Remembering the Christchurch Earthquake

Posted by David Huebner
February 22, 2012

I am in Christchurch participating in services marking the one-year anniversary of the tragic February 22, 2011 earthquake. I have been joined by several of my American colleagues including Al Dwyer from USAID, who headed the large U.S. disaster response team that quickly airlifted into Christchurch to assist with search and rescue operations. I asked Al to return to New Zealand to lead our delegation with me because of the critical role he played in the days immediately following the quake.

Yesterday, I attended the unveiling of the Tomb of the Unknowns. This morning, Al and I participated in a commemoration service at Latimer Square, on the spot where the American and other working USAR teams camped last February. I then spoke at the opening of a commemorative garden in Christchurch's beautiful Botanic Gardens, one of my favorite places in the city. And now, as I record this introduction, Al and I are walking to Hagley Park for the main civic service of remembrance.

I am carrying with me a personal message to the people of Canterbury from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Secretary was beguiled by Christchurch when she visited the city in November 2010. She thoroughly enjoyed the warmth of Cantabrians, the beauty of the environs, the vibrant Q&A session at Town Hall, and her spontaneous jog around the edge of the CBD and through Hagley Park.

On February 22, 2011, she followed the tragic events in Christchurch closely, solicited frequent updates from the embassy, and later held a live digital video conference with us to discuss the quake and to thank our friends at MFAT, VCO, and the New Zealand Police who were instrumental in helping evacuate the U.S.-NZ Partnership Forum. As she said in her public statement at the time, "I saw firsthand the beauty of Christchurch, and it was heartbreaking to see the pictures of destruction."

The video above contains the regards the Secretary has asked me to convey at the civic service today. You can also find the text of her message here, in which she says:

"It's been a year since a terrible earthquake struck New Zealand, but memories are still fresh. I had visited Christchurch just a few months earlier, and I was shocked to learn of the scope of the damage. So many lives were lost. So many homes and businesses were destroyed. Together, and with the leadership of our embassy staff on the ground, we began to work out how the United States could help. That's what friends do.

"In the aftermath of the earthquake, the United States, along with many other countries, sent an Urban Search and Rescue team to provide assistance. When their mission ended, they gave their advanced rescue equipment to their Kiwi partners so the work could continue. When a terrible earthquake struck Japan just weeks later, New Zealand quickly deployed its own teams...along with that same equipment. In America, we call that 'paying it forward.' It was international relations at its very best.

"Even those of us who were far away on that terrible day share in your grief. We know it has been a struggle, but through that struggle we have seen the strength and perseverance of the people of Christchurch. So, Christchurch, yes, we grieve with you. And we remember with you. But most of all, as we celebrate 70 years of a strategic partnership with New Zealand, know that we will continue to support you and we look forward to a long future of cooperation as we work to solve our common problems."Kia kaha Canterbury. Kati ake i konei. Ma te atua koutou e manaaki.Editor's Note: This entry also appears on Ambassador Huebner's blog.


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