Six in the morning finally feels too early for me. I’ve been up between five and six in the morning for two months now, but today it all seems too hard. I am not the only one, it seems. For some reason, the Red Cross garage is not running as smoothly as usual. The cordon crews are running late – they were not told about their 07.30 briefing. Most of the incident management team are also late. Carolyn, our new counsellor, slept right through because her alarm didn’t go off. Nobody can find the shiny new maps I brought yesterday. It is cold and raining.
The city centre cordon is being shrunk today, to allow some more business owners and residents back to their buildings. The queues are long as people inch past the police and military checkpoints. At least the soldiers and police are cheerful despite the miserable weather.
Men in trucks and women in shiny new cars drive slowly through their local streets. Finally after almost an hour Hayley drops me within walking distance of the art gallery. Japanese TV cameras film us as I walk along. Anxiety levels are high. Concerned residents speak anxiously into mobile phones as they approach their homes. Building contractors line the streets, heading to inspect some of these buildings for the first time. People unused to driving within the cordon tailgate others who are respecting the 30km per hour limit. They just want to be on their way. Our volunteers sit in the two local information centres, waiting to accompany people on their first visit to their green, yellow or red stickered homes.
The Welfare section is its usual frantic pace, but it feels a lot more homely to me now I know a few faces. The phone rings constantly, and a steady queue of people wander up with questions. I even get a big fireman today. Nice. The morning operations briefing is friendly, to the point and very informative. The queue for coffee is pretty good. The day is looking up.
Sitting on what turns out to be a lengthy call, I look up and see a handsome young policeman standing in front of me. First a fireman, now a policeman, I think. Marvellous. He is perhaps mid-thirties, good-looking in an understated way, and in full regalia including a peaked cap and stab vest. He waits patiently until I finish, then asks, “Are you Red Cross?” “Yes I am, can I help?” He thrusts two twenty-dollar notes into my hand. “This is for you. Make sure it goes to wherever it’s needed. You guys are doing a great job.” Whatever trials the day has held for me melt away. A policeman telling us we are doing a great job? People are just fantastic.
Later in the day I accompany an outgoing colleague to the airport to do a handover. We sit drinking tea and I write notes frantically as she talks. I spend a lot of time in airports, so I know what an airplane taking off feels like. This is different. I sense the vibrations coming up through the floor at me, rather than through the air. Carolyn sees me looking around and tells me it’s an airplane I feel. I disagree. Carolyn says she can’t feel a thing. Why would she? She’s from Wellington where the floor shakes all the time. Less than a minute later, she interrupts herself. “That was definitely one.” All in all I felt about four tremors in a row – or perhaps one long one. Turns out it was another 4.9er, but almost 200km away.