Barry Soper: Quake shows how vulnerable we all are

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Cantabrians are still counting the cost in a city that'll never be quite the same again. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Cantabrians are still counting the cost in a city that'll never be quite the same again. Photo / Geoff Sloan

The incredible thing about significant events is that most of us remember what we were doing and where we were when they happened.

My first memory was the assassination of President Kennedy back in 1963 which admittedly does say something about my age. It was on a Saturday that my late father rushed into the house and declared he was dead and given his distress I thought that it was my grandfather who'd passed away.

My next abiding memory was a call from now Herald business columnist Fran O'Sullivan in 1984 telling me that Rob Muldoon was on his way to Government House in Wellington to call a snap election. Racing up to the Governor General's and interviewing Muldoon as he was staggering away from the house after he'd talked to Sir David Beattie I dubbed it the schnapps for obvious reasons.

The abiding memory the pubic have of that was Muldoon telling journalists in the Beehive that his decision didn't leave his opponents much time in the run up to the election.

Believe it or not that was a sober Prime Minister compared to the confused garble that was forthcoming a few hours earlier. So bad was it that Sir David stepped in and took over the interview while Muldoon was being bundled into his car to be taken back to the Beehive no doubt for a heavy dose of caffeine before fronting the media.

The planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 were on television watched live after a friend from overseas called me in the early hours of the morning and told me to switch on the television. My immediate retort was did she realise what time of the day it was here in NZ?

When she told me I'd want to see what was happening, I obeyed and sat for the rest of the night incredulously watching the horror unfolding. At my pyjama party I was soon joined by my neighbour who didn't have Sky Television, our now Attorney General Chris Finlayson.

My biggest concern, other than the deaths this terrorist act caused, was what to tell my two boys when they joined us over breakfast. How do you explain such madness to the innocent?

Today at lunchtime five years ago I took a call from the former head of Business New Zealand Phil O'Reilly who told me there'd been an earthquake in Christchurch and I joked: "Oh earthquakes they're so last year," remembering the quake there in September the previous year.

The abiding memory of that quake was the woman who told me she walked around the side of her house in the dead of night to investigate the sound of gurgling water and was swallowed up to her neck in the liquefaction. Her claw marks on the wooden fence bore testament to her desperation.

Little did I realise the devastation and grief that the February quake would cause with 185 lives lost. Cantabrians are still counting the cost in a city that'll never be quite the same again.

It shows how vulnerable we all are and has hopefully jolted us into the realisation that it could happen anywhere and at anytime.

- NZ Herald

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