A JOURNALIST who moved to New Zealand from Moulton last year has seen first hand the devastation caused by the massive earthquake which rocked the country’s south island.
Former Spalding Guardian and Lincolnshire Free Press reporter Tony Vale now works as news editor on Radio New Zealand, which is based in the country’s capital of Wellington, on the north island, a couple of hundred miles away from the disaster.
He has been co-ordinating the work of seven or eight reporters on the ground in the country’s second biggest city, Christchurch, the epicentre of the earthquake on Tuesday.
Speaking from his home yesterday, a gruelling 36 hours after the quake, Tony said: “I believe the earthquake was felt further north than we are, but we didn’t feel a thing.
“But the aftermath has been pretty grim. I have a reporter on the ground who is from Christchurch who just found out that some of her friends have died and other reporters’ homes have been damaged.
“Today we heard that 15 students who fire crews thought they would be able to rescue from a collapsed building are all dead.
“In the UK I used to work for the BBC World Service and covered a lot of natural disasters but this one is just a bit too close to home.”
As of yesterday morning, the death toll from the 6.3 magnitude quake stood at 75, with 300 people still missing.
None of the dead or missing are believed to be Britons at this stage.
The death toll is still expected to rise, making it one of New Zealand’s most catastrophic disasters ever. The country usually experiences 14,000 earthquakes a year but only about 20 have a magnitude bigger than 5.0.
Just last September, there was a 7.1 magnitude quake, which although bigger was deeper under the earth’s surface and happened in the middle of the night, causing no casualties.
Tuesday’s earthquake happened just 5km below the surface and in the middle of the working day.
Tony (49) lives with wife Tracey (48), a former deputy editor of the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian, and their children Bethany (18) and Jack (15).
He said: “When it happened I was at an earthquake conference and within 10 minutes of it ending all the people who had been on the question and answer panel were rushing off to deal with this one.
“My office in the Radio New Zealand headquarters in Wellington lies directly above a fault line. Earthquakes are a way of life out here.
“While children in the UK may learn a fire drill at school, here children learn about sheltering in a doorway or under a desk if an earthquake strikes.
“Just a few days before Jack had been learning about earthquake drills and every home is supposed to have an earthquake survival kit with water, food, a wind-up torch and radio because you never know when you are going to need them.”