Community Spirit Strong After New Zealand Earthquake

September 05, 2010 - 4:02 PM EDT
Will Hale
will_hale@salvationarmy.org
(404) 728-130
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Salvation Army emergency services in New Zealand are providing practical support and comfort after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the central South Island in the Canterbury area on September 4. Unsettling aftershocks continue to hit the area.

The city of Christchurch and surrounding areas close to the quake’s epicenter are coming to grips with the devastation to buildings and infrastructure, especially water, as well as a huge repair bill, estimated to be as high as NZ $2 billion.

Within hours of the disaster, The Salvation Army was feeding around 1,000 people at two Christchurch locations. This practical relief effort has now been expanded and people are being fed from three centers - Linwood and Burnside High Schools and the Addington Race Course. Around 100 people have stayed at the sites since the night following the quake. Meals are also being served to a large number of emergency services and welfare support personnel.

During the day, The Salvation Army is feeding people who drop in for food and reassurance but sleep elsewhere. Major Rex Cross, the local Salvation Army emergency services coordinator, speaking from Linwood High School, expressed concern about forecasts of gale-force winds and rain. He said that if this eventuated then the number of people presenting at the city’s welfare centers is likely to swell. There are fears that poor weather conditions could topple unstable chimneys and other structures and worsen the city’s sewerage problems.

‘But there is a great community spirit here,’ said Major Cross. ‘We are extremely grateful for the cooperation between helping agencies and there is a tremendous community response, with food donations coming in from members of the public keen to help.’

Hospitality is a strong feature of life in the New Zealand South Island, said Divisional Commander Major Clive Nicholson. Many locals made homeless by the quake are staying with family and friends. However, The Salvation Army knows that for those without such supports – and for those on low incomes and with more complex social needs – its help will be called upon in the days and weeks to come, particularly for those without insurance cover.

Major Nicholson says, ‘For us it’s going to hit as we move forward, when people come to us and say, “I haven’t got insurance and everything is lost or damaged, can you help me out?” And so we’ll be responding to those needs. Already though, our teams have done a tremendous job.’

The earthquake was centered 30 km west of Christchurch, with damage in the city and outer suburbs, extending to rural centers. There are no reports of fatalities, but there have been some injuries, several serious. Building facades in the central city have collapsed, bridges are affected, cars have been crushed and many homes are damaged. A State of Emergency has been declared that is expected to be in place for several days.

There is significant damage to infrastructure, with power, water and sewerage affected. Drinking water is in short supply, with pipes ruptured. Heating is  an issue at night as chimneys have been destroyed and power outages are expected to continue. Health issues are likely to be an ongoing concern.

Immediately following the earthquake, believed to be the largest to hit the country since 1931, The Salvation Army's Territorial Commander for New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, Commissioner Donald Bell said, ‘We’re extremely fortunate that this earthquake struck during the night. If this had happened a few hours later, with people and cars on the streets and in businesses, we would have been looking at many injuries and likely loss of life. We are also fortunate that the weather in Christchurch is good, which is making work easier for police and other emergency response workers.

‘No matter how prepared a nation is for an earthquake, there is always great fear, anxiety and disruption of life afterwards. Many people have lost possessions and their housing is not secure. We are praying for these people and for those who are helping them cope, including our own people on the ground,’ the territorial commander added.

The Salvation Army has launched an appeal to help those most in need after the quake and is receiving strong support from the public and from the corporate sector.

The Salvation Army's New Zealand National Fundraising Coordinator, Major Robbie Ross says, ‘The Salvation Army is extremely grateful for the great support it is receiving, from individuals and the corporate sector, recognizing that demand for our assistance will remain high during the cleanup period to come.’

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