Editorial: Uplift amid the collapse

The bravery citations for the heroes honoured from the 2011 Christchurch earthquake are equal parts compelling and repellent.

A reader may even feel momentarily surprised by one description of a firefighter rescuing a trapped victim in the Pyne Gould Corporation building by sawing the legs . . . off her chair. Reports from elsewhere in that building would have created far more visceral expectations.

The people who were honoured, not all from the emergency services, crawled into claustrophobic nightmares, their senses surely close to overload from torments ranging from fire, to smoke (no room for breathing apparatus - roll on the day more slimline devices are at hand) to the increasing constrictions of imploding spaces where they could feel concrete closing in on them.

In the middle of all this vivid, urgent need, the heroes had to dismiss, as best they could, the workings of their own imaginations. Many true cases of bravery spin on the act of an instant, to the point of seeming instinctive. This, though, was courage tested over a cruelly sustained period, where the sense of horror had time to deepen and renew itself.

Many of the rescuers called on their own expertise but others, such as policeman Danny Johanson and firefighter Scott Shadbolt, manned up the extremity of need by undertaking tasks that anyone would dread.

In the tormented confines of the pancaked PGC building, they took over from the exhausted Dr Lydia Johns-Putra - a urologist - to continue the double amputation that saved Brian Coker's life.

The horrors of that day did not end with the emergence of the survivors and rescuers, as evidenced by Dr Johns-Putra's subsequent and carefully worded acknowledgement of her sense of unease that, unlike many others, she had emerged with "no physical scars".

A great many people have faced awful challenges making their peace with what happened that day. The grateful thanks of a community, and a nation, doesn't change that. But not all the lessons to be learned from such a day are cautionary ones. Some should inspire us.

The Southland Times