Galloway folk in tragedy-hit New Zealand tell of community spirit

THE DEVASTATION of this week’s New Zealand earthquake has hit home for the people of Galloway as people from Wigtownshire who are living there spoke of the horrors facing the country.

With a death toll set to rise into the hundreds and a national state of emergency declared following the 6.3 magnitude tremor near the South Island city of Christchurch, a Kirkcowan man told the Gazette the whole country has been hit by the second quake in five months.

Steven Wright, an electrician in the town of Cromwell, central Otago, 200 miles from the epicentre of the earthquake said he felt it at lunchtime on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old flew back in for the rugby season last week and said everyone in New Zealand was pulling together to do what they could, even from hundreds of miles away.

And Steven said: “It.s been heart-warming to see the way the New Zealand community have gathered together to provide for each other - even things like taking people into their houses, providing blankets, food, water and donating blood.

“I felt the quake hit but friends as far south as Invercargill here on the island even felt it. It was only five kilometres deep so far shallower than September’s quake, thus causing far more damage.”

ONE of the shots favoured by news teams this week has been that featuring the ruined spire of Christ Church Cathedral, a much photographed pull for tourists to the country, which now lies in a pile of bricks.

Ex-pat electrician Steven Wright said: “It’s been a bit surreal as I was in the Cathedral Square last week where huge damage has been caused - all the top of the cathedral I was outside has collapsed onto the square below.

“Large park areas in the town have been set up to cater for homless and citizens missing family and international response has been huge with countries sending in specialist search groups and the like. I have just heard the UK is sending over aid to assist, too.”

New Zealander Eykolina Benny, who has lived in Newton Stewart for several years, flew back to her home country on February 17 with her husband Tim.

He is set to take up a new job there. The couple and their daughter Elise are safely in Blenheim, four hours north of Christchurch.

Eykolina said: “We flew into Christchurch and headed straight to Blenheim, where my family are, so we were lucky we missed the earthquake.

“Because we are quite a distant from it, it’s a bit surreal. It’s such a huge natural disaster that it’s hard to comprehend that it happened or the devastation caused.

“We have some friends in Christchurch and we have managed to find out that they are all OK, though they are all in shock.

“One family is looking after other families from their street because their houses are damaged and other friends who still have running water and power are cooking for people.

“Everyone is helping out and some of our friends might travel to Blenheim soon to stay with us just to get away from all the aftershocks - there are still lots of them happening.”

New Zealand has strong links with Scotland and around one third of suburbs in Christchurch are named after Scottish towns and villages to reflect the large numbers of immigrants who have made the city home.

Concerned friends and relatives have been trying to contact loved ones for days now.

Said Eykolina: “The police and emergency services are telling everyone to stay at home and not to ring people as they are overloading the systems.

She added: “The strange thing is that before the September earthquake, no one knew that there was a fault line there.

“What we do know is that it is going to take a very long time for Christchurch to recover from this.”