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Published: Friday, 2/25/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Ex-Toledoan: New Zealand like a war zone after earthquake

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Search and recovery personnel assess possible search access at the destroyed building in Christchurch. Search and recovery personnel assess possible search access at the destroyed building in Christchurch.
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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Imagine the ruins of bombed-out cities during World War II, with buildings shaking and people so scared they wonder if they are going to live through the night.

That, according to a former Toledo resident, is kind of what it’s like now in Christchurch, where an earthquake on Tuesday killed at least 113 people. More than 220 others were still missing. It’s being described as that country’s deadliest toll from a natural disaster in 80 years. Aftershocks continued there this morning.

Through a series of e-mails, Thomas W. Tripp — a 1978 St. John’s Jesuit High School graduate and a 1981 University of Toledo graduate — painted a picture of the horrifying scene in Christchurch, where he has lived since 2003. Public ­officials urged people with telephone service to use it only in the case of emergencies to help keep lines open, Mr. Tripp wrote.

“The aftershocks are the worst, to be honest,” Mr. Tripp wrote. “You just never know when one is going to hit and how strong it is going to be. I keep waiting for my chimney to fall off; if it falls one way it is not so bad. If it falls the other way, the house will be pretty much destroyed.”

He said he first hears a “low-pitched roar” and then has about five seconds to decide what to do before the aftershock arrives and shakes the ground.

And he lives in the northwest part of Christchurch, which he said fared much better than the southeast side.

Gasoline supplies are dwindling. Grocery stores are open sporadically. Water has to be boiled.

“But we are lucky in having plenty of food, sufficient water and, at the moment, electricity,” Mr. Tripp wrote.

Lucky, indeed. Immediately after the earthquake, 40 percent of Christchurch was without electricity, 80 percent was without water, and all of it had lost sewage service. It wasn’t until three days after the earthquake that authorities told residents to try using their toilets.

Mr. Tripp wrote about the scene around one beach in particular, Sumner Beach, that was cut off from the rest of the city.

“Huge rock slides have smashed untold houses,” Mr. Tripp wrote, adding that mud is blocking roads along with rocks. “People are reported to be lying dead on the very trails I walked two weeks ago, killed when huge avalanches of rocks descended on them in the middle of what up until then would have been a perfect day.”

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake is Christchurch’s second in less than six months.

It was less powerful than a 7.1-magnitude earthquake that rocked the outskirts of that New Zealand city on Sept. 4.

The most recent one was more destructive because it was closer to populated areas. No deaths were caused by the earlier one.

Christchurch police Superintendent David Cliff said this morning the latest count of bodies at a special morgue set up to deal with the dead was 113. With 228 people listed as missing, the toll of fatalities was still expected to rise.

More than 160 people were still hospitalized, and damage is estimated at $12 billion or more.

Mr. Cliff said nobody had been pulled out of the rubble alive since Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas W. Tripp Thomas W. Tripp
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Authorities kept emergency workers and others away from one of Christchurch’s tallest buildings today, concerned that it might collapse.

But engineers familiar with the city and with New Zealand’s building codes said the structure, the 26-story Hotel Grand Chancellor, had performed up to standards during the quake. It survived initially, allowing those inside to escape.

Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city, but is comparable to Toledo in size. It has 350,000 people compared to Toledo’s 315,000. Christchurch is home to the University of Canterbury, which is roughly the size of the University of Toledo, and has charming people and distinctive neighborhoods that remind him of his hometown, Mr. Tripp said.

The city is divided by the Avon River, much like the Maumee River separates most of Toledo from East Toledo, Oregon, and Toledo’s northern Wood County suburbs.

Australia, Singapore, Japan, and the United States have sent aid.

“But at the end of the day, we are a small nation very isolated from the rest of the world,” Mr. Tripp wrote.

The university has put together a “student army” of some 10,000 college-aged volunteers. They have been providing aid with the help of Civil Defence, with activities being coordinated through the social media Web site Facebook, according to Mr. Tripp.

“They are helping out in the hard-hit suburbs and doing a great job,” he wrote.

The situation seems “a bit surreal,” Mr. Tripp wrote.

“We all expected aftershocks from the 4 September earthquake, but no one expected the aftershock to be so much more devastating then the original earthquake,” he wrote. “I think this caught everyone by surprise.

“I happened to be home when it hit and at first I thought it was just another aftershock,” he continued. “But the house was moving so violently I held onto the kitchen bench to remain standing; it was impossible to move or duck under anything. Imagine living in a house trailer that is falling off a cliff — except you are in a ‘real’ house. That is how much it was moving.”

Mr. Tripp said he obtained a master’s degree in business administration from Cleveland State University in 1984 after graduating magna cum laude from UT.

He and his estranged wife had been living in Florida, but decided to return to her native New Zealand after she “became increasingly anxious” about living in the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

Mr. Tripp, a former investment manager, said he retrained himself as a school teacher.

He has taught mathematics at Rangiora High School in Christchurch since 2005, he said.

The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report.



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