Lost, then found, the gentle baker of Christchurch finally laid to rest


IT SEEMS Shane Tomlin, the quiet man, had a sense of the end. He certainly had a sense about the Christchurch earthquake.
That Tuesday morning, when he arrived at the bakery where he worked, he foretold it.
In a tribute from a colleague, Bev, read at his funeral yesterday: “You came to work that Tuesday and told me there would be a quake that day. You said there had been a quake in Argentina and all the whales had recently beached. And then we joked about which bench we would shelter under if it turned out to be the big one. But he didn’t get the chance.”
Within hours, Mr Tomlin became the human face of the tragedy. When the quake hit, he fell through two floors to land in a women’s dress shop. After he was pulled from the rubble, his head cradled in the lap of one of his rescuers, his dust-caked face was captured by a photographer in an image of survival that was picked up around the world.
But Mr Tomlin did not survive. He died later in hospital. Yesterday he was remembered in his home town of Kaikoura, 200 kilometres north of Christchurch.
Mr Tomlin, 42, would have hated all the fuss, his sisters told the congregation at St Paul’s on the Hill Presbyterian church. He was a gentle, unassuming man who disliked being photographed and loved quiet things: his work, his turtle, Star Trek and Doctor Who, cooking and gardening — but not flowers, only vegies. Yesterday the bright sunflowers on his coffin were arranged with humble corn, broccoli, asparagus and onions. On the back of the order of service was a close-up photograph of the turtle.
His former partner, Melanie, said: “I remember Shane as a spirited, private person who just didn’t want to make a fuss. He had a lot of love in his heart to give but I think sometimes he held it in rather than giving it out.”
He was unassuming right to the end. One sister said he had urged his rescuers, “Help the others first. Don’t worry about me. I’ll look after myself.”

First published in The Age.

Christchurch businesses face seven-month wait


IMAGINE Melbourne with soldiers and tanks locking down the city from Southern Cross Station to Parliament, and from Victoria Market to Southbank. Imagine the GPO building, St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Paris end of Collins Street in rubble, and one third of all the other buildings so damaged they have to be demolished.
This is the size of the challenge facing businesses in Christchurch, 10 days after the earthquake that devastated the city’s commercial centre.
For the businesses in the heart of New Zealand’s second largest city — shops, banks, insurance companies — it would probably be at least seven months before the area was safe to enter, delaying the reopening even of undamaged buildings, said Paul Lonsdale, manager of the Christchurch Business Association.
Business leaders met yesterday to start work on a plan. “The ambitious target that I have is that I hope within four months we can get our iconic store, Ballantynes, to open up again,” Mr Lonsdale said.
It is unlikely city businesses will relocate in “satellite villages” because outer suburbs already have malls, so business leaders are canvassing using empty land closer to the centre of town to set up a temporary CBD.
Boutique owner Kim Laurenson doubts she will join it. She is still waiting to receive the insurance payout for interruption to business from the city’s previous earthquake in September. She has no idea whether her shop in High Street is standing but is paying her three staff while they wait.
That she can pay them is because after the quake she ran back inside and grabbed her laptop with their banking details. She knew from last time it would be weeks before she could return. Many employees are receiving no wages, even though some employers are willing to support them for a while at least, because payroll staff can’t access documents or computers.
Ms Laurenson is uncertain whether to reopen. “Where do you relocate to? Everyone took the relocatable spots after the first earthquake. And who will come near you if you go back in the CBD?” she said.
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly agreed business and tourism were taking a hit, not helped by the flight of tens of thousands of residents, a simultaneous loss of skilled labour and consumers.
New Zealand was told yesterday to give up hope of any more survivors as emergency chiefs announced the rescue operation would become one of recovery. Seventy people were rescued, but it has been eight days since anyone was pulled alive from the rubble.
Prime Minister John Key said it was now time to “confront the permanency of our loss”.
Up to 100 international citizens died and he promised the government would help with the cost of repatriating bodies and waive visa requirements for relatives visiting New Zealand.
The projected final toll has been revised from 240 to 220.

Politicians warned on building standards


NEW Zealand’s politicians have for years failed to act on expert warnings that the nation’s earthquake building regulations are inadequate and that more should be done to shore up older buildings that pre-date current standards.
Win Clark, executive officer of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, said engineers had warned that older earthquake-prone buildings should be upgraded to 67 per cent of the standard for new buildings.
Instead, the government had passed legislation in 2004 requiring they reach only 33 per cent of the modern standard.
Councils had to develop plans for such buildings, but because of the high costs they were giving owners long lead times to comply, he said: “Ten, 20, 30 years, because the economic impact would be so great that you would bankrupt the city.”
He said it was clear that current international standards produced buildings that withstood even an earthquake of last week’s unexpected intensity: “All the [Christchurch] buildings that were built since the last major code was developed have survived and performed exactly as expected. Sure, they have cracks — there were cracks in the beams — but that was what was expected.”
Mr Clark declined to comment on the safety status of the buildings at three sites that collapsed and killed scores of people.
Jason Ingham, associate professor of structural engineering at Auckland University, confirmed engineers believed 33 per cent was too low. “If you improve your building to only one-third of the building standard, it is still 20 times more likely than a modern building to fall down in an earthquake. At two-thirds, it’s only something like three times as likely to fail.”
He said New Zealand had about 3600 masonry buildings that were at risk because they were unreinforced. Christchurch council’s quake policy says it has up to 7600 earthquake-prone commercial buildings, most of them built before 1976.
After the September earthquake, the council strengthened its policy to include the target of 67 per cent for old buildings. But the policy says: “If the building was not damaged by the recent [September] earthquakes then the owners may have 10 to 15 years, from July 1, 2012, to complete the required earthquake-strengthening work.”
The council was unable to respond yesterday to requests for details about the age and standards of the collapsed buildings.
Retrofitting of old buildings was extremely expensive and could make some businesses unviable, New Zealand Business Minister Maurice Williamson said last night. He said viability would be threatened if owners were asked to do too much too quickly, and then “you send the country bankrupt”.
Asked whether it would not be cheaper to retrofit than to endure again the human and economic cost of the Christchurch quake, Mr Williamson said any reasonable work should be done and done quickly, “but it comes down to how fast and how severe you need to be about that retrofitting”.
He agreed that the inquiry into the disaster announced by Prime Minister John Key might need to examine whether responsibility for building safety should be at the federal level, rather than left to local councils.
The confirmed death toll from last week’s earthquake stands at 160, with the final figure expected to be about 240.

Searchers give up hope of earthquake survivors


Authorities in New Zealand have announced that they are now making the transition from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

Authorities in New Zealand have announced that they are now making the transition from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

They said that no sign of life had been discovered since mid afternoon on the day after the earthquake, which left large portions of Christchurch in ruins.

Jim Stuart-Black, who is managing the urban search and rescue teams, said it was common internationally to make this transition after 72 hours.

“And here we are eight days beyond that period,” he said.

Police said that families were being informed.

Mr Stuart-Black said it “clearly has been a difficult but considered decision. It’s a decision which is based on the facts and also based on discussions with my colleagues and the team leaders with the international teams.”

The confirmed death toll is now 161 but police have revised down the final predicted toll from 240 to 220.

First published in The Age.

Loss and faith ring out in ritual silence


MAORIS call it upoko runaka, the farewell for the dead. In Christchurch yesterday, they said, it was also much more: a ritual to heal a broken city, and to reconnect its people with the earth that has so hurt them.
It began with the local tribal chief Maurice Gray, dressed in a black suit and holding a tokotoko, a staff carved with his family’s history that is symbolic of his authority as an elder. He strode into an intersection lined with dignitaries and emergency workers and brandished the tokotoko at a small pile of broken masonry that had been taken from shattered buildings in the heart of the city.
And he began to chant, in the musical words of the Maori, in a way that carried right through the silent, ragtag congregation around him. He touched the staff to the bricks and then raised it to heaven. This was to bring peace and gentleness back to the city as the nation staged a two-minute silence yesterday to mark a week since the 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck.
He chanted again, in what he later said was a ritual to acknowledge the loss of the dead, the grief of the living and the damage wrought by the quake. He asked “for the brokenness of the universal soul of this city, which has been fractured and severed, to be remade”.
The umbilical cord that connects this world with the realm of the spirit had been severed by the destruction, he said, and needed to be reconnected. He banged his staff on the ground to communicate with the unborn child in the womb of mother earth whose movements, the Maori say, cause the rumbles and stirrings of earthquakes.
“It’s acknowledging the unborn child and the devastating effects of his actions,” Mr Gray said. “It’s saying that in spite of that, life is prevailing.”
“Do you agree with me?” he demanded of his listeners in Maori. “Yes!” they replied.
Then he stood aside to make way for the Anglican bishop, Victoria Matthews, who offered a prayer for those who walked in the valley of the shadow of death and asked God to guide the emergency workers and volunteers. The Dean, Peter Beck, read Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, and everyone joined in the Lord’s prayer.
Then Mr Gray returned and with others – one carrying a fern, the Maori symbol for life and death – sang a Maori hymn.
Last came Puamiria Parata-Goodall, a “caller” for her people who has the graceful whorls of traditional tattoos around her mouth. She “calls” joy for new life when a child is born. She calls sorrow and pain when the curtain between the worlds opens to allow the spirits of the dead to move on. Calling, she said later, belongs only to Maori women.
She let out a powerful cry filled with the anguish of loss. This was manaaki, the Maori tradition of embracing those who grieve.

First published in The Age.

Coroner predicts toll will reach 240


THE first 16 bodies of earthquake victims were released to grieving families yesterday and 12 more should follow today, Christchurch chief coroner Neil Maclean said yesterday, as police warned the final death toll is expected to be around 240.
Hoping to help allay the frustration of relatives waiting for answers, Mr Maclean said distressed families were wrong to believe they would be able to identify their loved ones if only they saw them. He said many of the bodies were not intact and had suffered gross trauma.
It was hoped that DNA advances since the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001, which allowed testing of minute body parts, would ensure that most were eventually identified, he said.
Mr Maclean said 200 people were working on the remains to collate DNA samples from the victims with samples from toothbrushes or hairbrushes, gather information from family and witnesses, and check for dental and fingerprint evidence.
Coroner Sue Johnson said families should be assured that appropriate religious representatives had been present to say words over each body before the scientific work began. She said most would not require an internal autopsy.
An elderly woman has been confirmed as the second Australian to have died in the quake. A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said the woman had lived in Christchurch with family for several years.
Police superintendent Dave Cliff confirmed that 240 was “solidifying” as the probable final death toll. He said it was not “locked in stone”, as missing people were turning up, and others were being reported missing, but that people should prepare themselves for that figure.
Mayor Bob Parker said the city would do its best to accommodate any request that came from Prime Minister John Key to allow Japanese families to visit the site of their relatives’ deaths in the collapsed CTV building, which had been home to an English-language school.
Christchurch residents have been warned to stay away from all beaches because raw sewage is being discharged into the sea. Households without a waste water system have been told to use double plastic bags in their toilet bowls and then dump the bags in bins that will be provided. Thirty thousand chemical toilets have been ordered from overseas but are yet to arrive.
The city’s water supply has been chlorinated but residents are still being warned to boil all water before drinking it. About 35,000 households do not have running water.
Mr Parker warned of strong winds today and urged people to consider face masks as protection against silt and dust, but said he had received no specific warnings about the risk of asbestos in dust from the wreckage.
He said two men working on a plinth that had held a statue of the city’s founder, Irishman John Godley, had chanced upon a message in a glass bottle and a metal cylinder believed to be a time capsule put there when the statue was erected. They were given to the local museum in the hope it would produce “the vision of our forebears”, Mr Parker said.
He defended the city’s building regulations, saying that they met the international standards for earthquake resistance but that the 6.3 magnitude quake of last week had the kind of acceleration and vertical lift that produced the devastation of an earthquake higher on the Richter scale.
More than 50,000 people have flown out of the city since the quake.
■ A large earthquake last night rattled Wellington but police said there had been no reports of damage. The widely-felt earthquake hit just after 8pm Melbourne time.

Damage may cost $15bn: Treasury


THE Christchurch earthquake could cost up to $NZ15 billion ($11.1 billion), the New Zealand Treasury estimated yesterday, as its government announced a temporary relief package for residents and businesses hit by the disaster.

”The earthquake has clearly dealt a considerable human and economic blow to [the area of ] Canterbury, and this will have a significant impact on the government’s finances and the wider New Zealand economy,” said Finance Minister Bill English. ”Its effects will be felt for some years to come.”

The news came as Prime Minister John Key announced he would visit Christchurch today and asked the nation to observe a two-minute silence at 12.51pm (New Zealand time), marking one week since the quake occurred. The confirmed death toll remains at 148 with more than 50 people still missing.

In other developments:

Two people were arrested for earthquake related offences.
Authorities warned of frauds seeking donations.
About 200 people were evacuated from homes near dangerously unstable cliff faces.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker said an inquiry into the disaster was inevitable and the only way to deal with concerns about public safety, but that the government should decide whether it should be more formal than an internal review by emergency services.

Police also released the names of two people whose bodies were found on Saturday. They were Natasha Sarah Hadfield, 38, of Kaiapoi, and Owen Morris Wright, 40, of Lyttelton.

Police Superintendent Dave Cliff said disaster victim identification teams from Israel and Thailand had arrived at the military camp outside the city that held the temporary mortuary.

He said care was being taken to keep distressed families informed. Delays in identifying international victims were due to difficulties obtaining ante-mortem information such as dental records, he said.

Superintendent Cliff said there had been reports yesterday of people impersonating Earthquake Commission officials and asking for bank account details and promising money would be deposited. Earlier, one person was arrested for breaching a security cordon and another for impersonating a search and rescue worker and carrying a knife, a police baton and an axe.

The estimated cost of the damage included loss of output from the area around Christchurch and lower economic growth for the whole nation, as well as reduced tax revenue and increased government spending on rebuilding.

Mr Key has offered a support subsidy to help employers keep paying wages, and other payments to employees who no longer have a job as a result of the disaster.

”This package is designed to get people through the next six weeks, as the government considers what measures will be needed in the medium-term,” Mr Key said.

One-third of Christchurch is without water and an estimated 10,000 people will need temporary housing. New Zealand fire service chief Russell Wood said at least 30 CBD buildings would require ”heavy machinery”, but declined to say whether that meant they were to be razed.

Christchurch earthquake death toll rises; still expected to reach 200


The confirmed death toll from the Christchurch earthquake rose to 154 overnight and is still expected to reach more than 200. The city continues to be rocked by aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 3.9 last night and another of 3.7 at 7.40am local time this morning.

Mayor Bob Parker this morning asked residents not to drive into the embattled central city area to share in the two minutes silence for those who have lost their lives, those who are missing, and the hundreds who are mourning family and friends. It is scheduled for 12.51 today, one week after the quake hit. He said roads were congested because of the cordon around the most devastated blocks and engineers and construction workers needed to be able to work on them.

“Don’t drive into the central city. Don’t do things like that today.”

Mr Parker said the silence could be observed by anyone doing anything and that drivers could just pull over to the side of the road. The important thing was “that we all stand together as one whoever we are, whatever place we are in.”

Prime Minister John Keys is expected to observe the silence at Christchurch Art Gallery. A cathedral service will be held in Auckland to honor the dead and missing and Wellington will toll muffled bells in mourning for what Mr Keys has said might be “New Zealand’s single most tragic event.”

Meanwhile a leading economic forecaster, New Zealand’s Institute of Economic Research, has revised estimates for the nation’s growth down from 2.3 per cent to 0.3 per cent this year, deferring the nation’s economic recovery. The institute said half of that drop is due to the earthquake and rest is the result of underlying weakness in the economy, compounded by a spike in food and fuel prices.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said he hoped many local businesses would be able to relocate to other parts of Christchurch during the rebuild and that the only question was how long this would take.

Detailed evaluation by urban search and rescue structural engineers has found that the leaning Hotel Grand Chancellor building initially tilted because critical structural elements at ground level failed, emergency services reported this morning. The building had been cordoned off because it was thought too unsafe for rescue workers but further work revealed that only the area directly in front of the building remained a risk.

Building evaluation manager Steve McCarthy said the plan to stabilise the hotel included pouring concrete into boxed forms on either side of the foyer wall, propping beams and providing steel jacketing around damaged walls.

“It is difficult to assess the building’s capacity to resist aftershocks, but we do know that the building’s structure is stable and it’s resisted several strong aftershocks without any signs of furthermovement,” Mr McCarthy said.

“It will take around three weeks to complete the full programme of work.”

Eighty per cent of CBD buildings have now been searched but three remain impossible to access, fire service operations manager Jim Stuart-Black said this morning. He said it was hoped that with 24 hours “we can finish searching the area arond the [Grand Chancellor] hotel and go into the hotel itself”.

Sixty-five households in the suburb of Bowenvale were evacuated overnight because of fears over falling boulders, but the 200 households evacuated the day before at Clifton Hill and surrounding suburbs have been permitted to return home.

Police are expected to release the latest names of the dead later today.

Power is back to 85 per cent of the city and water to 65 per cent

Police are expected to release the latest names of the dead later today.

Signs are there will be no more rescues in ruined city


THE window for miracles is closing in Christchurch. Residents began the day with their doughty mayor, Bob Parker, insisting that it was too soon for the rescue mission to become “recovery” — a search for bodies rather than people.
Today marks a week since the quake that devastated the heart of this pretty city, but yesterday morning Mr Parker declined to nominate the point at which all hope would be gone: “I will take appropriate advice from the people in the field. It’s not something I would even begin to guess around here today.”
But yesterday evening Jim Stuart-Black, national manager of special operations for the New Zealand Fire Service, said: “It’s been a considerable time since we have had a sign of life on any of the sites we have been checking . . . There hasn’t been since Wednesday of last week. It’s probably highly unlikely that we will encounter live victims within the structures. It’s not beyond the stage of a miracle, but realistically it would be a miracle.”
He said the city now had 600 international search-and-rescue workers from countries including Australia, China, Japan and Britain, as well as 140 civil defence volunteers and a similar number of Red Cross volunteers combing the sites.
Rescue work has been slowed by the threatened collapse of some buildings and aftershocks that continue to rock the city, causing plate glass windows to fall out of buildings in the area inside the police cordon.
Rescue has also been slowed to ensure the safety of rescuers. The front wall of the historic cathedral, its rose window cracked and its spire fallen, is to be reinforced. A huge steel construction that looks rather like an old Roman siege engine has been built to shore up the facade to make it safer for workers to continue inside.
Enormous steel pipes provide emergency shelters for anyone who needs to flee debris, and the top of the church’s tower is being picked off to lighten its weight and ease the risk for those struggling to get into the bottom of the structure.
The 27-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor, which is tilting into the street, was yesterday declared so unstable that it is now entirely off limits.
At the Pyne Gould building, where seven storeys pancaked to the ground, British team co-leader Terry Jewell and his men — veterans of earthquakes in Haiti, Indonesia and Tunisia — are working two hours on, two hours off, in the summer heat. The vast pile of rubble in front of the site is not from the fallen building; it was moved from other sites and put there to give crews a high, relatively stable platform from which to work.
This work is called “heavy rescue”. “Light rescue” is when people can be easily pulled from rubble. Heavy rescue — only 5 per cent of all rescue work — uses heavy construction equipment to move, cut and drill through substances such as concrete. This site had two cranes, an earthmover and a digger.
Mr Jewell said cameras were being used to explore voids, and powerful microphones were checking for sounds of life. A digging machine was “nipping away” at rubble and depositing it near a cage , which allows six people to work in relative safety, sifting for clues.
Has he felt the aftershocks? Is he worried about further collapse? Mr Jewell laughs wryly. “We certainly do feel them here. The New Zealand authorities set up a boarded area with a theodolyte on a tripod. We’ve got a laser beam up on that building that will [set off an alarm] if there is more than 10 or 15 millimetres of movement. We haven’t yet got people on the building because of the aftershocks and because it’s a very unstable building.”
He said workers were monitoring each other’s movements so that everyone could be accounted for if an aftershock caused further collapse.
At the Forsythe Barr building, stairwells were so damaged that workers were dropped on to the roof by helicopter, planning to work their way down, but they have struck problems due to the rubble inside.
The crews on the CTV building, where many Asian students are believed to have died, will move to daylight work only, said fire service chief Russell Wood. “It is still 24/7 at all the other sites.” Rescue staff were holding up well and morale was still high, he said.
Liz Smith is a technical rescue tutor with the Emergency Management Academy of New Zealand and a volunteer with Civil Defence, the NZ equivalent of Victoria’s State Emergency Service. Speaking from Palmerston North, she said there were international standards in rescue that allowed teams from different countries to work in the same way when marking buildings or victims.
She said workers were taught to recognise patterns of building collapse and to monitor for further movement, as well as how to move safely on rubble.
Asked how teams would be feeling as the days dragged on with no further live rescues, Ms Smith said that while the work could be hard and sad, “The key thing is that they are really passionate about what they do.”