Wellingtonian’s Provide Relief Efforts to Christchurch Earthquake evacuees

(click on any of the pictures to see the full image gallery from the day)

While gearing up to go to do a behind the scenes documentary shoot for the Devils Rock feature film, I received a call up from the Wellington City Council wanting coverage of the relief efforts centered around Toi Poneke Arts Centre in Wellington. Toi Poneke has been converted into an emergency Welfare Centre for evacuees getting air lifted out of Christchurch. Mostly it was foreign nationals being lifted by the New Zealand Air Force.

Toi Poneke emergency Welfare Centre

I made arrangements to defer doing the film coverage, then went direct to the welfare centre. Once there I met with the Council staff members and staff from the Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO). It quickly became apparent that I would need to spend the rest of the day on this coverage, so I was able to defer the film coverage for a whole day. The first assignment was to go the WEMO headquarters in Thorndon and get coverage of the central command center.

Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) during the Christchurch earthquake response.

From there it was a race against time, WEMO staff indicated they would like some video coverage of the welfare centre, so I went to Wellington Photographic Supplies on my way back through town and picked up 2 mini-DV tapes. Then I raced back up to the studio to grab my video camera. This all had to happen before a plane load of evacuees were expected to land at Wellington Airport Air Force terminal. I managed to get to the terminal just in time and get security clearance to actually be on the runway while the plane taxied to the building. My brief was to cover the staff and volunteers working with the evacuees, while not interfering or upsetting the people being helped in any way.

New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757-200 lands and taxis to the Wellington Air Force terminal with foreign evacuees from the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

From there, I jumped in the car and was backing out from my parking spot while another car drove into the back of me! Luckily there was not too much damage- just a bumper scrape- so was able to quickly exchange information and not be too delayed. I made it back to the Toi Poneke welfare centre in time before the bus arrived. I then spend the remainder of the day covering the processing and assisting people with medical, food, water, consular, accommodation and transportation needs. It was great to see Air New Zealand and Qantas there providing logistical support for travelers, many of whom had lots all their travel documents in the quake.

The Salvation Army volunteer Bronwyn Buckingham foreign chats and comforts a child evacuated from the February 2011earthquake with their registration on arrival at Wellington Air Force terminal building.

I was photographing one gentleman getting his blood sugar levels checked. He told me the story of how he was out on a day trip somewhere in Christchurch when the quake hit. He was approached by a couple who lived nearby. They offered him accommodation for the night- he needed up staying 2 nights with them. At the time they offered, they had not heard from or found their family who were still missing when the traveler was evacuated. He was very impressed by that gesture and said “You all have looked after me so well.” It really made me proud to be a Kiwi at that point, hearing of such generosity and caring from people who were in need themselves.

Positively Wellington Tourism staff member Tina Narsey provides assistance to foreign nationals evacuated from the February 2011Christchurch earthquake at Toi Poneke.

It was hard to keep photographing, at many points I stopped and offered directions to people lots in the many hallways of Toi Poneke. I had been given the tour and knew my way around, I became a resource as much as the person recording the event. After seeing all of the devastation on TV, actually interacting with people who had been there was totally different. It gave for me the disaster a human scale- hearing the accounts and seeing the injuries and emotional strain on peoples faces affected me in a more direct way. This morning, I wrote to Operation Photo Rescue, offering to spearhead efforts to help families rebuild their damaged photo collections. Hopefully they (US based volunteer organization) will be able to provide their web based infrastructure and network of volunteer photo restorers as a resource. I am unsure of what damage will result in peoples personal photo collections, it is still too early to tell – but in the near future, I see this as a direct way for me to get involved and help. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross were doing a great job yesterday- I would recommend them as a place to donate. I am going to put in what I can too.

Wellington City Council staff member Katherine Field provides assistance to an Auckland woman who came to the Welfare Centre after driving from to Picton and ferrying to Wellington with her small child fleeing the February 2011Christchurch earthquake.

Here is a short video I shot from the welfare centre:

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