When Clive Butler first heard about the earthquake that rocked New Zealand last week, he was hit with a wave of concern, which quickly turned into a desire to help.
Butler, the commanding officer of HMCS Vancouver, based out of CFB Esquimalt, was in the vicinity of Auckland, New Zealand to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s naval forces with other allied forces, when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the South Island on Monday, Nov. 14.
The quake claimed two lives and left dozens injured.
Shortly after, HMCS Vancouver was called upon to help with humanitarian efforts in Kaikoura, the hardest hit region.
“Obviously concern for people here in the South Island was the first reaction, then looking for an opportunity to help was the next reaction. Luckily that turned around quickly and we were able to get down here and do what I think Canadians would expect of us when we’re in the area, which is help out,” Butler said.
The earthquake caused landslides, which cut off access to the coastal town of roughly 3,600 people. The only way into the town was by sea or air.
On the ground in Kaikoura, Butler said most of the damage was to infrastructure — roads were cracked, water and gas lines were broken, the sewage system was shut down, some buildings had structural issues, large areas were without power and some people who were injured were unable to make it to hospitals because roads were blocked.
People were unable to use toilets and didn’t have access to fresh water — which created problems with sanitation, Butler said.
“It’s that sort of underlying damage that makes people’s lives difficult when they don’t have water, when they don’t have access to food, medicine or any of those other things. Those are just as dangerous as toppled buildings and broken roads,” he said. “There’s a need to get those things in place so people don’t get sick down the road.”
Last week, HMCS Vancouver’s 230 crew, alongside the U.S., Australia and New Zealand navies, helped deliver supplies to the people of Kaikoura. Using helicopters, they delivered chemical toilets, water and medical supplies from the sea to the isolated community.
The crew also sent work parties of between 30 and 40 people ashore to help restore basic services — restoring water, sewage and clearing roads to ensure emergency services are able to get around.
Despite the devastation, Butler said the people were in good spirits and grateful to the team for delivering much-needed supplies.
“We’re in the South Island of New Zealand and I think people are fairly rugged and hearty. I think they’re holding up pretty well. They seem cheerful, they seem committed to fixing everything up and getting on with life. That’s what we’re here to help do,” he said.