David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Earthquake angels: Volunteers pitch in at damaged homes

Three men in a four-wheel drive could be the beginning of a new volunteer movement to help those caught in the devastating Kaikoura Earthquake.

"There's just buggered houses everywhere," says Tyler Fifield, 22, of Blenheim. "Railway tracks for kilometres just look like two-minute noodles."

The stunned reaction came after a day seeking out and helping farmers in remote areas north of Kaikoura.

Fifield, a builder, woke yesterday to news of the earthquake and found work was cancelled for the day while construction sites were checked for safety.

For Fifield, who runs the NZ Farming page on Facebook, it was a sharp learning curve as to the extent of damage and the need people had. He put a post on the page offering help, not realising yet those he was wanting to help had no way of accessing the internet.

Listen to Leighton Smith interview Tyler Fifield on NewstalkZB

Then, with mates Josh Tomlinson-Nott and Michael Kerr, the three builders loaded a four-wheel drive with chainsaws, tarpaulin, rope, nail guns and other gear and headed south from Blenheim in search of those who needed help.

Fifield is candid in admitting that the three had no idea how much help was needed.

"We were woefully unprepared. Blenheim escaped unscathed. Fifteen minutes down the road and there's houses lying on the ground."

The road turned difficult and the team began encountering abandoned cars caught in slumped patches of highway.

"We drove up every road we came across," he said, encountering people who were almost completely isolated. "The biggest thing people wanted was information about what was going on."

Most had no idea Kaikoura was cut off, which roads were accessible or how many people had been killed.

"They hadn't spoken to anyone other than people living beside them and [their neighbours] didn't know anything either."

At other places, there were no signs of life. Fifield said the three were careful not to go into people's homes but checked best as they could that the houses had been abandoned rather than places where tragedy had happened.

"You didn't know if there were people inside or not. It was quite an eerie, unpleasant feeling. It was like a ghost town."

The damage caused by the quake was haphazard. "The houses were either completely written off or fine."

A destroyed house might be neighboured by another which had been destroyed. Doors were jammed shut, windows blown out of frames with the contents appearing if "a digger had thrown everything inside all over the place".

In one place, a man had attempted to leave his home early in the morning to find the house had shifted five metres and a chasm had opened on his doorstep.

"He had to jump to where he thought the ground was," Fifield said.

The scale of the task emerged over the course of the day.

"It's huge country," said Fifield. "The roads are virtually impassable. Anyone trying to get out of there is going to struggle."

The trio were focused yesterday on trying to make houses water-tight. Tarpaulin was used to cover places where roofs were open to the elements or where chimneys had tumbled.

The trio are heading back today after shopping for essentials. Notification of the efforts through Fifield's NZ Farming Facebook page brought donations which will be spent on toilet paper, water chlorination tablets, sanitary products and gas bottles among other items.

Gas was needed with yesterday's trip revealing many houses now without chimneys or power, meaning barbecues were the only way people had to cook food.

The reaction to the trio's efforts has been incredible with the Facebook post attracting huge interest.

Tyler Fifield (at wheel), Josh Tomlinson-Nott and Michael Kerr went in search of those in remote communities affected by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Picture / supplied
Tyler Fifield (at wheel), Josh Tomlinson-Nott and Michael Kerr went in search of those in remote communities affected by the Kaikoura Earthquake. Picture / supplied

It has also brought a string of people wanting to lend their strength to their efforts, with Fifield enthusiastic about having help. His first request: Someone south of Kaikoura who could work to penetrate countryside heading north.

Fifield had concerns about how the independent effort connects with official relief. After a visit to Civil Defence, he was told to call a central phone number where he was informed it didn't appear their efforts were crossing those of disaster relief or emergency services.

"What I'm afraid of is some dude out there is going to say there is no proper authority ... but their resources are stretched thin elsewhere.

He said Civil Defence and Rural Fire Service staff were stretched and those encountered were checking for injuries and fatalities before moving on.

Fifield said his boss had told him to take another day off work, telling him: "More people need you than I do. There's things that need doing; go do it."

He's trying to get the rest of the week off, knowing there's plenty to do.

- NZ Herald

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