Painful, life-changing experience
In the two years since the February earthquake, Timaru police Sergeant Grant Lord hasn't set foot inside central Christchurch.
He's got no interest in changing that any time soon.
"If someone said 'Lord, you've got to go do this kind of job again,' I'd go in a heartbeat," he said. But his experience, and that of the 12 other Timaru police officers who went to help in the immediate aftermath of the quake, was painful and life-changing.
Mr Lord was in Timaru court when the earthquake struck. Two hours later, he and nine other Timaru police were on the road to Christchurch. They were joined by three others already in the city.
"On the way up we were trying to communicate with our families who were in the city," he said. "My son was working at Centennial Pool at the time."
Mr Lord would work through the entire first day without knowing that his son was alive and safe.
The Timaru police contingent split into two groups and spent their first night walking an area south of Cathedral Square, calling out hoping to find trapped survivors.
The next day his team went to the PGC building to help with the work there. That morning they assisted with the rescue of a woman who would be the last person to be pulled alive from the rubble of a Christchurch building.
"It's a very difficult process, to go from being quite hopeful of someone coming out alive, and then to realise that you're in a recovery phase," Mr Lord said.
The Timaru team stayed on for about a week, helping to recover bodies during the day and gathering at night to talk through what they had seen and experienced.
Mr Lord said the lessons New Zealand Police learned from the earthquake were still coming out as inquests were held and scenarios studied. "I learned that we can be reasonably confident with the team we took up, that if we encountered a disaster we could put our personal fears aside and do what needed to be done."
- © Fairfax NZ News