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September 2010 - HMNZS PEGASUS reservists in Earthquake recovery

Using naval signal formats to communicate quickly and accurately helped Naval Reservists Lieutenant Commander Phil O’Connell and Lieutenant Jeremy Packam get Kiwi Rail’s response to Saturday’s 7.1 magnitude quake quickly underway. 

Right: A train on the Midland line stopped only 30 metres from buckled tracks.

The morning of the quake Phil, the National Manager Health, Safety, Quality and Environment for KiwiRail Freight, hit the deck in Auckland direct from a maritime security exercise in Singapore.

“I turned on my cell phone and it was flooded with calls. I spent the taxi ride home contacting our operations teams. After a quick telecon with Jeremy—he and his family were safe and our operations were safely suspended—I sent him a list of tasks. Using naval signal formats between us worked a treat.”  

Freight transfer Kaipoi

Left: A crane with a 200 tonne lifting capacity was needed to transfer containers from stopped trains in Kaiapoi.

For Jeremy, Saturday morning was equally hectic.  “I was on call that weekend; my wife and I sheltered in the bedroom doorway. My first phone call was to Rail Operations, to stop any trains heading to Christchurch.”

It was then that Packham’s experience in the regular Navy, including a tour in Afghanistan, came into play.

In the badly hit town of Kaiapoi containers had to be lifted from stopped trains and trucked to the city. With businesses, including food stores, depending on a reliable supply chain, the containers could not be left to wait. A heavy crane was brought in and roads were closed to allow safe loading – to the annoyance of locals and sightseers.

Clearing debris outside Coptic Church Christchurch

Setting up the Kaiapoi ‘terminal’ was just like his job in Afghanistan, remarked Jeremy. “I had to achieve effective liaison with authorities and—not least—with the unhappy locals.”

Right: CPODEF David Auton clears debris from the pavement outside the St Mary & St Athanasios Coptic Orthodox Church on Edgeware Road Christchurch.

Meanwhile other Navy staff from the Reserve HQ in Christchurch had joined with Army staff in various recovery tasks.  Recovery work included clearing silt from affected properties to removing rubble from public buildings.  Others had to rescue several thousand chickens, and eggs, from a chicken farm where the stacks of cages had toppled over!

Both Phil and Jeremy said their Navy training and experience paid off.  "My experience in Afghanistan stood me in good stead”, said Jeremy. “Next day I was coordinating emergency housing for Kiwi Rail’s displaced families and then went on to managing road traffic at our transfer site.” 

“Our Navy training helped us think about sustaining operations into the days ahead,” Phil explained. He commented that on his last major Maritime Trade exercise, he worked with US personnel who had experience of the Haiti earthquake aftermath. “It’s that sort of background that makes military skill sets valuable—in times of crisis they become even more so."
Chicken rescue

Left: Navy Reservists help with the post-earthquake clean up operation at Weedons Chicken Farm - WOWTR(VR) Wendy Somerville and daughter Sarah collect the eggs as the conveyor belt which normally transports the eggs to the packing station is not working.
Assisting veterans
Right: Naval Reservists from HMNZS Pegasus assist with the post earthquake silt clean up from an ex-serviceman's (Army & Air Force) property - L-R AB Danielle King, Mr John Plumridge, SLT Kris Herbison.
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