured into relief funds, homes were opened to strangers and people they were keeping the faith.

Since September 4 last year, I've had a number of functions in the city.

Each time, I stayed at the Grand Chancellor, the building teetering in the middle of the city this week.

For the last few times, the hotel staff put me in an apartment-type room. It was on the top floor of the hotel, they warned. "You don't mind, do you?" "Not at all," I said, jauntily.

But on the 26th floor you felt the aftershocks all right. There was a 4.3 earthquake one night I stayed there and I swayed in my bed as if I was sleeping in the top of a palm tree.

But it was what Cantabrians put up with every day so I just got on. I tried to save my discretionary purchases for when I was visiting Christchurch, every dress bought from Plume, each makeup item bought from Ballantynes, glassware bought from the design store down the road from the Grand Chancellor.

In my mind I was helping prop up the retailers who were doing it tough. And slowly things were coming right.

Yes, there were plenty of people who had no idea what was going to happen to their homes. There was frustration at the length of time it was taking to process claims and get answers from relevant authorities. But people were getting by.

Then, out of the blue, on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, came the one everyone had feared. At a time when the CBD was at its busiest, the 6.3 magnitude earthquake was devastating.

It was centred in Lyttelton, just 10km south of the city centre, and at a depth of just 5km. Although it was smaller than the original earthquake, the damage was grievous.

I was due to meet a friend for lunch on Tuesday afternoon and she arrived in a state of shock after hearing the news on the radio while driving to meet me. Her elderly father lives alone in Christchurch and her husband had flown down for the day to attend a conference at Canterbury University. It wasn't until she'd made contact with both her men that her barely contained panic subsided and she began to grieve for the city she'd grown up in.

We abandoned lunch and came home, turned on the radio and the television and sat shell-shocked, watching the images of devastation and death. It was surreal watching men and women tearing at concrete and iron with their bare hands, trying desperately to rescue strangers trapped beneath the rubble.

This is what we thought we had escaped on September 4. I started work early on Tuesday night-NewsTalk ZB abandoned its sports hour at seven and we opened the lines. The floodgates opened.

People needed to tell their stories, to share their pain, their terror and their grief. They needed to offload and vent and just know that in the darkness, homeless and without water or power, somebody was listening and knew that they were there.

We had desperate callers from other parts of the country - and indeed the world - trying to track down friends and family. There were some good news stories-the families of two boys attending a work skills centre in the middle of the city who had phoned, desperate for information, were overjoyed to hear that the centre had been evacuated safely and that all the boys were being cared for at a Burwood welfare centre.

I received an email from a woman named Tracy who was listening online from Ireland. She was worried sick as she hadn't been able to contact her sister who lived in Union St, South Brighton. Were there any listeners in that area, she wanted to know, and was it okay?

I read out her email and asked anyone with information to phone in and went to Judy, the next caller waiting. "I live in Union St," said Judy. "Give me Tracy's number because I have a landline that's still working and I'll check on her sister."

She was fine, they even chatted across the world. How's that for a coincidence?

But not all the stories have happy endings. All through the night I received desperate texts from people - "could Laura call this number", one wrote. "We have her daughter with us, and she's safe but she can't sleep until she knows where her mum is."

"Any more news on the CTV building?" wrote another. "My mate's in there and I can't get hold of him on the phone."

And the texts and the calls kept coming - and continue to keep coming with so many, many people still missing.

"How do we go on," asked desperate, exhausted, terrified people throughout the week. "How do we recover from this one?"

It's going to be tough. After so many months of being brave and strong and restoring homes to some semblance of order, where will our fellow Kiwis find the strength to do it all again?

It takes a huge toll on the human spirit to see your home in ruins, with vile subterranean sludge polluting what little you have that remains.

Yet you can't complain because you're one of the lucky ones-your family survived.

The people of Christchurch will need us to give them strength and hope. They will need our financial help and our moral support. They have to know that we care about them and that we're not going to forget about them as the gargantuan task of rebuilding their beautiful city begins.

After the September 4 quake, jewellers were selling little charms for bracelets. They were miniature cracked houses, with tiny toppled chimneys. Underneath, the houses were stamped with the date and the magnitude of the September quake.

After Tuesday's quake, perhaps an appropriate charm would be a broken heart. So many people are grieving.

But while the heart of Christchurch may be broken, the spirit is not.

And while they know we care, the city and its people will recover.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 23 Oct 2014 11:02:19 Processing Time: 281ms