This is the second Christchurch earthquake newsletter written by the New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, Mike Moore. It was originally written on Friday March 25, 2011.
A lot has happened in the fortnight since I last wrote to you about the earthquake in Christchurch.
First and foremost, our friends in Japan were delivered a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. New Zealand moved swiftly to help Japan, sending an urban search and rescue team, which was aided by US equipment and logistical support.
Rushing to Japan’s aid would have been the right thing to do regardless of when this horrendous earthquake and tsunami happened. But our desire to help was made all the more poignant and urgent by the fact that Japanese urban search and rescue teams had so recently been in Christchurch assisting with our own post-earthquake efforts.
As the New Zealand Embassy moves forward with our efforts to respond to the Christchurch earthquake, our thoughts and prayers will never stray from the Japanese people. For this reason, in all fundraising events for Christchurch that we host at the Embassy, we will be including a component aimed at raising money to help relief efforts in Japan.
Meanwhile, the one-month anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake has now passed. This milestone was marked by memorial services around the world, including here in the United States.
At the official National Memorial Service in Christchurch, Prime Minister John Key summed up the mood of the nation when he said:
From the first moments after the February 22 earthquake struck Christchurch, the response has been tremendous … People dug other people out of rubble, carried bleeding strangers to cars, driven by other strangers, who drove them to aid offered by yet another they didn’t know.
Many governments sent rescue teams and other personnel to work alongside the New Zealand rescue services, and for that unstinting service, we also today say thank you. Whether it’s been an Urban Search and Rescue team, or whether it’s been someone taking their neighbour’s water containers to be filled, the assistance which has been given to the people of Christchurch has been of enormous practical benefit, and has lifted our spirits when we most needed it … On behalf of all New Zealanders, I say thank you.
Let us today re-commit ourselves to the resolve to rise again … I have seen people who are resilient, capable, practical and compassionate. New Zealanders have been generous and brave. And we are resolute. This city will be rebuilt.
In this time of need, New Zealand has had few friends as committed, as open hearted and as generous as the Americans.
Since I last wrote, the US Urban Search and Rescue team dispatched within days of the earthquake has returned home. Provided by the US Agency of International Development (USAID), the search and rescue team provided two weeks of service in New Zealand. But US assistance in the rebuilding won’t stop there. A team of United States Army Corps of Engineers will shortly arrive in New Zealand. This team will be assisting New Zealand authorities with making assessments of buildings which may have to be demolished.
Our friends in Congress – including those who were in New Zealand at the time of the earthquake – have introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives. The resolution expresses the House’s condolences to the people of New Zealand; mourns the loss of life; pledges its full support in rescue and recovery efforts; and supports the ongoing efforts by the US Government and the American people to assist New Zealand as we cope with the natural disaster.
The Embassy continues to be blown away by the raw decency and generosity of the American people, as well as Kiwis living in the US, in responding to the earthquake. Unsolicited cheques and letters from ordinary Americans, with no previous connection to our country, have kept flowing into the Embassy. At the same time, fundraisers for Christchurch have kept spontaneously popping up around the country. Such fundraisers have included:
- a restaurant in Virginia donating a percentage of its sales to Christchurch;
- a yoga class in Maryland, whose proceeds will go to Christchruch;
- a rugby benefit match in Atlanta, Georgia – involving the Atlanta Renegades, a team coached by Wellingtonian Rod Seddon; and
- A Kiwi Expatriates Abroad (KEA) event in Virginia involving two things that Kiwis love dearly: food and rugby.
The Embassy’s own fundraising efforts have taken several directions. Mark Weldon, the chief executive of NZX (the New Zealand stock exchange) has been appointed to lead the Government’s official Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. We have been working with Mark in order to identify, and encourage donations from, appropriate members of the US corporate community. We will also be hosting fundraising dinners in Washington and Los Angeles to try and maximise giving.
We also recognise the importance of tax deductibility to many American donors. I have been pleased to see the number of US charities offering to accept tax deductible donations for the earthquake relief efforts including the American New Zealand Association, Variety International, the Seattle-Christchurch Sister City Association, and the New Zealand American Association of Atlanta.
Plans are also underway to formally launch in the next few weeks the “American Friends of Christchurch” to support broad-based earthquake-relief efforts in Christchurch. American Friends of Christchurch is currently an activity of the US/NZ Council and the stakeholders include representatives from business, education, policy, and other not-for-profit organizations.
As hard as we have all been working since the earthquake hit Christchurch, there will inevitably be lessons for us here at the Embassy to learn. We have opened a “lessons learned file”, which we will be adding to in the weeks and months ahead. This file will help ensure that, were New Zealand to be hit by a crisis of this magnitude again, we can respond in the best way possible. I would welcome your input into this exercise.
I would like to leave you on a positive note. Last week, I hosted a “welcome home safely” dinner at the New Zealand Residence for around 50 US political, diplomatic and business officials who were in Christchurch when the earthquake hit.
This was an emotional, therapeutic evening for us all. Several Japanese friends were in attendance which made the event even more moving. Attendees such as Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, Senator Evan Bayh and Congressman Donald Manzullo shared with us their experiences of being in New Zealand at the time of this tragedy. What became clear from hearing their stories was that, when you’re in a tough spot, your friends rally around you. We are privileged to live in the United States, and to be surrounded by friends – friends who, in our time of need, have been here for us. For that, we should all be very grateful.
Thank you for your commitment, all this is encouraging and inspiring.
Rt Hon Mike Moore