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24 February 2011 @ 02:01 am
Bloody hell ...  
In times of ghastliness, it can be wrong but therapeutic to laugh. Which is how I explain my reaction to watching the NZ news covering earthquake evacuees arriving in Auckland. Air NZ has dropped prices and are running extra flights so that people can get out of Christchurch if they want or need to, and family members can get back in. Governments of nations that have lots of people in New Zealand have very sensibly set up little external offices in the airport, which is all to be commended.

The Australian government had a number of officials there -- easy to find in their bright yellow hazard jackets with AUSTRALIAN OFFICIAL written on the back.

The US government's presence is a neat timber table with a US CONSULATE sign, laptop and piles of forms and pens at the ready, manned by two Sensible Chaps in Suits, with a four-foot flagpole, American flag, and gorgeous bronze eagle on top of the pole. I love Americans! (You can imagine the report: 'We're very pleased to say that we were able to swiftly and thoroughly help all US citizens who had lost paperwork, and we looked heaps better than the Aussies.')

I like to think that the Kiwis and Aussies going past them would have had a little smile, too. At the same time as appreciating that they went to all that effort, and appreciating that they were also a teeny tiny bit funny.

Because it's hard to find smiles when you think about it. We have dozens of close friends in Christchurch, happily all alive, and only one lost her house completely. But more than 75 people are dead, and about 300 are still missing. Many homes are lost, streets are suffering from liquefaction while whole suburbs are underwater from a mixture of the high water table, broken mains and broken sewage pipes. People slept in the park last night, inside tents that had been set up for the flower show, in freezing wet weather. Locals who had come through unscathed turned up and gave away blankets, shoes and raincoats to those who needed them.

For those who don't know much about NZ, Christchurch is a small but lovely city that had a terrible earthquake last September. Many houses and buildings were damaged then -- some people lost homes -- but remarkably no lives were lost. Although it was a massive economic hit, the fact that no one died made it all easier to bear, according to the locals. This earthquake was technically less severe, but because it was so shallow and hit in the middle of the working day, it has been far more devastating. Several major modern buildings have 'pancaked', and the beautiful cathedral has lost its spire and parts of its walls, there are estimates that one in three or four houses has significant damage. In a city that small, it is an awful blow both in terms of lives lost and in terms of taking care of the ones surviving.

At the same time, the basic decency of people has been on high display. With the emergency services stretched to their limits yesterday, tradies and businesspeople dragged dumpbins over to ruined buildings and jury-rigged escape routes with ladders to help bring people down off floors suddenly exposed to the air before more aftershocks occurred.

When the Fire Brigade arrived they brought a woman down off the roof of one of the worst affected buildings, she was stoic and focussed until she reached the ground, then turned to see the flattened building she had come from, and burst into wholly understandable tears. Since then the emergency services have had to make terrible choices, like leaving a building that was flat and on fire, because it was thought to be so unlikely anyone could have survived. And yet they have been at it for 36 hours straight, still finding people alive and slowly getting them out.

The one thing you can say at a time like this is that it often brings out the best in people. There is immense kindness towards strangers, and other Kiwis and Australians are already putting together relief packages and raising and sending funds. People I know down there have opened up their homes, or are offering water from their tanks. Other Kiwis immediately took point on collating who was safe and what was needed and distributing the info to their peer groups. The entirety of yesterday afternoon was spent furiously refreshing my home email on my phone as I waited to hear about all my friends. Bit by bit, messages trickled in thanks to those who had spent the period scouring Twitter and Facebook as well as keeping up with texts and email to see who was well and how they were faring. I never thought I would feel thankful for Facebook, but this once, I do.

Pushdragon has a post with links to the NZ and Aus Red Crosses (Australia has reciprocal arrangements in place with NZ for emergencies), as well as to another post with person-finding info. The St John Ambulance is also heavily involved in the relief effort (and has lost its temporary offices, after losing its permanent offices in last year's quake), you can donate to them here.

Which reminds me, Ginevra, I know you're on this flist, have heard you're OK, but nothing else. If you go mad and check LJ, it would be lovely to know things are all right at your house. Meanwhile, good luck to all of you, especially to those still waiting on news of loved ones.
Blytheblythely on February 23rd, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
If it's not already your day job, I hope you consider a career in kindly disaster reporting. I don't know how you do it, but you tell the important facts about these horrible situations without any intrusive sense of self and yet it's very personal.

I'm pleased your f&f are all okay. Mine too.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 12:14 pm (UTC)
When I was a baby journo we were taught that our twin responsibilities were to tell the story in a way that the reader would connect with it and understand quickly what mattered, and to treat the subject with the respect we would wish in their place. I've tried to stick to these rules, because they are tried, tested and reliable. When the media loses sight of them, bad things can happen.

And I have to say the only good thing about being in homemag world rather than back in news is that my day job has zero disaster reporting in it now. There's nothing more horrible than standing by impotently as people have the worst day of their lives, then asking how old the victim was.

Very, very glad your people are all well. I read a post from a friend in Japan marvelling at how small the death toll seemed to be and was mid-boggle before I realised that if looked at one way, that could be true. But looked at through eyes set to a New Zealand scale, it's still awful.
bk7brokemybrainbk7brokemybrain on February 23rd, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
What a great post. Thank you. I hope all your friends are ok in the end.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
House damage seems to be all that has happened to my friends over there -- including one lovely woman who had just finished the repairs after the last earthquake. Poor dears.
this mundane stuff called lifewinnett on February 23rd, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
I don't remember what you do for a living, but you should write these posts up and send them to magazines. You've a great storytelling knack for news events.

Thanks for sharing with us.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
I escaped news and run a food and craft mag, which is a much easier gig in terms of regular heartbreak. Worrying about my friends is bad enough!
unomesowellunomesowell on February 23rd, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
If that doesn't put my petty grievances into perspective nothing will. Thank you. I am grateful your family is safe and I hope the missing are soon returned safely to theirs.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
I was going to say they're my friends, but I do think of a lot of them as family, albeit distant. Sadly, hopes are very faded for the remaining missing. It's just awful. And yes, my week of annoyances suddenly became wholly trivial, too.
adores_dracoadores_draco on February 23rd, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
It's always enjoyable to read well-written articles by a talented journalist. Even when the news are sad. Thank you.

I'm glad your friends are safe.

I was so relieved last September when nobody died during the earthquake. Seeing pictures of the ruined buildings and streets was bad enough. This time I was at work when I heard about the new earthquake. Seeing that beautiful cathedral so badly damaged was awful. I read about the lost lives and bodies on the streets but for some reason seeing the church made it more real. I saw that building daily while I visited Christchurch years ago. It was heartwarming to read about people helping each other. I hope they can find more survivors in the buildings as soon as possible.

I read that several Finnish backpackers are still among the people who haven't been reached because of the bad connections. I hope their families and friends soon get good news from NZ.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
I hope that the Finns were some of the many tourists who found themselves without phones and laptops, but safe nonetheless. I always love the fact that there are so many people from the Baltic and Scandinavia in New Zealand -- my best Swedish friends live there.

And yes, it is simply awful to see the city like that. Places that looked so strong and solid, just crumbling.
dylansbuzz: bubbles girldylansbuzz on February 23rd, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
It is heartening to see that even when people's aggression and general idiocy overall seems to be at an all-time high, that we'll still all reach out to each other and help with what we can, when we can. Makes me feel like there's a lot more hope for people than what headlines and news articles would have us believe.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
People have been mostly amazing. I watched the news this evening and saw one chap who had an artesian well on his property. He was a plumber, and the mains water is out where he is, so he connected it all up and then ran a hose and tap out to the front of his place and put up a sign inviting people to take the water they wanted, and reminding them to boil it. I just wanted to hug him, but he assured the journalist that it seemed a bleedingly obvious thing to do.
dracoangelica: coexistdracoangelica on February 24th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing that. Its heartwarming and encouraging to see humans acting decent in the face of disaster. Tragedy has a strange affect on all of us and when the best part of civilization wins out, there is hope for us all.
being_herebeing_here on February 23rd, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
I want to comment because your post touched me, but I feel very tearful and like there is nothing I can say.

Nennenenne on February 23rd, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
I really hope they will have peace and quiet for a long time to come, so that rebuilding and healing can go undisturbed. I feel so sorry for them all right now.

I am happy to hear that all your loved ones are fine.
snottygrrl on February 23rd, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
this whole situation is just so heartbreaking. i can't stand to look at pictures of the cathedral. i burst into tears every time. fortunately for me, most of my connections are in welly and nearly everyone of them and their families are accounted for. my few chch folk live out of the city. ugh. hate this. Kia kaha chch ♥
mrsquizzicalmrsquizzical on February 23rd, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
tinofbeanstinofbeans on February 23rd, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
Yes watching the news was totally devestating. The wait as names came through and we found out that everyone was OK was also very hard but FaceBook really ws the lifeline in this case. I am just so relieved that all of our friends seem to be alive and well with most of them having really come through with very minimial damage to their houses.

Donating to relief funds is great. I just hope lots of people do it. Every little bit helps.
Welcome to Ant Countryant_queen on February 24th, 2011 12:08 am (UTC)
I think I spent most of that afternoon glued to the news coverage (SBS was streaming it live) and simultaneously checking Facebook constantly for news of people we know. I was getting quite distressed when there was no news of the Baskin-Kerrs, then fortunately one of the kids posted an update on her Facebook page and the news was quickly circulated.

I hate to say it, but when phone lines are jammed, getting news circulated via social media is probably the best way to keep family and friends informed and stop them needing to call in. Reminds me of the old fashioned "phone tree". Perhaps that needs to be part of a household emergency plan - designate one person you call to say you're okay or need help, then they circulate it via social media to everyone else.
lokifanlokifan on February 24th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC)
Wonderful post. I admit to some inappropriate sniggering while reading about the Americans with their flag and shiny eagle :)

It's all terribly distressing :( Hopefully the missing will be found.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 24th, 2011 08:55 am (UTC)
The thing is -- and I think that this is fairly typical for non-North Americans -- it is possible to find it simultaneously giggle-worthy and impressive. I love the fact that they do make such an effort and that they have such pride. At the same time as I cannot not go 'Hee! Eagle!'

I think they probably have the same reaction to us queuing.

On a more sombre note, the death toll is increasingly awful. But Kiwis are being so generous and supportive that the survivors are being cared for -- even to the plumber who spent today going down to an old well in his garden so that he could pump up water for all his neighbours to use for washing since the mains water is still off.
lokifan: English!lokifan on February 24th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
LOL! Politely queuing nations REPRESENT! *fistbump* And it is sort of impressive, yeah.

:( It's so awful, especially - as you said - for such a little city (and country; every Kiwi I know and most of the Australians seem to have friends there.) But people like that plumber will get the rest through this. I'm so impressed by their generosity of spirit; it's a good thing too, when the psychological trauma is clearly pretty massive. :(
Shadow: Unavoidableiamshadow on February 24th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Hey, I just linked to this post over on Ravelry, on the over-the-fence board (it's a chatty group for Australasians). They have a disaster thread there, and there has been talk of journalism and ethics of media, and that kind of thing, and I thought a few people there would appreciate it.

Speaking of, have you read the article on The Drum? The media is not there to help. It does not feel your pain.
drbunsendrbunsen on February 28th, 2011 10:48 am (UTC)
This popped up on Facebook in response to news footage of a large Maori bloke helping dig people out, who was tossing solid blocks of limestone out of the way like they were empty cardboard boxes.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 28th, 2011 10:50 am (UTC)
There are not enough words to describe the awesomeness there!