As I write more news of the earthquake that yesterday hit Christchurch, New Zealand, and surrounds, is still coming in. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said "We may be witnessing New Zealand's darkest day."
We have happy memories of a couple of days spent in the city in 2007, and among many other fine sights, we enjoyed the cathedral and its tower. As well as the tragic loss of life, the collapse of many buildings the steeple of the cathedral has also fallen in to itself, the church and around. This in a city already hard hit by another, earlier earthquake last year. Reflecting on the issues around the last earthquake, Roy Wilson, a director of architecture firm Warren and Mahoney said: "People could get a little bit of hope and salvation that [the cathedral] was in there in the city, but with that gone … it puts a different spin on things."
Christchurch cathedral seen from the air after the earthquake. [Reuters, via BBC.]
It has been a tough few years in the Antipodes, and any sense of hubris regarding our relations with nature should have been corrected by this latest tragedy. Nature remains the most powerful force in our lives.
Although New Zealand is actually a significant distance from Australia (roughly equivalent to crossing Europe, or half the width of the USA) the ANZAC ties are still strong across the Tasman, and I'm pleased to be able to report that Australia has already dispatched rescue teams: a 40-strong search-and-rescue team was immediately sent and another team of 34 will leave later this morning. Another 74-strong team from Queensland will also be sent. The teams are taking specialist search dogs, and they are being airlifted by the RAAF in Hercules and C-17 transport aircraft.
The RNZAF (which famously got rid of its 'prestige' strike force some years ago) has also quickly gone into action with local aviation contacts reporting Hercules and Orion aircraft in action, and already civil and military helicopters have been of inestimable use. It is not an odd place to find the military. Like the 2009 Victorian bush fires, comparisons are already realistically being made with war zones.
Christchurch cathedral tower in happier days, at the end of roof replacement and repairs in 2007. [James Kightly]
But the people on the ground first were the locals and Christchurch visitors, and despite some hyperbolistic news reporting, it's clear that those first on the scene have gone to the task of rescue in a manner anyone would hope to match if the worst happened to them. Remarkable rescues have already been reported, and although the death toll is certain to rise, it is to be hoped that more rescues are pulled off.
It is early days, but I am sure the New Zealanders will recover and rebuild.