– New Brighton, Christchurch, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Gary Manch conducted shortly after the 4 September 2010 earthquake.

My name is Gary Manch, I am the sergeant in charge of the Lyttelton Police and I was at my home in New Brighton on the night of the earthquake.

So my next thought was ‘This is really bad,’ so I said to my wife, ‘Jump in the car, see if we can get out,’ because we didn’t know what the roads were like, and just after 5 o’clock we shot to the New Brighton Police Station, jumped on the radio to see what happens, then found out there was a major earthquake, lots of damage everywhere. Went back home, got some stuff – I am separated, so my kids were with my ex- wife, first thing I rang them to make sure they were OK. Then jumped into our wee 4 – wheel drive and drove straight over here to Lyttelton to the police station and started work.

I must have been here at quarter to 6 and left at about 10.30 at night. And I was back here the next day and we did long hours again and… I knew my house was damaged and there was nothing I could do at the time – our house had minor damage really but there were lots of police officers who had serious damage but still came to work. The community was our main concern and we made sure that we do what we do.

We could see there was damage on the main street and the facade of the Empire and the Harbour Light and chimneys down, so we really had to make an assessment of what our priorities were, and make sure the place was safe and try and help people if they needed it and obviously make sure that people weren’t going to try and break into houses or businesses that might have broken windows or anything like that.

By 9 o’clock of the earthquake morning we had some more staff here and some went round to Civil Defence, Ambulance, all working together.

I had two staff members that went to town, but the majority of my staff and myself stayed in Lyttelton, because that is our community policing area and if we hadn’t been here… they didn’t have enough staff in town to send over.

We were out and about, dealing with road contractors, scaffolding people, closing roads, walking around and talking with people, making sure their neighbours were safe.

I know this sounds corny, but it was pretty much what we do, it’s what we’re trained for. Even though it was quite major, everything went into gear and everyone worked together to keep the community safe and get things working again as quickly as possible.

I think what stuck for me, I know it happened in other areas as well, myself and my staff were tied up at cordons on the street and working, and the reaction of the local people, we had people bringing in baking and I noticed a couple of postcards, written and drawn by children saying ‘thank you very much’, and it was really nice that the community cared and that we were appreciated. I know we are, but it was nice to be looked after. I know at both ends of the cordon of the main street the local coffee shops and bars made sure we had plenty of food and coffee. It was really nice to see everyone come together, which I think was a highlight for me.

I suppose the only thing is, Lyttelton is a village in many ways – we had cordons and a lot of the locals thought the cordons were for everyone else, but not for them, a bit like double parking on the main street – I can park there but no one else can, so that was quite funny in a way. You say to people, ‘Look, you can’t go through there.’ ‘Yeah, but I am only going through.’ ‘Yeah, but it’s dangerous.’ ‘Yeah, but then I have to go the long way.’ ‘Yes, you will have to go the long way!”
and I did have a couple of arguments with some people, but at the end of the day we were not closing the road to annoy people, we were closing the road for safety. People just don’t think. The longer something goes on, people become more blasé about it.

Coming to work on the Saturday morning was like something out of a movie, the roads were cracked and you’re waiting for something to explode in front of you. A lot of people left Brighton where I live, because they were afraid of a tsunami, so the traffic was going towards the hills. As soon as I knew that my family was safe it was all about getting into gear and help those people that aren’t.

I imagined as I was driving to work – at the initial time of the earthquake no radio stations or anything was working – I imagined that we would have severe injuries and possibly loss of life and it is just amazing that no one got killed. Even the guy that had the oven fall on his head from the local supermarket, I think it fell over on top of him when he was working and he was injured. I think its amazing how lucky we were with no-one actually dying. I think one person was badly injured and taken to hospital – and look at the damage!

I hadn’t gone to town for a week, so I had no idea about the severity of the damage in town. And it was only when I went in there at the end of the first week that I realised how lucky we were even with the damage in Lyttelton.

We went down the port, because we were concerned about the safety down there. At the port they were worried at some stage about the ground under the petrol tanks liquefying, which is not as bad as it sounds. They probably would have tipped over but apparently they are so well built even if they would tip over nothing would spill out of them. But all of those things going on, we were trying to prioritise, what we’d need to do and and the last thing you want is two big petrol tanks falling over because it would disrupt the supply to town and all this sort of stuff.

People were worried about the tunnel and the tunnel was probably one of the safest places to be in the earth quake, it is under the volcanic rock so… Castle rock fell over too… It was funny because there were probably hundreds of things happening around us that we were dealing with.

There was no damage to the police building, it’s poured concrete with stone outside, we had a lot of dust from light fittings and ceilings and all that, so our house keeping wasn’t that great! We’re lucky, really lucky.

You feel sorry for people, like the Indian guy who did the supermarket. He worked so hard to get it going and now all of a sudden it is shut down. They reckon it will open again soon, but that would have hurt them financially, and all the other businesses that were shut for a long time.

There were at least three staff whose homes were totally wrecked and they fronted up for work that day, it’s admirable really. And Brendan here was one of them. He got here about 9 o’clock and said ‘House is damaged, but my wife is safe.’ and I think that is everyone’s opinion, as long as their pets and wives and children are safe

I think it affected everyone in some way, whether you’re a police officer or residents or fire men. I think the biggest things for our guys here was that they had to deal with their own things at home, a lot have young children who were frightened as well as deal with your public duties.

The damage out there is pretty much under control now. Over the last 4 or 5 weeks the main street got opened again, a couple of churches are still shut because of the damage to the spires and towers, but it’s pretty much business as usual for us.

Last week was probably the quietest week we had. And I can tell things are going back to normal because the little rat bags in the port starting to do naughty little things again. The minor crime disappeared for a while, because there was a bigger presence of army and police on the streets, and also those families and kids had to deal with their own problems and not actually going out and doing graffiti or that sort of stuff. But there was an upturn in domestic instances with people getting stressed at home and arguing with their husbands and wife and children, so a double-edged sword really.

The processes we have in place are pretty sound. I think especially the local volunteer fireservice did a fantastic job with chimneys. Fulton Hogan, they have a guy here, they gave us trucks and barriers, we got stuff when we needed it, so I think it all went pretty well. Of course the first couple of hours there was chaos, there would be chaos, but after the first couple of hours things were in place and worked pretty well. But it depends on the level of it. If this had been an 8 or a 9, there may have been serious loss of life, there may have been more damage to buildings and of course that would create more pressure on everyone .

It brought it home to me that the community pulled together really well, and that was fantastic, and generally everyone was working towards the same goal of helping each other and that was fantastic.

I probably worked 80 or 90 hours that week, I did 11 days without a break. I was lucky coz my boss sent me home on Thursday afternoon in the second week, But every police man and fire man was doing the same, that wasn’t a special thing, the guys here would have done even longer hours if I hadn’t sent them home. When I got stood down I was ready for it because I think you get tired.

This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton. We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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