– Cornwall Road, Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Julie Lee conducted shortly after the 4 September 2010 earthquake.

I am Julie Lee, I am 44 and I was at Cornwall Road, Lyttelton, on the night of the earthquake.

I was woken up and I thought ‘Oh, it’s an earthquake!’ and I didn’t move, I sat in the bed and said ‘What do we do, what do we do, what do we do?” And it actually was quite big, you know, it was shaking and I just can’t believe I sat there saying ‘What do we do?’.

And I remember saying to Dave ‘Wherever that hit, wherever the epicenter was, someone’s had some wicked damage’. Not thinking for one minute it was Christchurch, I assumed it was the Southern Alps.

Later they were interviewing someone on the radio, someone that had called in, and he was saying where he was, somewhere in Christchurch, and he was saying it was a mother of an earthquake, no one knew where it was from, and it wasn’t till half past 5 that a guy from Geonet called in and they were still trying to discern where the epicenter was, but they were looking down around the south of Christchurch,

At 7 in the morning they said on the radio that Christchurch was really badly hit and buildings were down and roads were buckled and I said ‘Holy crap!’ coz I looked out of the window and it was a beautiful sunny day and there was no visible damage and it was very very quiet, and about 9 o’clock the fire brigade truck came up the road and they just calmly took down the old guy’s chimney across the road, and little did I know at this point, when I look back, how chimneys would became the bane of my life. I was waving to Darren, one of the fire man, and he was waving back and I was going ‘Oh, I wonder should I be doing anything?’ but then I looked out of the window and there was nothing.

And I guess every time when something shook there still was in the back of my mind ‘Should we be doing something? Should we be doing something?’ But I always felt if that if there was a call out something would be on the news or on the radio from Civil Defence. So as far as I was aware there was nothing we could do. So we carried on with our Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday I thought maybe I should get a Timebank broadcast out, just asking whether everybody is Ok and whether anybody needs any help, and I was reluctant to do that, coz I was a little bit fearful what if somebody did and I had no team around me, what the heck would I do? So I thought – no, if somebody want something, there is no civil defence call out so everything must be fine.

I don’t think we were sleeping that well, coz the media was going on about that there would be a 6er [on the Richter scale], so that put everybody on edge.

And then on the Monday morning that’s when things changed. Margaret rang me and she said that Louise from the medical center would like our timebank members to ring elderly residents starting with the age group 75, and upwards and make sure they’re all Ok. So we did, we came down here and from that moment it just went ‘whooshhh!’, it went like a rocket.

And somewhere along the way I think MarK Buckley from the fire brigade called me and said could we help with the chimneys and it was at that point that we realised there wasn’t really any Civil Defence presence here in Lyttelton and so we said ‘sure’. And the minute I did a call out through the timebank website and suddenly people started saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ and it went from being very quiet to really really busy.

Mark sent us through the jobs as they were coming through. And then basically the timebank and the Information Center became this mini Civil Defence – whatever you want to call it – emergency support network for Lyttelton.

So throughout this first week following the quake we had people taking down chimneys, there was an awful lot of that going on. We had a lot of people phoning the elderly and then there was the jolt on Wednesday which was a 5, so we phoned the elderly again. The timebank members were brilliant coz they didn’t just phone them, if they couldn’t get hold of them, they let me know and we sent someone around to make sure they were Ok, which I thought was really great. We had people boiling water and put it in containers and bring it down here, we had people making food and bring it down here and look after all the volunteers. Some people were coming in to help, but without realising it, they were coming in because they actually needed help themselves. Whatever they were coming into the Info Center for they received it. There was a lot of talking and teas and coffees.

Then we found out there was a family from Brittan Terrace, they were in need so we got a group around to help cleaning and things and a lot of child minding and emotional support for them, and that was done absolutely lovely. What stood out for me was when the people went around and helped Rachel, not so much the cleaning and the organising, but the sprig of rosemary and the peppermints on the pillows, once they’d finished, that lovely touch, that you would come home to this house which had been left damaged in the disaster, and which now was immaculate, and if anything, if that was me, it would have made me cry.

When I look back I have to laugh because I went from this person sitting in my bed that went from ‘What do we do? What do we do? to running this ..thing.. this support, this earthquake recovery team and being really, really organised with all the systems I had put into place.

And then the 2 weeks following the earthquake we were still flat out in the Info Center because we still had things coming in… every shake loosened something that was already loose. It was still quite a bit to do. The fire station was brilliant, they would go in and assess the chimneys, that was their procedure, and say ‘Yup, it’s safe. You’re advised to get three people, a step ladder, a chisel and a hammer,’. So when I was calling my volunteer I was able to say this is what you are going to need. So it was really well organised from that point of view. And we were so lucky, this chap rang who was a rock climber, and he had carabiners and ropes and he peered off with two other volunteers who just enjoyed the challenge of climbing up. They were brilliant. Marc was concerned because what if something happened, what if there was a shake and something fell and they were hurt. But at the time nobody would have not done it anyway, because everybody wanted to help.

And now when an aftershock happens its actually a bit of a competition. Dave says its a 3.1 and I say no it’s a 4. and it doesn’t bother me any more, I wait… and then it’s finished. There have been two that I have got up and run for the door jamb.

I think the irony of it all is when I had my own home on Winchester street, about a year ago, we had earthquake proofed the house to the point where I was quite anal about it and where I had shelves bracketed into the wall and screwed and I had the TV strapped onto the wall on top of a cabinet, but that was in my old house.

When the earthquake struck I was in a rental and I had none of that going on. In my house there are lots of things I need to tie down, but I haven’t done it. And the irony is when we were at my friend’s house on Friday night there was a big shake and she said ‘have you got your civil defence kit ready?’ And I said ‘No, I don’t’ and my son said, he is 10, ‘No, there is no point, we had the big one.’ He’s quite blasé about it and he goes ‘The community will look after us.’ And also he said ‘Mum, children and women first’. And I had to laugh. He’s got completely blasé about the whole thing, so I need to work on that for a bit. So yes, the community would look after us, but we still have to look after ourselves.

And if there will be another shake, a big one, I will be down here in a flash, because now I know what to do.

With Civil Defence… I don’t think there was a lot of information for an individual to get hold of quick and fast. Even the next day, on Sunday, there was nowhere to go in Lyttelton, and get information from and people wandering around wondering what the hell was going on. We really need to look at that as a community, if there is another big one, that that group should do what everyone thinks that group should do. Let everyone get on with what they need to be doing, I think the timebank has a place to play and has a way of getting deep into the core root of the community and can identify vulnerable people pretty quickly. I would like to see some change in this area, some time in the near future.

I couldn’t have been without Paul Murray, sometimes there was no work for someone to do, there was a quiet lull, but I would still need someone here for me. There was one day Paul asked someone to come down here. It was a bit of a quieter day, so no one came in, but I realised I actually had asked someone to be here for me, cause I didn’t want to be here on my own, cause I was tired and stressed and knotty and having somebody there was a huge help.

Paul Murray, Mr. T, he’s brilliant, he would be dancing, he would have music on, and we’d be sitting here and it would be the most stressful time and he’d put his music on, in the middle of all, and it was a relief…

People would bring me, and this was great, things like concentration- memory- anti-aggravation homeopathic stress tablets. They’d be coming in and going ‘This is really good for you and you need to do it.’ and Paul be sitting there and listening and then it got to the Friday and he brings me this glass and it’s wine and he says ‘Now this is going to be really, really good for you, it’s just the purest New Zealand water, organic grapes’ and he was trying to make out that this glass of wine was some homeopathic remedy, and I could see what he was doing coz there he had been listening… and all this stuff was really really helpful, and I needed it. He would turn everything into something comical, and when he wasn’t here I was quite knotty, so that stood out for me.

And Bertha and Robert, my God, they were amazing, they were just incredible. They were here, they were baking… she had me by my ear at one stage, she pulled me out, made me eat food and then she literally put her foot at my butt and sent me for a walk down the street, and they were going to go to the welfare center and do a shift and, just,... everybody was just amazing.

One thing that did really piss me off: the guy from the Press rang me on the Monday, I don’t know how he found out, he said ‘Is this the emergency support something or other?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I suppose’ And he said ‘I’m from the Press. What do you need?’ And I said’ At this point in time I really need some DIY guys. To help with the chimneys it’s really, really important to have some strong blokes.’ So he goes and shoves something up on [the website] ‘Stuff’, but it was silly wording, and I started getting stupid calls from people in Wellington and Auckland, firms who wanted to ship down cherry pickers and heavy machinery and it was really time consuming because of that one call.

I was getting lots of stuff, can you advertise this, can you stick this on your website, can you do this, can you do that, some of it was really well-meaning, and people were offering treatments for free, others I wasn’t entirely sure, whether they were offering it for free now but get some money of it later and a lot of it I didn’t know. All the counselling stuff, I mean, I am Jules, I am a mother, I am the time bank co-ordinator, I don’t have that sort of experience,

And then there were people who were trying to make things dramatic, CCTV came in and initially they wanted me to find someone whose house had fallen down, but they’d still run off to help granny down the road, you know, they wanted some drama story, and they wanted a ‘volunteer of the week’ and I said ‘You know, we are all volunteers and we all work equally hard’. So they did come and did a wonderful piece what we were about so that was really really great. There were definitely people out there that were doing things from the heart, and others that were looking to pick up a bit of income on the way.

One call that I do remember was when the Civil Defence guy finally rang us, I think it must have been on the Wedneday, and said ‘Hi, I am such and such, Civil Defence Christchurch and we understand what your team doing, so what do you need? Do you need any food?’ I said no. Do you need any water? And he said how are you coping, are you tired? And I said: I am fine. We have everything we need, and there was a bit of silence at the end of the phone, and I said, we really don’t need anything, we’ve got our systems set up, we’ve got a full team, we’ve got lalala. And that was really cool, but I was sitting there thinking “What do we need? What do we need? We don’t need anything. We’ve got it sussed. So that was really cool to know that we were self contained.

They wasted my time a little bit: We got a call-out from them to provide people to help at the Welfare Center. So we did a broadcast through the timebank, people rang us back and said, I’d love to help. But then someone else rang me and said ‘On their website they say they don’t need anyone’ so we had to cancel everyone again. I since found out that they had too many volunteers, but not many volunteer coordinators that had been trained, and everyone had to be character reference checked and I believe some of their systems were too stringent and I know that they need to be but sometimes when you have these sort of systems in place you missed out getting help quickly and fast. And the timebank volunteers are reference checked anyway.

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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