Troops become red-zone guides

''We're sort of like tour guides now''

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2013
tim de ridder
John Kirk-Anderson
TIPS TO TOURISTS: Private Tim de Ridder, from the Army Reserve, chats to a cyclist at a central Christchurch cordon entrance at the corner of Colombo and Gloucester streets.

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Soldiers manning central Christchurch cordons have become unofficial tour guides, dispensing advice on hotels and restaurants to tourists surveying the devastation in the heart of the city.

Six army reserve soldiers have been standing guard in the central-city red zone throughout the Christmas period.

Warrant Officer Class 1 Wayne Manu, the officer in charge of managing the cordons, said there had been a "good mix of groups" walking past throughout the holidays, with foreign tourists stunned by the extent of the devastation in the city centre.

"They walk in with their bags, trawling through the streets and say, ‘This wasn't on the website'," he said.

The Cathedral Square walkway, opened over the holiday period, had been particularly popular, with Manu estimating that 60 people visited every hour.

He said the soldiers had become accustomed to helping lost travellers.

"People come along asking for directions to backpackers, hotels, restaurants. We're sort of like tour guides now because we know where most of them are."

Soldiers on night duty had to deal with people who tried to take a short-cut through the cordon but inevitably got caught out, he said.

"Some people try to cut across instead of going around, just being lazy, but we get the boys in blue to have a bit of a powwow with them and that sorts them out."

Manu said his time on the cordons had been an "eye-opener", with the soldiers getting a unique insight into the demolition process.

"To me, I'd just start on one corner and go for it, but there's a lot of influence with engineering and that side of it."

Private Tim de Ridder, an Invercargill nursing student, said he had enjoyed his time on the cordons since starting in late November.

"You kind of feel like you're doing a worthwhile job because you're making sure the community stays safe and you get to talk to everyone who walks by."

He said the 12-hour shifts were not too difficult to manage, with night-time work made more manageable by working in a team.

"There's always two of us on, so you can have a bit of a sleep or watch a movie if you're not working," he said.

Manu said the soldiers would remain on the cordons "for as long as Cera [Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] wants us here", with no departure date set.

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