The massive 7.8 earthquake that struck New Zealand near Kaikoura on Sunday 13 November 2016 has caused immeasurable permanent displacement of the land in the northern half of the South Island. As we all know now, the tremor, one of the most powerful ever recorded in our quake-prone country, hit just after midnight near the South Island seaside tourist town of Kaikoura. It was felt all over the country. It was very frightening. More than 4000 tremors reportedly rocked central New Zealand in the first week after the quake, some probably felt by all those in the stricken areas, many not felt at all in other parts of the country.
After being subjected by the media to months and months of electioneering in America, here was a subject that we couldn't get enough of. We wanted to see the pictures. We wanted to understand what had happened. It hurt us to see the devastation and the faces of those worst affected. It hurt us to see how the land was hurting too. We wanted to know whether there was anything that those of us outside the immediate area could do to help. We were gladdened when we saw aid arrive.
The Government were quick to act. The New Zealand Defence Force mobilised over 600 people and continues to send more and more aid convoys to deliver vital supplies using helicopters where more normal modes of transport couldn't work. Tourists and others, numbering over 1,000 people, were evacuated as soon as was feasible. A support package was offered for quake-affected Kaikoura businesses, people were told to put in claims and reassured about the size of the funds available in the EQC (despite the enormous amounts being paid out following the devastating Christchurch earthquake such a short time ago). Help was offered to affected farmers, even though transport and water for their stock continues to be a fairly insurmountable problem. Stress counselling and support is on offer. People and organisations from all over the country are sending aid. All given freely and gladly.
And we also received the heart warming news that a fleet of international warships were bypassing Auckland's historic naval celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy and heading for Kaikoura to assist with the earthquake response. The fleet included the first United States warship to visit New Zealand in 33 years. The USS Sampson was due to enter Auckland Harbour for the International Naval Review. The historic visit was the first since the Anzus rift in the 1980s sparked by New Zealand's landmark anti-nuclear policy.
Defence Minister, Gerry Brownlee, confirmed that New Zealand had accepted offers of help with the quake recovery from five nations attending the International Naval Review. In addition to the United States, New Zealand gratefully accepted help from Australia, Canada, Japan and Singapore. Suddenly we were not alone. We're very good at helping ourselves, at coping in crises, at coming to the rescue of others in dire straits, but to know that people in other countries are not just thinking of us and feeling our pain but quickly pouring their resources into helping wherever possible is very heart warming.
Sometimes we amaze ourselves at how quickly we can turn our thoughts from where they might have been focused to where they might constructively help others. And, as in Christchurch, the actions driven by those thoughts will need to continue for many years to come. As the saying goes, 'there but for the grace of God ...'