"News about the USAP, the Ice, and the People"
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
The botanic gardens across from the Arts Centre of Christchurch before the earthquakes that destroyed many of the city's historical structures in September 2010 and February 2011.

Waiting for a ride to Auckland

The Moores had also left their passports behind, along with most of their possessions, at the Crowne Plaza. By Wednesday, a curfew had been imposed in the CBD, and only rescue workers were allowed into the city center.

But the Christchurch airport had suffered only superficial damage and reopened on Feb. 23. The Moores had secured a hotel room nearby and had a scheduled flight out on Friday. They shared their room with a couple of other Ice people for the next couple of days while waiting for their flight north.

“During Wednesday and Thursday, our big adventure was going to CDC to get any news,” said Mel Moore, McMurdo Supply Operations supervisor. “Sally would use our five minutes of allocated computer time to update her mom, who would in turn update my mom. Then we would go to the airport … and get some supplies. We were just so excited when we were able to purchase a change of clothes so we could do laundry.”

The U.S. embassy was securing temporary passports for the stranded Americans. The New Zealand staff at the CDC had arranged for the Royal New Zealand Air Force External Non-U.S. government site to start flying USAP participants in the region north to Auckland, the largest city in the North Island.

Flight schedules and social media

Lynn Dormand and her team back at RPSC reviewed nearly a thousand different travel itineraries as they scrambled to reroute people in New Zealand, as well as those who would be coming off the Ice in the next week or so. They had re-ticketed more than 500 people at the time of this report.

“The airlines were significantly important. They provided us blocks of seats, with differing routings, based on a humanitarian request I placed, which was answered by the VP of Qantas,” said Dormand, manager of RPSC’s Deployment Specialist Group.

By the end of the day, about 60 percent of USAP personnel had been found thanks to the long hours pulled by many in Denver and Christchurch.

A spontaneous online community had also popped up on the social networking site Facebook, growing to about 500 members, as people provided tips and details on those still missing.

Meghan Brown created the page “Ice People Earthquake Check-In” only a few hours after the earthquake hit from McMurdo. She said Facebook would be a natural place to check on peoples’ status.

“I figured there is a much larger network of USAP participants that I am not connected to on Facebook, but through social networking we could quickly and easily connect to one another,” said Brown, an administrative coordinator for science cargo for her third summer season in the program. “My first concern was to take account of people and ensure their safety, and I felt that social networking-media was the best resource for this.”

Volunteer 'pretty happy with all that we did'

Berry had gotten an early start on Wednesday.

He spent Tuesday night at Hagley Park. He caught a few hours sleep — sharing a blanket with a physician from McMurdo — and then went back into the city to help with the rescue efforts.

He discovered that the Windsor was badly damaged and too dangerous to enter, leaving him only the clothes he was wearing and his passport. Amazingly, his rental car survived without a scratch.

Person in hooded parka.
Photo Courtesy: David Berry
David Berry

After assessing his own situation, he joined an Urban Search and Rescue team that went into a nearby B&B to recover the owner’s clothes and some family pictures. During the day, he ran into a friend from the Ice who was staying at a hotel near the airport. Berry took the opportunity to take a shower and clean up, thankfully getting some clean clothes from his buddy.

He spent Wednesday night on the floor of the CDC, learning that flights would be available to Auckland by tomorrow. He was home in Silver City, N.M., by the end of the month.

Berry emphasized that others from McMurdo also helped with rescue efforts those first critical hours.

“I’m pretty happy with all that we did, and I know that we would do it again anytime. We love the Kiwis and Christchurch,” Berry said. “I love the fact that so many folks on the Ice have a huge knowledge and experience base, step right up, and take care of business when things get strange.”

Everyone found safe

The chaos of the first 48 hours ebbed. About 90 percent of the USAP people believed to be in the area had been found within the first three days. Everyone would eventually be found alive by the end of the week, the last two actually out of the country in Tonga.

The furious storm in McMurdo dissipated, though apparently not before claiming the lives of three adventurers aboard a yacht who were part of an expedition to reach the South Pole. Two men had gone ashore before the vessel disappeared in an attempt to ride quad bikes to the Pole as part of the 100-year anniversary of the first adventurers to reach the bottom of the world.

The two Norwegians eventually abandoned the expedition. They joined about 200 people from McMurdo on a pair of flights aboard a C-17 on Feb. 27 and 28 (local time) to Christchurch. [See article: NSF transports two Norwegian expeditioners to safety External Non-U.S. government site.] The final flight of the summer season left Pegasus airfield on March 5 aboard an Australian Airbus 319.

Christchurch forever changed

The crew wintering over in McMurdo will have a busy season ahead, working to secure the road on the ice shelf and repair the ice pier damaged during the storm.

Ambulances in a parking lot.
Photo Credit: RPSC NZ office
St. John's Ambulance occupies the rear of the airport passenger terminal at the RPSC Christchurch offices.

Of course, the work pales in comparison to the rebuilding job ahead in Christchurch. Some online news reports said as much as a third of the central city will need to be torn down and rebuilt, costing billions of dollars on top of the September 2010 earthquake that also caused widespread damage — but without loss of life.

The RPSC New Zealand staff will attempt to retrieve the luggage and personal possessions many in the program were forced to leave behind over the coming weeks. About 150 people have contacted the Christchurch office with lists of what they had in their hotel rooms when the quake struck.

People in an office.
Photo Credit: Kerry Chuck
Staff with St. John's Ambulance working out of the aiport passenger terminal.

The Christchurch offices will be unusually full over the off-season, as the NSF has agreed to allow some New Zealand government departments to relocate temporarily to the facility after their own premises were destroyed. About 30 staff from the Department of Conservation will move into the administration office, St. John’s Ambulance will occupy the Antarctic Passenger Terminal, and the NZ Police Family Violence Unit will occupy the travel office.

“I cannot say enough about the Raytheon staff [in Christchurch],” said Mel Moore, as he summed up his story. “The best way I can put it is that the Christchurch we knew is gone, and we have no desire to repeat the experience.”Back   1 2 3