South Otago officers recognised

Last updated 13:56 27/03/2014
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Canterbury Earthquake Citation for their work in the aftermath of the deadly quake, from left, Senior Constable Graeme Ferguson, Senior Constable Jane Whitmore, Constable Brian McKinney, Senior Constable Murray Hewitson and Constable Logan Dickie. Senior Sergeant Alastair Dickie presented the awards, Constable Rochelle Gordon was absent.

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The eerie silence of the city punctuated by the noise of ringing alarms is what senior constable Graeme Ferguson remembers from policing the streets of Christchurch in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in February 2011. 

Three years on, six South Otago police officers have been recognised for their efforts following the disaster.

Constables Brian McKinney and Logan Dickie and senior constables Murray Hewitson, Jane Whitmore and Graeme Ferguson were awarded the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake Citation this month by new Clutha-Taieri area response manager, Senior Sergeant Alastair Dickie.

Constable Rochelle Gordon was on maternity leave.

Mr Dickie, who took 60 officers from the southern region to Canterbury, said police there answered hundreds of 111 calls, putting their own lives at risk to aid others.

Off-duty staff dropped everything to help their on-shift colleagues and police responded from throughout New Zealand, he said.

''They provided a calm and reassuring voice - this was policing at its best.''

Senior constable Ferguson worked the night shift for the first few nights after the quake.

''The eerie silence of the city ... it was just total silence, the only noise you could hear were burglar alarms going off everywhere.''

The helpfulness of people who had lost everything but were still bringing officers food at 2am, was another memory that stood out, he said. 

Senior constable Whitmore arrived about three weeks after the quake.

She described the scene as a cross between the movies I Am Legend and Saving Private Ryan before the tanks came through. 

Tasked with organising cordon rosters, she was walking the inner cordon boundary when an aftershock struck.

''It was rumbling away ... we started running around like idiots for about 20 seconds, but where were we running to ... we stopped and cracked up and thought what the hell are we doing.''

After realising there was no safe place to take cover, they stopped in the middle of an intersection, she said.

Staff left who remained in Christchurch were also worth recognising, she said.

''To me, that's a big thing.''

Senior constable Hewitson said the recovery was a ''mammoth undertaking''.

''Watching it grow from day to day and getting better and better organised ... it was pretty amazing really.''

The 6.3 magnitude quake claimed 185 lives, destroyed more than 800 buildings and damaged thousands of homes and businesses.


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- The Southland Times


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