U.S. Embassy Wellington celebrated a special Fourth of July in Christchurch, where Ambassador David Huebner honored seven New Zealanders for the courage and commitment they had shown helping evacuate a large American delegation in the immediate aftermath of the devastating February 22 earthquake.
About 150 guests attended the ceremony, designed to show solidarity with the struggling city and to signal that Christchurch is open for business. Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson thanked Ambassador Huebner for hosting the event and giving Cantabrians a semblance of normality by having something to celebrate. The event was hosted in the northwest of the city in one of the few locations still able to cater to a larger party.
A large delegation of U.S. government leaders, businesspeople, and academics was in Christchurch for the U.S.-New Zealand Partnership Forum on February 22, 2011. The delegation was spread throughout the city when the earthquake struck. In the chaotic aftermath it became imperative to locate, gather, and evacuate the delegation -- something that would have been simply impossible without the dedicated courage of many, many people.
"The stoic professionalism of so many in the face of so much ensured that our American visitors were superbly looked after that day," Ambassador Huebner said.
"It was for that reason, and to acknowledge that Christchurch is still functional and open for business, that we decided to hold an Independence Day ceremony in Christchurch," Ambassador Huebner said. "We wanted not only to thank everyone involved that day, but to underscore the long and deep friendship between the United States and the people of New Zealand in general and Christchurch in particular."
Canterbury has suffered thousands of aftershocks in recent months and two large ones in mid-June that further rattled the nerves of its citizens and damaged many more buildings.
Honored by the Ambassador were bus drivers who stuck with their vehicles and transported Americans back to safety at the U.S. Antarctic Center, members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force who assisted with the evacuations, and a local senior constable from the New Zealand Police who remained with U.S. Embassy staff who performed American Citizen services in the week after the earthquake.
The Very Rev. Peter Beck, dean of the now-crumbled Christ Church Cathedral, thanked Ambassador Huebner for what he described as a "very moving" event. He pointed out that the last formal service at the Cathedral, the iconic heart of the city, had been on the evening before the opening of the U.S.-New Zealand Partnership, which many members of both delegations attended.
Cited for their "unwavering courage and commitment" with the American Ambassador's Exemplary Service award were: Simon McKenzie, driver, Leopard Coach; John Goldie, driver, VIP Transport, Visits and Ceremonial Office; Heather Caspersen, driver, VIP Transport, Visits and Ceremonial Office; Flight Lieutenant Vaughn Jones, RNZAF; Warrant Officer Warren Tyndall, RNZAF; Squadron Leader Andy Scott, RNZAF; and Senior Constable Thomas "Blue" Young, New Zealand Police.