Christchurch Earthquake: New Zealand Red Cross volunteers meet hidden needs

Published: 1 March 2011 22:13 CET

By Michael Gillies-Smith, Media Advisor in Christchurch, New Zealand Red Cross

The New Zealand Red Cross started a major operation to check on the welfare and needs of people in their homes in Christchurch’s eastern suburbs, which were hit hard by last Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

Police today confirmed that the death toll from the earthquake has reached 148 people and the number is expected to rise pass 200 as more than 50 people are still listed as missing.

Reaching out into the suburbs

A squad of 60 Red Cross volunteers from across the country, backed up by Red Cross welfare teams, is now going door-to-door, providing help to residents living in the suburbs of Christchurch.

“A number of people are stranded in damaged homes with no power, no water and no sewerage. Their mobile phones are dead and they have no way of contacting anyone,” said New Zealand Red Cross National Programme Manager David Neal. “As soon as we come across an issue, a Red Cross welfare team is alerted and dispatched immediately.”

Last week a young mother, 19, and her two-year-old son were found living in their car in the driveway of their home. Their house was flooded with silt and badly damaged. They did not have enough petrol in their car to get to a petrol station so the Red Cross stepped in and filled their car up with petrol, enabling them to drive to a welfare centre, where they are now being looked after.

In another case, a woman in her 80s was found sitting on the floor of her living room, in a state of shock. “She was traumatized and in a daze, not knowing what to do,” said Neal. Red Cross volunteers took her to a welfare centre, where she is being cared for.  “The scale and level of need in the suburban area is significant,” said Neal. “There are many people who need help. This is an important mission that is making a difference.”

A difficult and dangerous task

Strong aftershocks are making the task difficult and dangerous. Recent aftershocks have further damaged roads, buildings and infrastructure. The police cordon, put up to protect emergency workers, including Red Cross volunteers, constantly changes as roads buckle and damaged buildings topple down. A large area had to be blocked off last Saturday, due to a gas leak. New ways of reaching people and helping them have to be devised each day.

“It’s very dangerous work,” said Neal. “Our volunteers are well trained and well equipped and we will get the job done. “

Specially-trained Red Cross volunteers are also helping the international search and rescue teams scour the rubble in the city centre. Volunteers are also looking after 500 people temporarily housed in two welfare centres and they are registering on a national database the details and whereabouts of people affected by the quake, enabling relatives and friends to find out that they’re all right.

A global Red Cross response

National Red Cross Societies around the world have shown their solidarity for the survivors of the earthquake. The New Zealand, Australian, British and Irish Red Cross have each launched national fundraising appeals. The Japanese Red Cross has provided funding and has deployed a team of psychosocial support workers to Christchurch to help affected Japanese tourists and students and their families. The American Red Cross is working with the New Zealand Red Cross to coordinate donations in the USA.

To date, the New Zealand Red Cross Earthquake Appeal has raised more than NZD 5.2 million (CHF 3.6 million or USD 3.9 million), with substantial pledges still to come. All funds will go towards short and longer term  assistance for the people and communities affected by the earthquake. 

 “Cash is going to be vital in helping people rebuild their homes and lives. It will enable them to buy what they need most and these purchases will help revitalize local economies,” said Sir John Hansen, chair of the New Zealand Red Cross Canterbury Earthquake Commission.

Donations to the NZRC appeal can be made via Details of how to donate in Australia, Britain, Ireland, Japan and the USA can be found at these countries’ Red Cross websites,,,,, and