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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vicki Anderson: Living in middle eastern Christchurch

Vicki Anderson: Living in middle eastern Christchurch

Last updated 10:26 03/03/2011
I finally got to see and hug my workmates at The Press yesterday.

Since the quake I have felt strange being inside large buildings.

I had a panic attack in the supermarket when an aftershock rumbled through.

Yesterday a friend of mine said something which stuck - a business isn't a building, it's you.

Being at The Press' printing plant felt good and as close to normal as it gets right now, even if my working day did end with me moving a workmate's washing basket loaded with his delicates (for lack of a better word) into the back seat of his car.

There's a washing machine on tap for staff.

"Right now I'll take clean washing over a root," my single friend said.

Everyone has an earthquake story. Today I heard about a woman getting a Brazilian wax when the quake struck.

The beautician wouldn't let her leave the room without her underwear so she was searching for them frantically in the rubble.

Eventually she made do with a plastic pair.

There was a joke about a zigzag pattern. People are searching for humour wherever they can.

I didn't notice any aftershocks today. If you're moving around you are less likely to notice them but a couple of times the sound of planes going overhead made me jump.

Well, more accurately, made me freeze and inhale deeply, seeing my own nervous face reflected in those around me. You try to laugh it off but the laughter is forced.

Will we be like this forever? On Facebook a friend talks of queuing in his local post shop where everyone is getting passport photos. One man says his neighbour just up and left saying "loot the lot I don't fucking care."

Others talk of Ken Ring and his non-interview with John Campbell. Someone sums it up best when he writes: "I might not have agreed with Ring's view but I wasn't given the opportunity to hear it." From early in the morning until late at night the sound of choppers fill the air. It's like being in an extended episode of M*A*S*H.

Army guys in large tanks wearing face masks outnumber the locals. Buildings are broken and so are spirits. Dust is everywhere, over everything.

And I have never seen so many flies and never heard such silence from birds.

They seem to have two speeds - insistent chirps or silence. I find both disturbing.

In some suburbs, save the odd felled chimney and fence, you'd be hard pressed to notice that an earthquake had happened. But go east and, like me, you will wonder why TV news is not covering the real story. In the eastern suburbs residents are doing the hard yards.

Attention needs to go to these people immediately. Sitting up not sleeping, again, I read something written by Peter Hyde, an eastern suburb resident.

He is angry that up to 100,000 (minus the 50,000 that have the wherewithal to get out) of the city's less fortunate residents have been abandoned to fend for themselves in appalling conditions.

My neighbours in Brighton are some of the last in the street to stay. Under their own steam they have hooked up a generator that is running four homes. A truck went by that gave them a box of groceries.

They also managed a shopping trip to Northlands. Another friend has taken her three small children up north as she said they started getting tummy bugs and she said she could see the situation deteriorating rapidly. Her man is working 24/7 at the New Brighton fire station helping with the recovery.

These families are the lucky ones, they had the wherewithal to look after themselves.

Many people in Aranui and New Brighton rely on public transport, with many roads munted, they are isolated.

Hyde writes that the official response is dwarfed by the size of the problem.

He says there are three cities in Christchurch right now:

RESCUE CITY is inside the four main avenues, and it is cordoned off. That means almost all our knowledge of it comes from media.

It is TV friendly.

SHOWER CITY is any part of Christchurch where you can take a hot shower, because you have electricity and running water and mostly-working sewer lines. By latest estimates, that's about 65% of the city - much of it out west.

REFUGEE CITY is the rest of Christchurch - mainly the eastern suburbs, though there are pockets elsewhere.

Only half of those who remain in Refugee City have power, and almost none have running water. Many have been living on their own resources, and their neighbours', for over a week now. This isn't good enough, they need help now. No supplies.. No contact with the outside world.

Little or no food - I heard of one family of eight who are sharing a dry pack of 2 minute noodles between them per day. No showers. No way to wash clothes.

And they are constantly breathing the dust that hangs over the city. At the very least these people need Port-a-loos now. Now! A lot of the aid services are web based which is no use if you have no power and if you have a cordless phone you can't call anyone. Batteries on radios are running low now.

While PM John Key talks about putting the balmy army up in luxury cruise ships for the Rugby World Cup, men, women, babies and the elderly in Christchurch's eastern suburbs are living in utter squalor. I bet they'd be happy to stay on a cruise ship until the dust settles. Hyde writes that he saw Opposition Leader Phil Goff the other day - "he stopped for a photo op with the Army group who had paused briefly at the cordon.

Not that he or they talked to any of the locals waiting amidst the dust they'd stirred up, hoping for a nugget of information." As Hyde says, lost lives and broken buildings do matter, and so does our nation's economic future.

But there is potential for much more stress and suffering in the hidden Refugee City if we fail to help where help is needed, right now.

Or, as the theme song for the Rugby World Cup song itself goes -Right Here, Right NOW. The people of Christchurch's middle east have few resources, scant information and no voice. Yell for them now.

- The Press

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