A police officer standing at a cordon by a wrecked or unstable building, on a dangerous piece of road or near a flooded plain, or being flown into disaster areas, is a reminder of how our members are the ones who must go to and remain in places of risk to protect others.
The severe and ongoing earthquakes that hit the upper South Island and lower North Island last month, followed by fierce storms and flooding, put our members at the forefront of those dangers in towns, cities and rural locations.
In Kaikoura, which suffered the most damage, the police response was integrated with the assistance that poured in from the Defence Force, including foreign warships that were in the country for the Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
Sergeant Matt Boyce, OC at Kaikoura Police Station, told Police News about his day after the 7.8 quake at 12.02am on Monday, November 14, violently shook him and his family awake.
Matt immediately put on his work overalls and police vest, got wife Kim and their two girls, aged 10 and seven, ready to evacuate to higher ground if necessary, and headed into town.
He picked up “one of the boys” from his team of five on the way. As they travelled, the impact of the quake started to became apparent.
“We could see the mountains, capped by high cloud, under the big ‘super moon’, with a lot of rocks and dust visible. We came across some trucks that had stopped outside the town where the road had dropped by about a metre. We were able to get through, but we knew it was going to be a one-way trip.”
They found out later that station support officer Vivienne “Daisy” Battersby had crashed her car, driving over the metre drop, which she hadn’t seen in the dark.
Fortunately, she was okay.
Matt and his boys started checking low-lying areas. At that stage, they didn’t know how bad the situation might be in other places. Contact was limited. “There was no power, no phone lines, no internet and very poor cellphone reception, but we did have the police radios.”
When they began setting up the emergency management team, they found out that half the senior managers at the council were away at a hui in St Arnaud.
Nonetheless, an Emergency Operations Centre was set up and a local plan devised.
“At first light, we put up a chopper with Search and Rescue from Christchurch. We could see a lot of rock on the road and buildings down that needed checking. At one building, police pulled two people out of the rubble where one man had been killed.”
Two people died during the event, Louis Edgar (74), at the destroyed Elms Homestead in Kaikoura, and probation officer Jo-Anne Mackinnon (55), who had been working with Kaikoura police, at nearby Mt Lyford.
During the early hours of that Monday morning, Matt says, the chopper trip was a good way to see some of the damage, but to really find out what was going on they needed to be on the ground. The chopper touched down at nearby Goose Bay to check on locals and tourists, who had gathered together, shocked and huddling under blankets. “We asked them what they needed.” Drinking water was top of the list, and one person needed oxygen for a medical condition.
Back in Kaikoura, Matt and his team continued to co-ordinate the response and assess priorities, complicated by the fact that to get cellphone reception that day, they had to drive to the top of a hill and stand on the back of a truck.
“It’s really just policing; a bit more urgent, but still just working, one step and one job at a time.”
Matt is full of praise for his colleagues and the other first responders in the town – the fire brigade and ambulance. “The town was well supported and within 24 hours we were able to send some staff home for a break.”
Matt managed to get back to his home at 2.30 in the afternoon. His house had been pretty shaken up, but Kim had tidied up most of the mess by then and the kids were playing outside. It seemed almost normal.
He was back on duty at 7pm that evening. Police were a “little cog among many” working to make things smoother for the community, he says. “Sometimes you can feel a little insignificant with the big brass [NZ Defence Force] around, but we also really appreciated the support from our district and area commanders. They asked what we needed, and what we wanted. The basics, yes, and some treats, including some shaving products for our mate who likes to shave his head.
“My wife repackaged some items in banana boxes and made food parcels for my team. Some people have struggled and others have had good days and bad days since. I’m really glad my guys are honest enough to tell me where they are at. We look after each other.”
He also appreciated the “verbal support”. “When my phone came back online, I had more than 50 text and phone messages, with people checking up on us.”
One of those was Police Association President Chris Cahill, who was also able to let Matt know that the Association had put $300 into the account of each member of the Kaikoura police team.
“You’re a police officer, but you’re also part of the community,” says Matt, “and because of that, there is the fact that you care about that community. After being here for 2½ years, I’ve built up some solid relationships and, whatever happens, it’s still paradise here.”
In Blenheim, Sergeant Barrie Greenall, the Association’s Marlborough committee chairman, and a former British police officer who has been in New Zealand for 10 years so he is used to earthquakes, says this was the first time he ever actually did “drop, cover and hold”.
As soon as the shaking stopped, however, he was saying goodbye to his wife and rushing out the door.
First, he went to local supermarkets, where he knew people would be working late, stacking shelves, to check they were okay, and then he made contact with his section, the joint STU (Strategic Traffic Unit) and highway patrol team. Soon after, he and Constable Steve Tribe began making their way south. They travelled through Seddon, noting broken carriageways and subsidence, then on to Ward where it was bad. “Several people were stuck on the road, between slips, and unsure of what to do,” Barrie says. “In some cases, it was just a matter of encouraging them to drive around on the berm, giving them the confidence that it was all right to do that.”
Further south, closer to where the impact had been hardest, it became clear to the two men that Kaikoura must be in a dreadful state. “We got to Wharenui and there was a collapsed bridge. We commandeered a front-end loader from a nearby farm and moved some aggregate into the collapsed area, creating a bridge to drive across. By this time, we had also got a four-wheel-drive and quad bike from a farm, which helped us traverse the large fissures in the road.”
With the help of a local farmer and a commandeered four-wheel-drive, Steve pushed on until 4.40am when they found themselves on the Tirohanga Straight, which just happens to be the lowest point on State Highway 1 in the whole country, and the tsunami warnings started coming in.
They realised that the risk was too great and reluctantly headed back to Ward where a civil defence incident centre had been set up to handle the local response, including dealing with multiple calls to check on people who were unaccounted for because they had been out of contact.
“We were able to check on people, offering reassurance,” Barrie says. “Seeing an officer helps. They know that someone is there, someone with experience, and people are looking for comfort.”
Working through the night and the day, running on adrenaline, Barrie didn’t get home till 11pm that evening, but he was out again the next morning to start a 7am to 8.30pm shift.
Barrie’s wife is a former police officer so she understands that he must go when assistance is needed.
He says he was reminded of a comment from a friend after his return from working as a family liaison officer in Christchurch after the 2011 quake. The friend had wondered how a police officer’s wife could let her husband go in such circumstances and the wife had said: “I need him, but they need him more.”
Back in Kaikoura, Constable Dean Stevenson, who is from Christchurch, was in town on holiday when the quake hit. Like many others, he was stranded, but he knows that there really is no such thing as a holiday for a police officer in times of crises.
He made contact with Acting Sergeant Andrea Williams from the Canterbury Maori, Pacific and Ethnic Services, working at the town’s Takahanga Marae, which was acting as a civil defence centre as well as feeding hundreds of people each day before they were evacuated by the Defence Force.
Dean got stuck in, working to help feed and transport people and with the evacuation. Police said Dean didn’t have to work, because he was on holiday, “but he did. And that’s awesome. We’re lucky to have people like Dean on our team”. He was also on the spot to be included in a photo with Police Commissioner Mike Bush and Ngai Tahu leader Sir Mark Solomon. – ELLEN BROOK
THE AID ARMY
More than 25 additional Police staff were still in Kaikoura late last month.
Police were on a 24-hour roster in the area being maintained by staff from Kaikoura, Canterbury, Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Palmerston North.
Police operations manager Inspector Jimi McGrogan said the focus continued to be on spending time with people, making sure their needs were being met and checking they were okay.
There have been ongoing evacuations, patrols in rural areas and delivery of supplies to hard-hit communities, many of which were still without water and sewerage systems.
Roading continues to be a priority for the area and State Highway 1 is likely to remain closed for a long time.
The remarkable assistance of the New Zealand Defence Force is told by the numbers. The warship HMNZS Canterbury delivered 216 tonnes of aid, including:
• 13,000kg of food (including 2780kg of fruit and vegetables, 200kg of potatoes, 350kg of bread, 6000kg of rice, pasta and flour)
• 300kg of blankets
• 500kg of telecommunications equipment
• 4 tonnes of medical supplies
• 10,000kg of pet food
• 80 portable toilets
• 500kg of toilet paper
• 30 10-litre cans of fuel, two portable pumps and four generators
Nearly 1000 people were evacuated by the Defence Force, along with one cat, 17 dogs and about 30,000 bees.
The KAIKOURA TEAM
Station support officer
Photos, from top:
Officers inspect serious damage to SH1 near Ward. Photo: Anthony Phelps.
Sergeant Matt Boyce, OC at Kaikoura Police Station. Photo: Andrew Spencer Photography.
Unloading and delivering much-needed food and equipment. Photo: NZ Defence Force.
An officer helps unload supplies. Photo: NZ Police.