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A nation, and the world, respond

4th March 2011 by Andrew Matheson, | No Comments

The response to the recent earthquake in New Zealand has been simply incredible.   Immediately after Christchurch was shaken to its very core, support started flowing in from near and far.

The entire country has been galvanised into action.   I’ve been hugely impressed by the official response, and by the orderly and methodical way authorities have tackled enormous challenges in what were initially dangerous and chaotic circumstances.   The first task was rescuing people, of course, and there are both heart-warming and harrowing stories from the effort that saw 70 people rescued alive by specialist teams.

The inevitable conclusion was reached on Thursday with the announcement that the response had shifted its focus from rescue to body recovery.   That was a very sad development both for the families and friends of those still missing, and for the hundreds of people who have worked tirelessly to rescue people.

The profound sense of loss we all share is being felt by families and communities in different parts of this country too. We at the embassy offer sincere condolences to relatives and friends of those Filipinos who are missing.

Earthquake damage

A damaged building after the September 2010 quake (photo Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management)

The response in New Zealand by individuals and at a community level has been overwhelming — whether heroism in rescuing people, quietly helping out neighbours, or assisting total strangers.   ‘Volunteerism’ has been a widely-used word to describe the massive grass-roots mobilisation of effort.   Some groups have been big enough to be described as ‘armies’, such as the Student Volunteer Army and the farmers who have banded together as the ‘Farmy Army’.   Social networking has made a lot of this possible, to communicate needs and mobilise resources.

Of course help hasn’t just come from within New Zealand.   Practical help has continued to flow into the country in ways that couldn’t have been imagined.   Trained personnel have come by the planeload — jumbo jets in some cases — and specialist urban search and rescue teams, police and troops from several countries are helping with the response.   Governments and people around the world have shown real solidarity with New Zealand in very practical ways, and we are truly grateful.

Getting the city of Christchurch and its communities back on their feet will be a huge task.   Prime Minister John Key has launched the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, a global fundraiser for the recovery effort in the city and surrounds.   Mr Key said the appeal was designed to complement those already established, such as the funds organised by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, and he confirmed that the government would work alongside these organisations to make sure the funds are used in the best possible way.   Donations can be made online, and the appeal has its own Facebook page.

Christchurch will recover from this tragedy.   The Christchurch Earthquake Appeal will help with funding, and millions of dollars have poured in already.   But what gives me most confidence in the city’s future is the reaction we’ve already seen from ordinary people, behaving in extraordinary ways to help themselves and those around them.   I’ve been very proud of my fellow kiwis.

A friend from a distant country summed it up well when he told me that he had been “hugely impressed by the unflappable and practical voices that have been coming over the airwaves from New Zealand”.

……………

Update Monday 14 March.

We’ve had another reminder of what it means to live on the Pacific ring of fire.  The earthquake off the coast of Japan was one thing, but the resulting tsunami was unimaginably strong.  People around the world have been horrified by the pictures of extraordinary devastation, and once again people and governments around the world have been quick to help.  New Zealand has sent an urban search and rescue team, fresh from a gruelling stint of work in Christchurch and hard on the heels of a Japanese specialist team that returned home quickly from New Zealand.

New Zealand is ready to help in any way it can, and the hearts of New Zealanders go out to all those who have been caught up in this major disaster.

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