Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Zealand Earthquake

Being in the Wine “business” we’re naturally interested in anything wine-related. On Tuesday I was browsing the Decanter website when I came across a piece about the NZ earthquake – actually it was the first I had heard about it.

You can read it here: Decanter News

Looking back on it some 24 hours later, it seems totally inappropriate. I’m all for information about wine, but it needs to be put in context. The fact that vineyards were “spared” is of little comfort given the scale of the tragedy. The fact that mortalities were involved is only mentioned in the last line. And most surprisingly, the story has not been updated since Tuesday to reflect the scale of the disaster.

We may be in a “business” and interested in all things related to that business – but we are human too.

Many people will be familiar with Joyce Austin of New Zealand Boutique wines who is based there. Just to show that people in the wine business aren’t just obsessed with wine, consider her thoughts in contrast to those from Decanter:

"In the city though, it is like looking at a war zone. We never expect that on our home patch. The city was trying to recover/re-build from the earthquake in September, but this is so much worse. The news is unfolding by the minute. 75 people are now dead, and the feeling is that number will significantly rise, possibly into the 100’s. Major rescue operations taking place around the city – some of the main corporate buildings have fallen to the floor, sandwiched. 300 people are missing. Anyone living in the city, and numerous tourists displaced now being fed by the Red Cross in nearby Parks trying to get to grips with what’s happened. There are so many tourists in the city – second largest city in New Zealand and this is prime visitor season. Thousands of people homeless and a hugely stretched support system. Medical and rescue specialist services being offered from all around the world. The country has declared it a National State of Emergency, the first time we have ever seen that in New Zealand.

They estimate the cost of this at $16 billion."

And then:

"Just to keep you in the picture again as things unfolding here so quickly. The very sad news is that the number of dead now is officially 98, with 228 people still missing. The building I mentioned yesterday at which people were holding a vigil (CTV – Canterbury Regional Television) at which there have been meticulous, painstaking efforts to try and rescue people now seems to fear the worst – that most of the people in that building will not have survived. There are 120 people unaccounted for in that building. You can imagine the immense grief everyone is feeling.

There are harrowing scenes of rescuers trying to enter the tiny pocket holes within these buildings that have been crushed to the ground. But no signs or sound of life today – and for the past 30 hours now. No one is giving up hope but every hour that passes the desperate reality starts to set in.

Over 450 people have been seen by medics and 164 admitted to hospital. But its those 228 missing that are the massive concern.

Outside of the city the suburbs look like a giant flood. They have liquification – where the tarmac roads turn to water and silt/sludge holding people hostage in their homes – if they are in those homes. The estimate now is thousands of people will be without their homes for a very long time, and so the welfare need is on a scale no one here has ever before seen.

There are 1000 people – firemen, police and special rescue teams – with specialist teams from all around the world that are doing what they can to find people.

Everyone wants to do something – to try and help in what seems to be an impossible situation. Today we saw the Student Army – led by the university students at Canterbury (the region) University put out a call for help. They orchestrated a huge body of young people to join work helping the elderly in the suburbs, talking with them, giving them hope, delivering them food, and doing what they could to dig our cars and create pathways in the liquification sludge everywhere. So far, 10,000 students have rallied together to try and ease the pain for so many.

There are families camping up on the hills, banding together. No electricity, no water, no sewage systems – and no looking like that will change for a long time.

The worst is obviously to come with the names of those who have died to be released as soon as they are sure of the identification – a meticulous process needed in that. And then the names of the missing. What we have been told is there will be names that people all around New Zealand will no doubt know – again, its that sort of a tiny community, an island nation so it will be horrific time when that news comes out.

What we are seeing in all of this is so many brave acts, so many people just reaching out to help others when the sheer enormity of it must make them feel like crawling into a corner. But its very much the Canterbury region way – they’re such a close knit group, so loyal. Probably moreso than any other part of New Zealand.

New Zealand is such a small community, it’s like Ireland, but even smaller in a way in connections with people because we are such an isolated nation – we all know people in the major cities and have so many friends/contacts there. We can’t reach them now as the phone lines all down. No electricity or water, the essential services stretched to capacity. They ran out of ambulances after the first 3 hours, such was the extent of injury. Laymen all over the place trying to help by loading the injured into their cars to get to makeshift medical centres. So many stories of local folk helping others that would make you cry.

It’s times like this we remember how fragile life is, and to hold those close to us very close. We never know what’s round the corner. Nature is a cruel thing.

I’m not sure how much you’re seeing on the TV there but every day that passes, it looks like an explosion on the worst scale has happened.

No words can describe it."

No comments:

Post a Comment