New Zealand: ACT member staff flee earthquake

Thursday, February 24, 2011

  • car-djmant.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • car-geoftheref.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • shopfront-djmant.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • shopfront-geoftheref.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • shops-djmant.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • shops-geoftheref.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • troops_NZdefenceforces.jpgDamage in the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

A shallow earthquake almost directly beneath the city of Christchurch that killed at least 100, sent staff of ACT member Christian World Service both scrambling to safety and joining in rescue operations.

ACT’s New Zealand member Christian World Service operates out of the fourth and fifth floors of a central business district building.

When the 6.3 magnitude earthquake jolted the city violently on February 22, CWS staff raced down the stairs and stood in the street supporting both each other and shocked strangers. Around them buildings were collapsing and people were screaming. Staff member Nick Clarke joined the effort to rescue people from a nearby building.

"The immediate feeling was one of survival. We all wanted to know if family members and friends were alive and accounted for," CWS national director Pauline McKay said. All CWS staff were able to get out of the city. Most left on foot, leaving their vehicles in unstable multi-storey parking buildings.

“Fortunately for us, all our families have been accounted for. Many staff have suffered substantial damage to their homes and varying degrees of personal trauma.”

CWS has long-standing partnerships with organisations in 21 countries around the globe and supports a number of ACT emergency appeals.

As long as the inner city remains cordoned off, staff have no idea when they will be able to retrieve documents or computers from the office. A stronger, but less damaging earthquake last September, kept the office was out of bounds for a month.

The immediate future of CWS’s work and the level of support from churches in Christchurch was unclear. “This quake has been much more devastating for us and our supporting churches. What this will mean for us we do not know at this stage.

“We were about to launch a campaign and appeal for funds due to changes in our funding situation. This is now in doubt as our supporters are in the same situation.”

Among CWS’s most supportive churches was the central city landmark, Christ Church Cathedral, where 22 people are believed to have died.

“Christchurch is a close knit community and we will all know someone who has been killed or seriously injured. We thank everyone for their prayers and offers of help at this time,” McKay said.

ACT regional programme officer Sudhanshu Singh says that recent disasters in the developed world, including this earthquake, give a clear and strong message that humanitarian relief is not only confined to giving aid to affected populations.

“We need to think, are we equipped to provide non-materialistic relief to those who are usually the donors in humanitarian crises? Disaster victims also need to be reassured that the wider humanity feels for them.”

For more information please contact Pauline McKay on +64 21 289 1225 or at cws@cws.org.nz

Images used under Creative Commons licence, special thanks to photographers Geoftheref, Djmant and NZDefenceForce.