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March 2011
Home > Operation Earthquake

Chaos turns to coordination

Constable Todd Hilleard was in the cafeteria on level four of Christchurch Central when the earthquake struck.

“Once that hell stopped, we assembled outside by the river. People were everywhere on the street, alarms going off. We grouped up in fours, got cars and went out. Our first call was to a building with a crèche in it that had collapsed and caught fire. That turned out to be the CTV building.

“The effort put in by everyone made exceptional tasks seem like everyday work,” says Constable Todd Hilleard.
Photo: Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Ten-One

“We pulled up and it was just chaos. Latimer Square was full of people injured and people taking refuge from the buildings. The CTV building was just flat – I had no idea how high it had been until I saw photos later. People and cops were doing whatever they could. There was a guy with a digger trying to put out a fire by scooping up mud and water to put on it.

“Aftershocks kept going and going. I saw the church on the corner of Cashel and Madras come crashing down. Some USAR groups arrived and started searching through the CTV rubble. They started yelling, ‘hey, we’ve found someone here’, and that got an avalanche of people working.

“For the next 12 hours there were about 100 people working at a time. It started with people pulling away rubbish, then they formed chains, then someone found some roofing iron so we could slide the rubble down it and get rid of it faster.

“There was one guy who came out of the rubble, an Asian student who wouldn’t lie down on the stretcher. He just sat up and fist-pumped the air and everyone cheered.

“Large numbers of people from all walks of life were assisting. The level of effort put in by everyone made the exceptional tasks being undertaken seem like everyday work. Now we’re forever waiting for the next one. That’s the unfortunate effect it’s going to have on the people of Christchurch.”

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