– Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Christine Wilson conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

My name is Christine Wilson, I am 52 and I was fortunate enough to be in Rarotonga when the quake happened. We found out pretty much soon after it happened, we had lots of phone messages, so it came as a big shock. Even though we didn’t experience it ourselves it still was… as soon as we heard we phoned everyone at home to make sure everyone was OK and then we started making arrangements to come back. We only had three days left of our holiday. We phoned up the airline and they got us onto the next available flight so that was really good.

When we came back home our house was pretty much like everyone else’s- we had lost a lot of contents, but the main concern for us was the roof, and that’s just been replaced recently, so we were fortunate that they replaced it pretty quick. But we have been able to stay in it from back then. So we consider ourselves pretty lucky really.

Although we had been warned what to expect and my family had forewarned us to expect a lot of rubble and we had TV coverage in the islands, but it wasn’t the same to see it in reality. Just driving back into Lyttelton and seeing the devastation… I lived here all my live and seeing the buildings down… oh wow… pretty sad.

But having said that the biggest impact for me is the loss of lives. When I heard that people had lost their lives through the earthquake… I can’t really put it into words… it’s just really tragic. After we heard that we couldn’t pretend we’d have a good holiday or continue with our holiday, we had to come home.

We were fortunate, because we were away and had quite a good holiday and weren’t traumatised by the earthquake. So we felt we were in a good position to start helping. So first we got the [Community House] building inspected, because we wanted to open the doors so that people could access the services. And from then I made it quite clear too that we would support anything else that people needed help with. So as a result of that in the first week I heard there were a group of teachers trying to put something together for the students and they didn’t have a place to go so I offered them the Youth Centre so that worked really well.

The other thing was the community meals, because they had to move out of the recreation Centre, so I was more than happy for them to use the kitchen here and it’s become an ongoing initiative now here with the meals. It’s been identified as a real need through the winter for these elderly folks. We were serving lunchtime meals every day. Before the earthquake we’d have a community lunch on a Tuesday, and about 12 to 24 people came for that. Since the earthquake it depended really, we have workmen coming through because there was no lunch for them to buy. A lot of people that come here would come in every day, not just for food but also support and talk.

Now we are serving 42 meals every evening, not just to elderly people but also people that may have an illness or are vulnerable. We’ve had really good feedback from the medical centre, it helps a lot of the older folk and their health improves and it’s a good way for them to have contact of course. And we’ve got a great group of girls coming in and they are here every day to help with the meals, they are feeling they are doing something constructive, because most of them lost their jobs, which is unfortunate.

It was a busy period and we had lots of agencies coming through and making sure that everything was Ok and see what they could do to support . Compared to several weeks ago it had quietened down quite a bit.

There are lots of positive things. I like the way that people have pulled together, neighbours get to know each other, people generally reaching out to one another. It’s enabled people to reprioritise their lives and look at what’s important and what’s not. I’ve heard a lot of people say that something was important to them before the earthquake and it doesn’t really matter now to them. That’s been good to hear. Good comes out of disaster, it’s only the matter of finding it. It’s the people thing really- people seem to be more caring and more considerate about one another at the moment so that’s good.

For me it’s been a time of reflection. Things are never going to be how they were, before the earthquake. Moving forward and looking towards the future is how we can create really … I don’t want to say a better place but… I have a good feeling going forward… if people take the lessons out of the earthquake that they’re supposed to learn, if they can keep the unity, than maybe moving forward we are going to create something really special. Remembering what’s been because there is a lot to remember and respect and then let that be and build a foundation to move forward. And I think too looking at all the tragedy going on in the world, Canterbury has been slammed really hard twice and it’s almost like ‘Are we being prepared for something?’ So maybe we can help somewhere else down the track.

I think too of young people who are involved here with the Youth Centre… a lot of the things that they are used to going to aren’t quite as accessible at the moment, they are just finding grass root things to do at the moment which is really good. Yesterday was drop-in and we’ve got someone in to work with them for the next few weeks and they were trying to get ideas from the young people what they would like to see and it was more about going out and kicking a ball and learning to make something and learning to tie a tie, stuff like that, which was really interesting to hear. There was a move away from the whole computer thing, which was good.

This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton . We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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