After disaster comes kindness
Nine homes were destroyed in a Christchurch gas explosion in Tracy Sutherland’s neighbourhood. The AMI staff member set up a BBQ outside the cordon to support her community.
The Northwood gas explosion happened during the workday on a Friday. I live in the neighbourhood and I was straightaway reaching out to friends and neighbours to make sure they were okay. It was a little too close to home. Cordons went up and I realised there were other people like me, sitting at work not knowing if their house was okay, wondering if the explosion was a one-off, and if it was okay to go home.
I was part of something called the Culture Club in Christchurch’s AMI call centre. After the mosque shooting we used the company barbecue to raise money for Red Cross and that night I asked to borrow the barbecue over the weekend.
Saturday was a typical lovely Christchurch morning -- it was drizzling and cold. We were sitting on the cordon with the barbecue serving sausages and I think there was a bit of skepticism around why an insurance company was down there. A lot of people didn’t understand how to make a claim and, being on the claims team, I was able to answer their questions.
There was a lady in tears who had very badly damaged roof tiles from her neighbour’s house exploding and landing on her house. She said, “All I can see is holes in my roof.” She was so stressed. I got on the phone and was able to find her policy and help her sort it out, and I rang the fire brigade to come and patch up her house in the meantime. She was so grateful that in between flipping sausages we were able to help her.
We gave away about 80 sausages on the first day and people were asking, ‘Are you coming back tomorrow?’ I hadn’t been planning on it, but I was happy to give my time. I was there from 9.30am to 6pm on the Sunday, and served about 150 sausages. We had a lot of return customers, and we were feeding security, loss adjusters, the media. It was exhausting but very rewarding. Now when I go to the supermarket, people recognise me as “the insurance lady”.
I am the local councillor and I was there by the cordon on the Saturday for about an hour when they were setting up the barbecue, and I was there again on the Sunday.
Doing a barbecue like that had a two-fold role. It allowed people to grab a free sausage for themselves and their kids, and was a good icebreaker in the community, so people could start talking about the cleanup. It was somewhere to stop and talk to neighbours, some you hadn’t met before. Some people were already working hard cleaning up and were hungry and could get a couple sausages wrapped in bread with onions and go back to work and didn’t have to lose an hour.
The other side of it was some people had insurance questions. It was really helpful to have staff on the ground to explain things. Yes, they could call an 0800 number and get answers but there’s something about being able to ask someone in person. It’s not even a little difference -- it is an immense difference.In our senior space, every student has a portable carry box so they can take their learning resources anywhere they need to, and all of those were lost in the fire. Every exercise book, every bit of stationery, every pencil case — all those sorts of things went.
The stationery AMI donated formed part of a package that we were able to provide to the students to support them. It was amazing and meant many of the kids could get themselves re-established without too much drama or expense to themselves or their parents.
On the Friday people were quite shell-shocked. By the Saturday people were coming to grips with what had happened. Christchurch is pretty resilient now -- you have a disaster like that and a few weeks later people are back into it. People spent a few days figuring out what needed to be done, and then they got on with it.
We were really determined to get the school open again as soon as possible after the fire, to support the grieving process, and to come back and celebrate that we are all together again and life goes on.
We made the rugby tickets available to the rugby-heads among the students directly affected by the fire. It was a lovely goodwill gesture.