I felt the goosebumps creep across my skin, the air around me go ice cold and my eyes stung with tears wanting to fall…..
I was sitting in class on my international study tour of Christchurch, New Zealand, listening to the QC who represented victims who were trapped and then died in the CCTV building following the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February 2011.
The QC was talking about the circumstances that led to the colonial inquest into how eight (8) people died in the CCTV building collapse. His client initiated legal action to find out answers to his wife’s death at the CCTV building site hours after the initial earthquake.
Upon arrival at the CCTV building he found his wife’s car and the multi storey building collapsed, level upon level, a pile of concrete rubble. He received a call from his wife saying she could hear sirens on the street outside and eventually he could hear her yelling out and banging against the concrete that was trapping her from her freedom….
A series of telephone calls continued between them, the CCTV site was evacuated and he was told by Police either leave or be arrested, his screams to rescuers of where his wife was and cries to help get her out of the collapsed building didn’t seem to be heard.
His wife’s last call was to say she was turning off her phone to save battery life, she was ok, it was just her hand that was trapped underneath concrete….
It would be the last time he would hear from his wife…..
The following day his wife’s body along with others trapped with her were recovered by rescue teams. They were among 185 who died in the Christchurch earthquake. It is believed that she and those around her died either from further tremors or rescuers disrupting debris that resulted in further collapse and their deaths hours after the initial collapse.
A wife and mum gone…..
Can anyone imagine standing on top of a collapsed building hearing the mother of your children calling your name but despite pleas to rescuers nobody can reach her? Can you imagine talking to your wife on the phone when she is trapped under tonnes of concrete? Can you imagine your wife calling saying she is turning off her phone to saves battery life and that being the last conversation you have with her? Then can you imagine the moment hours later when your wife’s body is recovered from the debris that was once the building she worked?
I am sure nobody can imagine any of these circumstances…..
We can’t imagine how we would feel……
We do know there would be unimaginable grief, anger, heartbreak…..
But what we all would want is answers….WHY?
Why despite hear cries that could be heard she remained trapped and later died? Why rescuers could not reach her when her husband could hear her and pinpoint roughly where she was trapped? Why was the site evacuated when audible cries could be heard? Why? Why? Why?……
For anyone who has lost someone, answers to why is crucial to grieve and to some how move on….
The Royal Commission into the Christchurch earthquake prohibited investigation into the rescue efforts at the CCTV building and a coronal investigation into those who survived the initial building collapse but died hours later still left the question open of WHY?
After the Royal Commission and the Coronial Inquest there were no more avenues to seek reasons as to WHY?
A husband is still left asking WHY?
I also heard from a senior member of the fire service who spoke with emotion of how his fire fighters left their helmets on top of rubble so that if they became trapped from further tremors and collapse their colleagues would know where to search. You could see in this tough fire fighter composure how much the earthquake and the rescue efforts affected him as a first responder and to see what his men went through.
As a Mum I reflect on how this makes me feel. I feel shocked but mostly deeply saddened that people lost their lives in this disaster, I am incredibly saddened that a husband can hear his wife but can not reach nor the rescuers. I am saddened by the stories of rescuers who suffered so much from their attempts to rescue, but could not reach those trapped in time.
As a Mum I can’t stop thinking about the children left without a Mum, who when they ask why, their dad has no answers except that there was an earthquake. But mostly they are sons now growing up without their Mum….
As a parent and a spouse I would want answers to why? As an emergency management professional I recognise that despite the incredible efforts of rescuers, risking their own lives, sometimes it is impossible to rescue everyone. No first responder wants to leave anyone behind.
If it was me and my spouse was below the rubble I want answers too. If I was a first responder tasked with rescuing people trapped I would want to rescue everyone. Sometimes right or wrong disasters overwhelm resources, sometimes the magnitude is too much, but sometimes right or wrong. There are no answers…..
Any loss of life has insurmountable impacts on individuals but in time most can move on in some form or another….
I reflect on my life living and battling mental illness, at times struggling to keep living but to lose a spouse or a child is nothing in comparison…..there is always someone in this world that is worse off than us as individuals but that in no way down plays what us as individuals go through…..
Whether it is a disaster, an experience or an illness we are all at risk of mental illness. What matters is how we are supported? For those that experience mental illness without trauma it is so much harder to talk, understand or be treated because there appear to be no reasons for it cause. It is unfortunately human nature that nobody talks about mental illness, not because they can’t or necessarily don’t want to it’s mostly because it is just the way it is, you don’t talk about depression or mental illness.
Whatever the circumstances it is only human nature to want to know WHY?