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.