In the wake of devastation and death spawned by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake which struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s city center at 1 p.m. local time on Feb. 22, Seventh-day Adventists in the South Pacific Division are responding with material and spiritual support.
At least 98 people are known to have been killed, and 228 have been reported missing, the New Zealand Herald daily newspaper reports. Unlike the 7.1-magnitude quake that hit the same area on September 4, 2010 at 4:30 a.m. on a Sabbath, or Saturday, this temblor struck closer to downtown Christchurch, and in midday, when office workers and shoppers were abundantly present.
David Asscherick, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and evangelist from California, was in downtown Christchurch when the quake hit. In a lengthy personal account of the tragedy, he captured the sense of many caught during the earth’s violent convulsion: “It looked and felt like a scene straight out of the Second Coming. It is difficult to communicate the palpable confusion and fear that hung in the air. Some people were running here and there; others were just standing or sitting in a kind of bewildered resignation. What, really, can you do when the earth itself is heaving below you?” (See related item, page XX)
BEFORE AND AFTER: Dramatic photos show Christchurch Cathedral, an Anglican worship center in Christchurch, New Zealand, before and after the February 22, 2011 earthquake. Seventh-day Adventists in New Zealand and the South Pacific are supplying material and spiritual support. [Photo via Twitpic]
Sanitarium Health Food Company in the suburb of Papanui, approximately 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) from the city, was asked by Emergency Services in Christchurch, New Zealand, to provide a triage center for the injured. The Christchurch Hospital, the largest tertiary, teaching and research hospital in the South Island was evacuated due to safety concerns and is now only taking people with serious injuries.
Pierre van Heerden, general manager for Sanitarium in New Zealand, said the site has been made available.
"We're blessed to have little damage to our buildings and to serve the wider community in times of devastation. The Christchurch factory in Papanui has a large garden and extra space for people to congregate and use as a triage center. We have a borehole on site that is functioning and that will give us an opportunity to provide fresh drinking water." Sanitarium also plans to provide Weet-Bix, milk and fresh bottled water for those in need.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA NZ) has been working closely with the civil authorities and The Salvation Army to provide immediate physical relief to those scattered in the three or four evacuation centers around Christchurch.
Part of the relief needed by those who had lost homes and accommodation was breakfast. New Zealand’s leading breakfast cereal company, Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing, provided Weet-Bix, So Good and Up and Go to 1100 people in two of the evacuation centers.
“I received an urgent request at 1:00am for Sanitarium and ADRA to feed 1100 people at two sites as they don't have sufficient food there,” said van Heerden.
Staff came in during the night to ensure those at the centers would get breakfast: “We have been very blessed and lost very little stock,” van Heerden added. In the September earthquake much of the warehouse stock was damaged, however very little damage was done in the latest shocks.
“It is amazing to see [members of] the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council pull together and offer to donate necessities for the crisis,” said van Heerden, who also serves as vice chairman of the council. “We have had calls coming in from people wanting to donate stock. We have referred them to ADRA.”
Sanitarium has given ADRA NZ some of their office space so they can coordinate their response from there.
“We are working with authorities to ensure that a coordinated and planned approach is taken,” van Heerden said.
Meanwhile, Sanitarium’s property is still being used as a triage center. The center was closed down and moved closer to the city center, however it has now been reopened as people from amputees to those with minor cuts and bruises keep coming in.
“The major thing I would ask [of] Adventist church members … is to pray for the people of Christchurch. Especially those who have lost loved ones and those who are injured or have lost property,” said van Heerden.
Pastor Craig Gillis, president of the South New Zealand Conference said, "At this time it is difficult to get much information about what has happened due to communication channels being blocked and overloaded. Our office staff are all fine." Christchurch Adventist School students, teachers and staff are fine, as are the preschools."
The Feb. 22 quake is reported to have lasted approximately a minute with extreme violence—rocking buildings back and forth. There are reports of absolute devastation in the city center of Christchurch as buildings have collapsed.
“We’re shocked at what’s happening in Christchurch,” said Pastor Barry Oliver, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division. “We want to assure the people of Christchurch and our Church community of our support. I invite everyone to pray for safety and a sense of peace.”