Cranes vital to Christchurch earthquake rescue

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 13:09 02/03/2011
craneland
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NON STOP JOB: Tim Smith, of Smith Crane & Construction sent his cranes to help rescue survivors and recover bodies at sites badly hit in the earthquake, including the collapsed PGC building.

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Tim Smith has been one of the busiest men in a city of busy people since Tuesday last week.

As the owner of Smith Crane & Construction, he has been co- ordinating 20 heavy cranes and 80 staff in rescuing survivors and recovering bodies from the worst- hit sites.

He is a brother of National Cabinet minister Nick Smith. Another brother, Daniel Smith, who has a crane business based in Rangiora, has also had many of his cranes in Christchurch.

Tim Smith's cranes were crucial in rescuing people from The Press building in Cathedral Square, from the Forsyth Barr building in Armagh St, from the Pyne Gould Corporation building in Cambridge Tce and a host of other sites.

"I felt the shake and thought this is going to be ugly," he said.

"I told all our staff to prepare every bit of equipment we've got and at the gate ready to go. I went to my kids' school to pick them up, so first headed there and dropped them back home while the convoy was escorted into town by airport police."

One crane was rushed to the Canterbury Television building in Madras St and was then sent to the Forsyth Barr building, where it played a central role in rescuing 180 people.

"After that it was a case of making sure the right cranes were in the right places. We had senior guys at each site and reps going around to look at each site," Smith said.

Much of the work was very frustrating, he said.

He stood on the pancaked PGC building in the hours after the shake wanting to pull a concrete beam off trapped Australian Carey Bird. Bird had texted his wife in Sydney to say he was alive, but he died of his injuries at the site.

Most of Smith's staff were keen to help and had worked around the clock. One crane driver working on the PGC building carried on knowing his sister-in- law was in the building.

"The British guys on the site were pretty keen to have him back, but police told him he would be served with a trespass notice if he turned up. They could have just talked to me about it," Smith said.

Smith worked around the clock for the first couple of days and had his first decent sleep last night.

Yesterday was another typical day, except for one thing. Rescuers had captured a cat in the rubble of the Caledonian Hall in Kilmore St and had held it in a car.

Smith, who loathes bureaucrats and red tape, grabbed the cat and with the help of his staff delivered it to babysitters in St Albans.

Smith said he could not have expected more from his staff, who had put in heroic efforts.

Some had witnessed terrible sights but were coping, he said.

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- The Press

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