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Lending a hand in Kaikoura

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

It was the “emotional damage” the earthquake caused in Kaikoura which “shook” Wairarapa volunteers most.

Four Red Cross Wairarapa members returned from the South Island town last week, after spending five days there helping out.

Fiona Flis, leader of the Disaster Welfare Support Team, said the experience was both inspiring and a challenge.

“The structural damage wasn’t as bad as it was in Christchurch , it was the emotional damage that shock me most.”

Mrs Flis said many Kaikoura residents had moved there following the severe 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes “to get away from them”.

“But in all this chaos and damage and negativity there was hope, and that’s what they need at the moment.”

Red Cross Wairarapa volunteers, deputy team leader Lynne Drake, of Featherston, equipment officer Debs Bailey and safety officer Brian Veitch, both of Masterton, headed to Kaikoura with Mrs Flis a week after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Mrs Flis said there were at least 40 Red Cross volunteers in Kaikoura helping with the relief effort at any one time, and teams were rotated on a five day roster.

“That’s about all you can take, emotionally and physically,” she said.

With extremely damaged roads completely cutting off land access, the team were flown in to the east coast town.

On arrival they were allocated tasks.

These included delivering food packages to rural areas, meaning the team were often crossing dangerous stretches of roads with “cracks, breaks and potholes”.

“The roads in some places had come apart a metre at least. We were coming across slips that we had to go around and we had to watch out for falling rubble.

“The aftershocks there were a huge problem, we’d be driving along having rocks come down off the cliff beside us.”

Mrs Flis said at one point the team “heard the road beneath us cracking”.

Other tasks were carrying out physio social first aid, which is designed to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, helping housing inspectors with property checks- where the volunteers used this time to assess residents‘ wellbeing and offer assistance- and manning the welfare centre, which was set up in a school.

Mrs Flis said some of the residents were unable to leave town because of animals on their farms, and some people were living in garages, too afraid to go back into their homes.

One woman, 85, refused to move out of her coastal house she had lived in her whole life, despite the rest of the street’s residents relocating.

Some residents  had sewage in their back yards.

This was because sewer pipes were broken yet people continued to flush their toilets.

Mrs Flis said she was heartened to see how the Kaikoura community had banded together since the severe quake, with the medical centre offering free doctor visits, a pharmacist giving out prescriptions for nothing, a hairdresser giving free cuts, and a beautician offering free massages “just to make people feel good about themselves”.

She said the resilience she saw among people was amazing.

In the five days they were there, the team worked closely with  police,, fire Services, St John, Search and Rescue, the navy, and the army, which Mrs Flis said deserved “a pat on the back” for the “incredible catering”.

The highlight of the trip was “seeing the seals are still there”, and hearing reports of whale and dolphin sightings.

Mrs Flis said “people need to be prepared to look after themselves for five days” in a disaster.

Drinking water and a well-stocked emergency kit was  top priority, with a can opener and unbreakable crockery the key..

Plastic bags and a bucket should be included for use as a toilet, and people should get to know their neighbours.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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