Salvation Army Ministry to New Zealand Earthquake Victims Continues

January 13, 2011 - 12:00 AM EST
Jon Hoyle
jeff_jellets@uss.salvationarmy.org
(404) 728-6711
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NEW ZEALAND - Christchurch streets carry the scars of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck on 4 September 2010. However, The Salvation Army says the real damage is the ongoing anguish, the uncertainty and the residue of fear faced by thousands of families exacerbated by more than 3,000 aftershocks.

The earthquake was centred near Darfield, 40 km west of Christchurch. While it wasn’t the greatest magnitude quake recorded in New Zealand, it produced the strongest documented shaking. It started with a magnitude 5.4 shock a few seconds before the main quake and the whole event lasted a long and terrifying 45 seconds.

Retired Salvation Army officers Majors David and Myrtle Clark describe a sound like a jumbo jet passing nearby as the quake tore a fissure running across the road, up their drive and through a neighbour’s property, while sand and water lifted and slumped the house’s foundations.

The Army’s response was swift. Local Salvation Army Emergency Services Coordinator Major Rex Cross contacted New Zealand Civil Defence and set in motion the preparation of 1,000 meals that were served that evening to displaced people. During the next 11 days, Salvationists and supporters served more than 27,000 meals at three relief centres and provided comfort to thousands of displaced people.

Linwood, Christchurch City and Sydenham Corps (churches) each took responsibility for a welfare centre, with Salvationists working long hours, many of them also dealing with their own quake-related problems.

By early afternoon on the first day, Territorial Headquarters had launched a national appeal that eventually raised NZ$1.7 million, with another $1 million pledged by businesses. Cantabrians and communities across the country flooded The Salvation Army with food, and companies were anxious to get involved.

Care packages were assembled and delivered to 7,000 households. Volunteers delivering the packages reported deeply emotional reactions from recipients.

Within four days, Salvation Army officers from New Zealand and reinforcement officers from Australia were offering psychosocial support for the elderly, single mothers and their children, new immigrants and any others who had no social networks or resources to fall back on.

Other members of the psychosocial support team fanned out into the worst-affected Christchurch suburbs and Kaiapoi, as well as visiting rural residents.

Salvation Army officers and volunteers working with those affected by the disaster report of families facing financial catastrophe, anxious children still refusing to sleep in their own beds and adults who prefer to sleep in their garden sheds rather than risk a major aftershock in their homes at night.

They talk of broken marriages, depression, nerves jangled by more than 3,000 aftershocks of magnitude two or greater, over-crowded houses as families seek refuge from their condemned homes with family and friends and mounting frustration as homeowners wrestle with what the future holds.

And then there are the uninsured that face financial ruin. Around 3,300 families could be unable to move back into their homes for up to three years, according to the Earthquake Commission’s latest geotechnical report.

The Salvation Army suspects demand on its services will rapidly expand once people’s savings or insurance support are exhausted. Communities have pulled together but people are exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression.

‘Each day, we have new people coming to us [and they] find the experience very humbling,’ says Major Mike Allright, Corps Officer of Linwood Corps. ‘These are not our usual clients; they include business people, employed people who now have reduced work hours or have lost their jobs, people who have tried to survive on their own but are now out of savings and have come to the point where they are really struggling.’

Territorial Commander for New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, Commissioner Don Bell visited affected areas early in the recovery phase. He says the value of the efforts and sacrifices of the Salvation Army teams, and particularly the Australian teams, should not be underestimated, but warns that a good deal of work lies ahead. ‘Homes and businesses have been lost and many families’ futures remain uncertain. The Army will stand with these people for as long as it takes,’ he says.

Alistair Graham, a former Christchurch City Council manager, appointed to manage the Army’s ongoing earthquake recovery work in Canterbury, says The Salvation Army’s compassionate response has been highly valued in the communities where it has worked. ‘It’s phenomenal — The Salvation Army at its best,’ he says.

Major Clive Nicolson, head of The Salvation Army in the South Island of New Zealand, says probably no city or organisation can be totally prepared for a large-scale emergency. ‘The situation changes by the moment and you need to be able to change your plans as a result,’ he says.  ‘Over the weeks since the earthquake that is what The Salvation Army has been doing, responding to needs as they arise.’

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