Big thanks to quake volunteers

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 11:14 10/10/2013
Volunteers
Cathie Bell

Overwhelming response: The 33 volunteers from Seddon, Blenheim and Awatere fire services, land search and rescue, the Red Cross, and the Awatere Information Centre who were thanked last night by Seddon School acting principal Nick Raynor, far left, Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman, second far left, and Kaikoura MP Colin King, far right.

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The volunteer response to the earthquakes was "like a scene out of a movie", Seddon School acting principal Nick Raynor said last night.

He told 50 people gathered in the school hall in a ceremony to thank volunteers for their work that the response to the July and August earthquakes showed something special about New Zealand.

"I come from Britain, and it's not like that at home. There is something special in New Zealand . . . you left your own families, your own homes, and came out and helped other people . . . it was selflessness."

Russell Montgomery, who was the incident controller at Civil Defence the night of the August 16 quake, said he had been thrown in the deep end with that job.

But it had been made easier "by the professionalism, the skills, and the abilities of the people involved, all the groups who just worked seamlessly on the night".

The only focus was on the people of Seddon, Ward and outlying areas who needed help.

"I am very proud of the fact that I was part of the team that did a fantastic job on the night."

Marlborough's two fulltime civil defence staff, John Foley and Gary Spence, were at the ceremony and Mr Foley said without all the volunteers' support in the days after the earthquake, the district would have been struggling.

Mr Spence said the earthquakes were not a "declared event" so none of the groups had to be there.

While some regions such as Wellington had up to five centres that could co-ordinate relief efforts, Marlborough had only the one and things could have been much more difficult if the event had been bigger or more prolonged, he said.

People needed to be able to look after themselves for some time in the future if bigger events happened, he said.

"The Weld Pass just has to be shut, the coastal highway, and then Ward and Seddon are isolated. If the bridge had gone, we couldn't have got through.

"We will always get here - we'd fly in something in if we had to - but it might not be as fast as people hope."

Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman said the volunteers who responded had a difficult task. There was a wide rural area to support as well as the township.

"Organisations all went about their business, it was an absolute credit to you all."

Red Cross volunteer Tony Fenemor said his group had been training for years, but the reality of the quakes was "something different".

It had identified gaps the organisation was working on filling in training, and it was working to get more members.

Land search and rescue volunteer Karen King said their experience was the same and they were training more volunteers.

Kaikoura MP Colin King said he was proud of "the Kiwi spirit" that the volunteers had showed.

"You were the administers of confidence. There were people who were suffering anxiety, a whole range of situations. With your professionalism, people were confident and trusting. You got them through the night."

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- The Marlborough Express

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