Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Message from Paul O'Donnell after the Christchurch earthquake Tuesday 22nd February 2011

Hi Members,

First, thank you to all of those fellow members who have sent me emails and txts of concern and well-wishing. Because of time restraints I have not replied so some hoping this letter will suffice.

You will remember I wrote about the last quake we had here in Christchurch…..or more precise 40 kms west of the city and I stated it was not quite as bad as the media made out, well this last one was 50 times that and hugely worse and what the media is portraying is quite accurate. The epicenter was basically under the east Cashmere hills, and for those that know Christchurch virtually under the tunnel road. I was inside a steel clad building pricing a 50,000 litre tank when it hit. You know how the camera judders when they try and film a make believe quake, well to one’s eyes it is exactly like that, everything seems in slow motion, the noise is unbelievably deafening. One tank started to roll towards me all 3 tons of it , if it was not for a fork lift I might have got my wish and been 6ft.6!

Once outside the place was a shambles people on the roads from the factories, small fires everywhere and the road churned up with liquefaction spurting or pouring out of fissures on the roads, footpaths, sections ,house and factory insides. The concrete simply splits and this sand spews out!

Having all my civil defense gear aboard (Waimakariri Controller), finding out the Waimak was not affected much, I went to the city CBD and specifically ended up at the Canterbury Television building which was afire and collapsed with a few people clawing frantically at the detritus. Across the road was the new multistory Inland Revenue Building locked up and the staff out of it. I set up a Civil Defense post in the middle of the intersection with the help of police. A chap in orange overalls and hard hat with C.D on his pocket came over. I asked him if he was the only CD person here he replied “we are Inland Revenue rescue team….the rest are in the park” (150m down the road) I sent him down to get them but he returned to say they had all gone home! I needed gear, we had at least 150 people trapped in a building on fire! He said they had plenty in the IRD building. I authorized Police under the CD Act to break into the bullet proof glass doors which they did with much glee! Every floor had stretchers, bum bags, blankets…you name it!

No cell phone or any other communication was available for awhile but as the services arrived things rapidly got better. Forming lines we simply just dug into the building with our hands gradually forming a pile of mangled office and personal equipment behind us. Yes we got three out alive and several dead. By 9-30p.m I was exhausted and wet as the rain was a steady downpour. Why would a modern building collapse like it did? Five floors left no higher than 5 meters?
One Japanese girl we extracted told me there were 50 people in her class alone on the third floor! An acquaintance of mine was on the ground floor and she is still there at the time of writing. Nobody below the third floor and most of the third floor will in all likely hood be deceased.

I had a quick walk around the CBD checking our New Regent Street site project (the buildings were fine we had just finished earthquake strengthening work and they are a solid mix of brick and reo concrete), the remains of the cathedral was awful, deathly quiet with a great pile of rubble in which at least 22 people still remained.

Of huge concern is the historical buildings…I say too bad, Enough money has been spent trying to strengthen them not to mention the money that is given to owners for maintenance…..then the parapets come down and kill someone in a shake or the whole thing collapses. The earth has barely stopped moving in the city, we had shake after shake during the period of time I was on duty. Accompanied by great crashes and thumps as more buildings and scaffold collapsed. Those old buildings must be mortally wounded by now. Walking around and seeing the dead people in cars and buses caused by these building means we must make our cities safer. Christchurch now has a chance of being New Zealand’s most modern city. North California was decimated by a quake and rebuilt itself into one of the best cities in the U.S. We can do the same and I think Cantabrians have got the right stuff……well those of us that are left that is!

So now the city is without water and power in many areas. I have donated a truck and fuel adorned with a big Canterbury Master Painters sign for the Rangiora Catholic Church group who are trucking water into the suburbs. Our CD have set up a welfare centre in Rangiora for city folk who need shelter and we Civil defense controllers are on 10 hour rosters.

About 60% of my staff are away but are O.K most will be back on Monday. We have found out that our insurance does not cover lost wages…something we thought it did, you need to check with Rothbury if you have insurance through them. Well that’s it from: CHRISTCHURCH THE CITY THAT SHAKES RATTLES AND ROLLS!

Paul O’Donnell
Master Painters NZ Canterbury.