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Friday, April 15, 2011

Tribute speaks of pride - in us

Tribute speaks of pride - in us

Last updated 08:17 15/04/2011
A memorial service for the victims of the Christchurch earthquake was held at Westminster Abbey in London on March 27.

Peter Crook, of the United Kingdom's International Search and Rescue team, gave this address to the service, paying tribute to the people his team encountered.

Your Royal Highness (the Prince of Wales), high commissioner, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting us - the UK Fire and Rescue Service International Search and Rescue Team to this special service.

We are honoured to be here but even more honoured to have been able to help in New Zealand only a few weeks ago.

I was very proud to lead our team in New Zealand and I have been asked to say a few words about our experience. So I am going to talk about pride.

We are proud to be part of the British team that responds on behalf of the United Kingdom to international disasters like the Canterbury earthquake.

I am proud we were trusted with one of the toughest tasks: searching for and recovering victims from the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building that many of you will know or will have seen on the news.

I am proud we were able to find and recover all 13 victims in a dignified and appropriate way and provide their families a first step towards closure and a path through their grief. But enough about us, forget us, stop thanking us, don't be concerned about us. Our memories of Christchurch are not bad memories.

Of course we saw, up close, a devastated Christchurch, some of the human tragedy and sights we would have preferred not to see.

But we didn't just see this and we certainly won't remember just this - we saw New Zealanders at their very best, everywhere we went. So I ask you to be proud of your own people, people such as the Air New Zealand crews, the cargo teams and the airport staff who ensured we got to the far side of the world as smoothly as possible.

Be proud of all the "average" Cantabrians who went to help others. They weren't trained, equipped or expected to take the risks they took.

Be proud of your Fire Service and search and rescue teams. Working alongside them we kept hearing the same story. When the earthquake struck they instantly knew it was huge and they immediately went to work as we would all expect. But at the same time their own homes had also been devastated and many of their families left homeless.

Be proud that we didn't find anyone alive in the Pyne Gould building. This was because every person who could possibly be saved, had been - by the incredibly professional and courageous work the local fire and rescue teams did in the early hours after the earthquake.

They carried out multiple rescues in horrendously dangerous circumstances. Over many hours they fought their way through concrete floors and burrowed deep into every survivable void, knowing a major aftershock could bring down the rest of the building.

Be proud of the demolition crews who were vital in helping us carefully pick apart the damaged building, allowing us to recover the victims.

These were mainly Maori; they were bigger, uglier and tougher versions of Jonah Lomu. It was terrifying just shaking their hands. But their skill at using huge machines for delicate tasks was immensely impressive. They weren't trained or prepared for what faced them but they worked longer hours than all of us and they shed more tears.

And lastly be proud of Christchurch and the Canterbury area now.

As people like us leave, the hardest work is still left to do.

The people working to return Christchurch to some sort of normality have the longest and toughest job ahead.

Thank you.

* Peter Crook was the team leader of UK-ISAR's Christchurch deployment.

- The Press

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