"News about the USAP, the Ice, and the People"
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
People in a city square.
Photo Credit: Chad Naughton
People gather in Latimer Square for safety away from the taller buildings around the central business district of Christchurch.

Joining the rescue effort

David Berry was one of those people recently arrived in Christchurch. He had walked downtown on the morning of Feb. 22 from the Windsor Hotel to purchase a few last-minute items for a camping trip he had planned around the South Island.

He was about 200 feet from the cathedral, waiting for his curry lunch to arrive at an Indian restaurant on the town square, when “the place started pitching, and the staff yelled earthquake! We all bolted out the door and just then the [cathedral] spire began to collapse.”

Berry’s instincts took over, as someone who has served on Search and Rescue teams in New Mexico, not to mention 15 years of experience as a wilderness EMT.

“When things get strange, I just go into SAR/EMS cruise control. Nothing fancy about all this ... just trained and done it in the past,” said Berry, who works as an aircraft ground equipment mechanic at the McMurdo Station airfield.

Damaged buildings and debris in street.
Photo Credit: Chad Naughton
Earthquake damage on Gloucester Street.

He and others in the vicinity who had quickly shaken off the initial shock set up a triage area on the cathedral lawn and started looking for injured. Berry said the makeshift rescue team was able to pull six injured people out of the church before the next aftershock, which made it too dangerous to re-enter.

The volunteer team also included a couple of Israeli military medics and a group of Australian doctors who were in town for a urology conference. They were eventually recruited to the New Zealand Press building behind the cathedral where the top floor had collapsed. After about four or five hours, they were able to rescue eight people with the help of a crane and hydraulic jacks.

“All in all, I probably worked on 50 people,” Berry said. “We ran out of bandages and splinting material, so a local cop and an intern raided one of the tourist shops and returned with boxes of tea towels and ‘I love NZ’ pillows. We used the pillows for soft splints on arms and legs, and made splints out of cardboard and cafe signs — all tied up with tea towels.”

USAP 'refugees' take shelter near airport 

In Victoria Square, the Moores reunited with other Ice people. They learned that their hotel, the Crowne Plaza, had been damaged, and no one was allowed inside the building. All they had with them were the clothes on their backs.

The group made its way to Hagley Park, which had been designated as a refugee center. They found more people from the Ice there, and the group, which had grown to 18, started walking toward the airport and the USAP offices and facility, which includes a warehouse called the clothing distribution center (CDC).

They had walked about half of the six miles from the city center to the airport when a shuttle from the CDC picked them up and drove them the rest of the way.

That part of the city was in good shape. It had electricity and water, unlike about 80 percent of the town that first day. Telephones and the Internet worked.

By the end of Tuesday, the Moores and the others they had met in Victoria Square would be joined by about 100 USAP people at the CDC, which would become a temporary shelter through the end of the week. That night everyone was fed and given sleeping bags.

Christchurch staff work selflessly to help others

At the same time, the RPSC Christchurch office personnel were also assisting New Zealand police and the U.S. embassy External U.S. government site, which was trying to evacuate a delegation of U.S. and New Zealand government officials who had been attending a forum in Christchurch.

Keep in mind that some of the 24 people of the RPSC New Zealand staff had suffered damage from the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that shook Christchurch on Sept. 4, 2010, either to their houses or possessions. Two people had lost their homes and three had sustained serious damage. On Feb. 22, more staff was affected, with two more houses seriously damaged.

“When the earthquake occurred, the first concern of the Christchurch staff was the welfare of the USAP participants,” said Lindsay Powers, who was driving near the airport when the quake hit. Originally, she though the car had lost a tire before learning about the trembler.  

“Immediately after the staff confirmed the safety of their families, they were tirelessly committed to the support of the USAP program,” said Powers, RPSC Science Planning manager, who worked and slept at the Christchurch offices until she caught a flight home to Denver a few days later. “I know we are all proud to call these people our friends and colleagues.”

Despite the personal and professional challenges, the staff would track down nearly 200 USAP people the end of the day and confirm they were safe.

Quake experience teaches lesson on preparedness

Naughton was among that number when he called into the CDC that same night.

It had taken him about an hour to walk to a medical center off Bealey Avenue, where one of the out-of-town urologists sewed up his arm while a nurse cleaned all his other scrapes and cuts.

“She glued that laceration on my head together, and I couldn’t help [but] laugh, thinking how lucky I was,” Naughton said. Some Kiwi friends found him, and together, they made their way far from the city, where he would stay until his flight out of Christchurch about a week later.

The experience taught Naughton that he has little desire to live in an earthquake-prone city, to say the least.

“But if you do, make sure you know where you would go if the ground we know and trust begins to grumble and shake,” he advised, reflecting on the experience to friends. “I would also recommend carrying your passport with you, because I had to get an emergency one. You forget to do this in Christchurch because it is a very safe, quiet, quaint country, so I just left mine in the hotel per the usual.”Back   1 2 3   Next