Home > People Being People, Social Issues > Interview: Angie, the Earthquake Angel

Interview: Angie, the Earthquake Angel

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Shortly after the December 23 earthquake that rocked Christchurch, Wellington woman Angie – a 37 year old civil servant on her Christmas break – did something quite extraordinary that few of us would consider doing. A couple of days after the massive 5.8 and 6.00 magnitude ‘quakes, Angie arrived at a decision: she  was going to Christchurch to help.

I wanted to go down to help with the physical clean up“,  she said, as we chatted over some Bavarian cheesecake at our home north of Wellington, “I had felt guilty about not being able to go down after the February quake when they were originally calling for volunteers.

I should take a moment to describe Angie; she is a vivacious woman; much younger looking than her actual age; with an easy-going personality; and smiles easily. She also has a character that can best be summed up as head-strong and determined.  When she arrives at a decision, she doesn’t back away.

So she packed a small backpack and headed south. Once in Christchurch, she headed to Hammer Hardware where she invested in a brand-new shovel. Cost: $40. Sense of community spirit: priceless.

She then hooked up with the Student Volunteer Army, and got stuck in, shovelling dried (and occassionally still wet and heavy) liquefaction from the back yards of elderly people, and in one case, a one-armed resident.

The “drill” was simple; arrive at an allocated property; get stuck in in; shovel a tonne or two of liquefaction into wheel barrows; take out to the street; dump. Trucks would pick up the mounds of grey sand-silt at some later stage.

Angie says that the collected waste is being trucked to Bottle Lake Forest Park, where 500,000 tonnes of silt and eight million tonnes of rubble are awaiting recycling.   She wonders if there is any end to it.

Angie describes the people she has met; her fellow Student Volunteer Army colleagues; and smirks when she describes meeting Christchurch mayor, Bob Party and his wife, at a RIP Party at a Parklands Park. RIP, she explains, stands for “Red In Parklands”.

The street party was part of a local campaign to get their area “Red Zoned”. Many wore caps with “RIP” emblazoned on them.

So many people, explains Angie, “are sick of it all; angry; and have had enough“. She adds,

If I had any close people to me, down there, I’d be getting them out.”

A little later, she gives us a slide-show presentation. The images are disturbing and give us a better insight into just how badly damaged Christchurch really is.

In all, Angie spent three days, shovelling, and working with the SVA. There is a hint of skepticism in her voice, as she described Parker at the Parklands street party,

He thanked us for helping which was nice… but I’d have preferred him to come out shoveling with us.  People see him 50/50 – some like him, some don’t.”

She was also disdainful that the Student Volunteer Army seemed to be bearing some of the costs themselves. From what she saw, they covered their own petrol and cellphone costs, and these would add up substantially with the sheer volume of jobs.  She thought they could really do with assistance for these costs.

At the same time, she had heard that tradesmen were being charged out at $150 an hour, by the main contracting companies.

Angie then added that the ANZ and ASB had contributed by way of wheelbarrows and tools, and that ASB staff in particular were out, in the community helping to dig out and remove liquefaction. She showed us images of ASB staff, in their bright yellow t-shirts, shovelling liquefaction from an elderly woman’s back yard and garden.

It was the fourth time the woman’s yard had been covered in this horrible, ubiquitous grey silt, and her vege garden had suffered  the worse for it. The woman had been very appreciative of  Angie and others turning up to help clean up the mess, and had said,

I can’t pay you , I haven’t got any money. But help yourselves to as much rhubarb from the garden as you like.”

At another property which Angie helped to clean, she excused herself to go use the portaloo that was located some distance from the house she was working at. Mrs Miller (80)  replies,

Oh no! Use my toilet. It flushes!”

Angie says that the woman was quite proud when she said that.

At another house, which was on a distinct tilt, Angie was advised that even cakes came out lop-sided from the oven.

Many streets in Christchurch were deserted, said Angie. Entire neighbourhoods were gone, and properties were being over-run with weeds, with  windows boarded up. But it was the unnatural silence in these streets that she found most unnerving.

Having seen photos of the streets she described, they remind me of post-apocalyptic movies such as “The Omega Man” and “The Quiet Earth“.

One particular point that Angie was quite emphatic about; despite being weary of the constant shaking of the ground beneath their feet and the destruction around them, none of the Cantabrians she spoke to felt sorry for themselves. Instead, a common  response was that there was someone else worse off than themselves. Their humour was very much in evidence.

Angie felt that they were trying to be strong for their children. The elderly, she believed, were the worst affected,

The young can leave and go somewhere else. The elderly can’t go anywhere.

Although in one case, we saw an image of a deserted retirement home. Derelict  buildings. Cracked paths. Weeds everywhere. More post-apocalyptic visions we never expected; in our country; during our lifetime.

She has watched the docu-movie, “When a City Falls“, and recommends it as being truthful and honest in it’s portrayal of what she herself experienced.

Before Angie left Christchurch, she donated her  well-used shovel to the Student Volunteer Army. The SVA co-ordinator wrote her name on it, and said “you can have it again when you come back.”

Angie is now back in Wellington and ready to begin work again on Monday. Her experience in Christchurch has taken a toll on her, and she obviously feels greatly for the folk of that city.

When I asked her how she was feeling, she replied,

It was a lot of work. I wonder if it was worth it. For them it’s the fourth time they’ve gone through all this. I wonder why they aren’t feeling more angry, more sorry for themselves.”

Maybe they can’t afford to“, I replied.

Angie then asked us if we felt the December 3 earthquake, in Wellington. I replied that we hadn’t; we had been on the road, driving, and couldn’t feel the shaking.

Angie said she had been at a sports stadium in Wellington that evening, attending a women’s roller derby event. When the quake hit, the Wellington audience rushed for the doors, in a desperate hurry to leave the building.

At the same time, the Christchurch roller derby team came flying out of their changing rooms. They had smiles on their faces, and skated around the ring, unconcerned.

I guess they weren’t going to let a little shaking ruin their evening.

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A Photographic Journal of Angie’s Christchurch Experience

(Captioned by Angie)

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How often do you get to meet one of your favourite NZ artists??? As chance would have it, I just about walked straight into Peter Donnelly as soon as I arrived in New Brighton! Really lovely guy and interesting character. Sadly, he has lost a lot of his creative ability since February's quake so can't work on canvas... but he still gets out to share his beautiful creations down at the New Brighton Pier. To see something beautiful which will make your day, go to YouTube and type in "Sand Dancer". WOW!!! I'm still buzzing that I got to meet him!

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Here's one-armed Micky. We helped dig out his liquefaction and he showed me his faces he made in the silt mound. Despite having one arm he could use a shovel as good as we could. All he could say was how lucky he was because his house was still standing, and he no longer has to weed his garden!

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This man is called "Dem". He's a Seismic Geologist/ex Army/Engineer, and is one of the founders of the Student Volunteer Army. His knowledge and experience is incredible, and he is one of the few people in Christchurch getting out and actually helping the people - FOR FREE. If you live in the worst hit suburbs, chances are he came knocking on your door to see if you were okay and then arranged volunteers to clean up your section. I want him to run for Mayor, as I believe he is Christchurch's most valuable asset.

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This was the backyard of a 90 year old couple in baker street. The silt was about 2 feet deep. 15 volunteers, 15 shovels, 8 wheelbarrows, 3 hours of hard yakka and much humour and nek minnit...

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Nek minnit they have their path back!

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You work all day shoveling the silt out, then another quake brings it all back again. This pic shows a small sinkhole... You gotta hope that your house isn't built on top of one.

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80 year old Mrs Miller's house which the volunteers worked on. She described Gerry Brownlee as "a fat white slug". I was outside about to use the street portaloo, when she said "Oh come in and use mine dear - it flushes!" beaming with pride, as if she was the first in the street to get television. Her sweetness just about shattered our hearts, and I hate to think this is how she and countless other elderly in the eastern suburbs are going to spend the rest of their days.

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Because her whole house is now sloping, no cupboards or doors can shut properly. She is living here on her own in a deserted street. Everyone else has left.

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This was the home of Steph and her husband, who had polio, so we helped them shift this giant mound of silt out onto the street. They needed it moved so they could shift out their furniture as they are off to live in Rolleston. Another abandoned house in a deserted street.

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It's like Chernobyl out here in the forgotten eastern suburbs. Everyone has abandoned their homes. Desolate streets wherever you look and the silence is deafening.

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At least they still have their humour!

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Look at their garage door! That's because the whole house has sunk into the ground.

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Look closely at the vertical blinds... They are hanging straight. It's the rest of the house which has sunk...

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Their house is completely stuffed and had been red zoned. Very unsettling... I couldn't wait to get out. They spoke about baking a lopsided cake in their lopsided oven because of their lopsided floor! They are a lovely older couple whose children have moved out, but they have adopted a guy with Down Syndrome called Bruce. When I walked in, Bruce showed me out the back window... the silt was at least 3 feet deep and the worst I'd seen.

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This was outside Bruce's window. This liquefaction covers the whole of the yard.

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Inside Bruce's house. Remember - gravity means that those hanging vertical blinds are true vertical. It's the rest of the house which is on an angle. You could roll a tennis ball from one end of the floor to the other! It was like being at Wanaka Puzzleworld.

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This is the only available toilet in the neighbourhood. Imagine having to get up in the middle of the night, walk half a block down the road just to get to use this crappy Portaloo.

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Look at the tilt this house is on. It has been red-zoned, but I think they are still living there.

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Look at the guttering line. This house is completely on the piss!

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You never feel safe going to the shops when they have to be propped up like this.

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Says it all really!

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These lovely people came over from Rangiora with a 4-wheel drive and a trailer to help shift the silt mountain. They didn't know the occupants, they just came in and started helping.

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To give you an idea of work, that silt mound in the previous pic took 5 strong adults with two wheelbarrows and a trailor about 2.5 solid hours to move out onto the street. That was only the silt from their front yard... just one house, among thousands of houses in much worse condition.

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Meanwhile, on my way to Hagley Park to partake in the NYE celebrations, this was as close as I could get to the CBD red zone.

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You feel very unsettled walking past these sites.

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NYE - let's hope 2012 is kinder to Cantabrians. Poor buggers have been through more than enough.

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Another red zone abandoned house. See how the water is inside their house as well as out.

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Another bad case of liquefaction. The doors can no longer be opened.

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Beautiful homes broken... whole neighbourhoods now deserted. Only one or two elderly remain in this whole street because they have nowhere else they can go. Who will check on them?

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Yep - it's a bitch.

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These appear everywhere.

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The people of Parklands, one of the most affected areas, put on a bit of a party on New Years day. There's Bob Parker in the cap who I got to meet. (Hard to recognise without his trademark orange jacket with the sleeves rolled up....) He thanked Dem and I for our work which was quite nice, but I'd have preferred him to come out with us and help shovel some silt.

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Mental note: Stay the hell away from a guy who has a shed like this one. I'm sure it looked like crap even before the earthquake!

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This was my last job on 1/1/12 before flying home to Wellington. I couldn't understand how this old man's shed was still standing... and I didn't really like being in here! Luckily there were no aftershocks. Check out the floor...

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This was what was outside the shed. It is like walking on the moon or something. This gives a good indication of the thickness of it all.

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It's wet, sloppy, heavy, and smelly! This is very recent liquefaction, unlike the other stuff we shoveled which was nice and powdery.

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Imagine this going all through your house. Reckon the EQC or your insurance company, or the government will help you out? Think again!!! Dem and the Student Volunteer Army have done more work than all those organisations put together. While they are talking and planning, Dem is out there doing and fixing.

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I lost count of how many of these I did, but this was the worst job by far because of the liquidy consistency.

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What an amazingly  strong sense of community spirit, to spend her own money; travel to a city she had no connection with; and help people she did not know by shovelling silt for three days almost non-stop..

Imagine if such community spirit was more prevalent in our society. Oh, the things we could accomplish.

Thank you, Angie. And to all the other good people who have lent a hand.

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Outside Mrs Miller's house.

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Hope.

It says it all, really.

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Additional

Geonet: Dec 23 2011 – Christchurch hit again at Christmas

Christchurch Quake Map

Student Volunteer Army (SVA)

TVNZ: Residents want ChCh suburb Red-Zoned

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  1. Tom Sawyer
    10 January 2012 at 12:45 am

    She’s a fantastic lady! This country needs more like her, and less of those useless Tory politicians with their well padded arses! Please pass on my sincerest wishes to her Frank. She’s a taonga as my maori grandfather would’ve said!

  2. Shar
    10 January 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Wow! An ‘Angel” alright! Good on you, Angie. The world needs more people like you!

  3. Freda
    15 January 2012 at 8:41 am

    Great hearing such a personal insight into Christchurch. Amazing Angie, incredible student army. I was really impressed by the bank staff giving up thier holidays to. Heres to the practical and selfless people of Christchurch. You are truly amazing.

  1. 19 July 2014 at 12:04 pm

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