Wednesday, 30 September 2009

New Zealand helicopter pilot in middle of Sumatra earthquake

Damage in Pedang. Photo: BBC.
It's 6.45 am. Grabbed an hour's sleep between 4.45 and 5.45 am. Conducted over 35 interviews during the night. Just said goodbye to the boys as they left to catch the school bus.

The best first hand account I have got so far if from my old friend Colin Tuck. Tucky is one of New Zealand's best helicopter pilots and is based in a village called Battang Toro west north west of Pedang. His company services oil rigs drilling out in the Indian Ocean. He felt the quake yesterday and said it was a huge shake and just went on and on. With a wry sense of humour he said, " I was with 4 Aussies when the quake struck, and they were shitting themselves, but being a Kiwi living on the faultline in NZ, I handled it OK." Tucky then informed me that as a boy he lived through the Inangahua earthquake, the biggest ever to hit New Zealand in 1968. I think it was an 8.9 or 9.0 on the Richter scale. I knew Tucky when he was a helicopter pilot at Fox Glacier and I was in charge of alpine rescue. We did a few rescues together.

Tucky said its raining heavily and he has been unable to take off. He said the weather is clearing.

I've been in touch with Wayne Ulrich my disaster management coordinator who is trying to get a flight from Medan to Padang. If that fails we will try to see if Tucky can fly him in. Wayne will be joining the Indonesian Red Cross DM staff . We are getting reports that the Indonesian Red Cross has 30 community based action teams on the ground providing first aid and rescue, and 12 assessment teams. Fift volunteers Red Cross doctors are flying in to provide medical help. During the past 18 months the Indonesian Red Cross have conducted an extensive disaster preparedness programme in the area and have relief supplies on hand. Will keep you posted.


A day of Tsunami's and earthquakes

Scores of people are reported to have been killed in the Samoan Islands after a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 triggered a series of tsunami waves early Tuesday local time. (Cynthia Luafalealo/REUTERS/courtesy

At 2 a.m this morning I was listening to a cricket match between New Zealand and England via New Zealand Radio Sports when a Breaking News headline flashed across my screen, saying Tsunami in Samoa. My mind flashed back 30 years when I was a young disaster preparedness delegate working on earthquake and cyclone preparedness based in Fiji and covering 15 Pacific Islands. I used to visit Western Samoa and Tonga regularly so could envisage the coastlines that were effected. I felt so helpless being so far away. So all day long I kept a silent vigil on various web sites to piece together the news. Fortunately the Samoan Red Cross were on the spot with volunteers and were doing a sterling job.

At 17.15 local time I received a report that an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale shook the coastline of Sumatra. The earthquake struck at a depth of 71 km off the coast, reportedly 57 kms south west of Pariaman District in Western Sumatra, with strong tremors felt in the provinces of Bengkulu and neighbouring West Sumatra.

A tsunami alert was issued but later withdrawn.
Telecommunications are damaged disrupting communication networks and phone lines. There is still no clear information as to the level of damage or the number of injuries or fatalities; however several media outlets report that hundreds of houses have been damaged and there are reports of several fires in the affected area. There have been some eyewitness reports about damage to bridges and water pipes are also reportedly damaged flooding some of the streets.

BNPB received reports that there has been damage to the Padang airport facilities.

According to reports in the affected area a hospital in Padang City, the University of Andalas, and hundreds of houses are reportedly damaged, and fire is burning one market and some houses.

In Padang City, electricity is cut off and telecommunication is interrupted as some electricity towers are damaged. There are no reports of damage in Mentawai islands however people were reportedly panicked and fled to higher ground.

The earthquake was felt in North Sumatra and Singapore, several hundred kilometers away.

The Red Cross has mobilised ten assessment teams who are attempting to reach the affected area to carry out needs assessments. The main difficulty they currently face is access - this is a remote area over 100 kms from Padang. Communications have been disrupted and there are a lot of people in a state of panic on the roads who are trying to reach or leave the area.

About 18 months ago an earthquake affected the Benkulu district so the Indonesian Red Cross has given a lot of support to communities for earthquake preparedness so hopefully this is paying dividends.

I have a team of four people ready to fly in at first light and most are in Medan or Aceh, not too far from the affected area.

UPDATE: Four hours after the quake:

Thousands are trapped under rubble and at least 13 die officials say.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The third man factor

In 1953, Austrian mountaineer Herman Buhl (left)became the first person to climb Nanga Parbat in the ¬Himalayas—at 26,660 feet, the ninth tallest peak in the world. He climbed by himself and not far from the summit was forced to spend the night out in the open without a sleeping bag or tent. It was an agonizing ¬bivouac, but Buhl survived—in part, he later wrote, ¬because he sensed that he shared the ordeal with a ¬companion. "I had an extraordinary feeling," he wrote, "that I was not alone."

Chris Timms on the East Ridge of Mount Cook Aoraki, Christmas Day 1971. Later that day we felt the third man factor. Photo: Bob McKerrow

On Christmas Day 1971, I climbed the East Ridge of Mount Cook Aoraki, with Chris Timms, (who later went on to win a gold medal in yatching in the 1984 Olympics). As we climbed the ridge, we could see the weather closing in, but continued on. Approaching the summit ridge, just below the middle peak, we struck gale force winds and white out/ blizzard conditions. We had planned to climb back over the middle and high peaks, and descend by the Linda Ice Shelf route to Plateau Hut, where we had commenced the climb fifteen hours before. Once we crested the summit ridge the wind almost lifted us off our feet. We found a small hole to shelter in while we discussed our predicament. To continue over the high peak would have been suicidal as the wind would have ripped us off the ridge.To retrace our route, would have been very difficult as the east ridge is very exposed and not an easy descent route. As we didn’t have adequate bivouac gear, we decided to descend down into the Empress ice shelf, to Empress Hut. Neither of us knew this route, or precisely where the hut was situated, but it appeared to be the quickest and safest way off the mountain. In virtual white out conditions we moved 50 to 100 metres down the ridge towards the low peak of Mt. Cook Aoraki. Then we started descending a very steep face. Chris took a fall and I managed to hold him and half an hour later, I took a tumble and Chris arrested me. We were lost, freezing in the blizzard conditions, but knew the only way out was to keep climbing or fumbling our way down to the Empress ice shelf. Chris was ahead of me and I was frightened, and struggled to concerntrate. I felt someone was behind me on the rope, but knew Chris was below me. The presence cheered me and I felt in control again. After descending for two hours, we were both exhausted. There was a third person with us. I could feel him encouraging me on. We felt we were not far from the ice shelf. Thirty minutes later the steep slopes lessened, and we couldn’t see more than 3 or 4 metres. We were lost. Again I felt the strong presence of a third person urging us on.

Mount Cook Aoraki. The East Ridge is on the skyline left of the photo: Photo: Bob McKerrow

Chris and I started to argue over where Empress Hut would likely to be. Suddenly in the midst of a gale, the storm and clouds parted showing a fresh pair of footprints. “Who made them” I said as I looked Chris in the eye. It became quiet. We didn’t hesitate a minute and followed the tracks to Empress Hut which was about 300 metres away. The tracks stopped there. There was only one set of footprints from us to the hut. Looking down valley there were no footprints. We checked the hut book and no one had been in the hut for five days. I went outside again to check down valley, but there were no foot prints. It was clear to me that the third man had made the footprints and saved us from possible death.

Accounts of experiencing a supportive presence in extreme situations—sometimes called the "third-man phenomenon"—are common in mountaineering ¬literature. In 1933, Frank Smythe made it to within a 1,000 feet of the summit of Mount Everest before ¬turning around. On the way down, he stopped to eat a mint cake, cutting it in half to share with . . . someone who wasn't there but who had seemed to be his ¬partner all day. Again on Nanga Parbat, on a 1970 climb during which his brother died, Reinhold Messner ¬recalled being accompanied by a companion who ¬offered ¬wordless comfort and encouragement.
To research further on this fascinating topic, the third man factor, I have just read The Third Man Factor by John Geiger, a fellow at the University of Toronto. He presents many accounts of such experiences, and not only from climbers. Among those who have felt a ghostly companionship he cites Charles Lindbergh on his solo flight across the -Atlantic in 1927 and the last man to walk out of the South Tower of the World Trade ¬Center before it ¬collapsed on 9/11. "Over the years," Geiger writes, "the ¬experience has ¬occurred again and again, not only to 9/11 survivors, mountaineers, and ¬divers, but also to ¬polar explorers, -prisoners of war, solo sailors, shipwreck ¬survivors, aviators, and -astronauts. All have ¬escaped ¬traumatic events only to tell strikingly similar stories of having experienced the close presence of a companion and helper." .

One of the most famous stories involves polar ¬explorer Ernest Shackleton, who set off with two ¬volunteers, in January 1915, to fetch help for the crew of his ship the Endurance, then sunk under Antarctic ice. ¬After navigating perilous seas and crossing glaciers and mountains on foot, Shackleton recalled feeling that someone else was among them. "It seemed to me often that we were four, not three," he wrote. -Shackleton's ¬actual companions told him that they, too, felt the ¬presence of another person. T.S. Eliot used the incident for a passage in "The Waste Land." ("Who is the third who walks always beside you?" Eliot wrote. "When I count, there are only you and I together.")

In 1970 I was one of four men who wintered over at Vanda Station, a remote base in Antarctica. I was 21 at the start of winter. We were the smallest party to winter over in the history of Antarctica. Fire was our biggest risk and every four weeks. I would be alone from 9pm to 6am on fire watch. I would have to walk every three hours 100 metres in the pitch black to the meteorological screen to take readings. Every hour I would walk from the main building to the science lab. The temperatures were as low as -40 to -50 o C, and the stones on the ground would crunch loudly as I stood on them. Initially I was a little on edge as I began feeling something unusual. By late April, when it became dark for 24 hours a day. I gradually felt someone was with me as I walked between buildings and to take weather readings. It was a comforting presence, and I never felt afraid or lonely from then on.

Men behave strangely in the long winter Antarctic night. Here Gary Lewis, washing in a tin bath, with a sailing ship in one hand, a whiskey in the other. I wintered over with Gary at Vanda Station in 1970. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The theories for explaining the third-man ¬experience vary widely. Ron DiFrancesco, the 9/11 survivor who walked out of the South Tower, is convinced that a divine being was by his side, and indeed a spiritual interpretation is common. Scientists, by contrast, have discovered how to evoke the sensation of a shared ¬presence by stimulating the brain with -electricity. Messner, the mountaineer, leans toward the idea that the third-man phenomenon is a survival strategy hard-wired into the brain. "The body is ¬inventing ways to provide company," he says.
Although Geiger never shoots down any specific theory, he seems to endorse a biochemical ¬explanation. "It is possibly even an evolutionary -adaption," he writes. "Imagine the advantage for ¬primitive man, ¬perhaps -separated during a hunt, alone far from his tribal group, to have the guiding hand of a companion pointing the way home." But the -phenomenon is not limited to ¬people in extremis. Geiger notes that children often experience ¬real-seeming "imaginary friends," while -widows and widowers say that they feel the presence of a ¬deceased spouse.
"The Third Man represents a real and potent force for survival," Geiger writes, "and the ability to ¬access this power is a factor, perhaps the most -important factor, in determining who will succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds, and who will not." Geiger, however, is at a loss to explain why some can access this power and others can't.

He recounts the example of Maurice Wilson,(left) an ¬Englishman who most historians consider slightly ¬unhinged. In 1934, Wilson decided to climb his first mountain: Everest. He actually made it to almost 22,000 feet (more than two-thirds of the way to the top). "I feel there is somebody with me in tent all the time," he wrote in his diary. He pressed on alone in ¬terrible ¬conditions, leaving his Sherpa porters behind. Soon ¬after, he died. "It is unknown," Geiger writes, "if his invisible companion stayed with him during his final hours." The lesson? "There is no saving the life of one who will not be saved. The Third Man requires a willing partner."
Of course there may be many others who, like ¬Wilson, ¬experienced a third man and died ¬anyway—but who left no account, never wanes.
"Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will," Geiger says. "There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion. There could be no stress in life that we would ever again have to ¬confront alone."
From experiencing this third man factor myself and having read other people’s account extensively, I tend to agree with DiFrancesco, the 9/11 survivor who walked out of the South Tower, that a divine being was with me.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The last Antarctic Huskies - from Scott Base

Mike and Kulak, Scott Base huskies. During the summer of 1969-70, they were the two best dogs on my team. Chris Knott used Rangi as his lead dog. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Polar medals, knighthoods, and a host of accolades have been bestowed on those who have carved their names in Antarctic ice, but of the hundreds of faithful huskies who pulled their hearts out opening up the New Zealand sector of Antarctica, what is their memorial?

A lone husky in Central Park New York, honours one husky, Balto, who in 1925 saved a community in Alaska from Diphtheria. Huskies at Scott base saved one New Zealander, George Marsh from dying of Diphtheria, but no bugles or no drums for them !

After heated newspapers debates in January 1986 when the DSIR’s Antarctic Division announced they were pulling the huskies out of Antarctica, not a lot has been written about them since. In this article I attempt to give the full history of huskies that lived at Scott Base and played such in vital role in surveying and exploring the New Zealand sector of Antarctica.

Two of the best: Rangi (left) and Oscar (right) 1969 Scott Base. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The start of New Zealand’s involvement in acquiring dogs for pulling sledges in Antarctica starts in 1955 when mountain guide at Franz Josef, Harry Ayres was selected by Sir Edmund Hillary for the first New Zealand Antarctic Expedition. Harry was attached initially to the Australian Antarctic Expedition engaged in the relief of Mawson Station where the Australians had promised 26 huskies, bred at Mawson.

Finding money for the expedition and for the dogs in particular, was difficult. The government gave a grant of 50,000 pounds but the rest of the money was raised by the strenuous efforts of innumerable district committees and private individuals. The greatest per capita enthusiasm was shown by children. The boys of Wellington College contributed $300, enough to pay for a sledge and a dog. Some youngsters raised money by rearing and selling guinea pigs and tadpoles! With the expedition running on a shoe string budget, Harry left Sydney aboard the Ice-breaker Kista Dan. He sailed on to Melbourne, passed by Heard Island with its amazing sheer pinnacle of rock, ‘Big Ben’. Before reaching Antarctica, the Soviets who were establishing their first Antarctic base made contact with the ship. At Mawson, Harry had his first opportunity to learn something about huskies. These dogs were the descendants of huskies of Greenland-Labrador cross (Malamutes) that were presented to the Australians by the ill-fated ship, the Commandant Charcot, which failed to reach the Antarctic in 1949 as part of the French Government’s attempt to establish a base in Antarctica. The dogs were off -loaded in Hobart.

Harry Ayres and Murray Douglas, two top dog handlers

Harry Ayres returned with 26 huskies via Kerguelen Island, a French Antarctic Base, arriving in Melbourne in March 1956. The final stage to New Zealand was abroad a Bristol Freighter which flew to Brisbane, Norfolk Island, Auckland and finally Christchurch. By now the dogs were tired and upset by the noise and heat. The final stage of the journey was by army truck to Mount Cook where they were tethered in a wire enclosure beyond the Hooker Bridge from March to June 1956.

Click on this photo to see the expedition training on the Tasman Glacier/

Today, the place is named Husky Flat. In June, Harry Ayres was joined my Murray Douglas and two men Hillary selected from the UK: Dr George Marsh and Lt. Commander Richard Brooke.

Richard Brookes

They were both experienced dog handlers having spent seven years in the Polar Regions. The dogs were kept fit, most days they pulled an old car without an engine up to Ball Hutt and back, much to the amazement of bewildered tourists. Some trips over the hooker flats were attempted but inevitably the dogs would become entangled in the Matagouri bushes. It was with some relief for both dogs and handlers when they moved up the Tasman Glacier to Malte Brun Hutt in June 1956. The conditions were so much better with the dogs spanned out in the snow around the hut.

While the first 26 huskies, which were soon to become 34 with the arrival of puppies, were enjoying the snow of the Tasman Glacier, 12 more huskies were being loaded into the HMNZS Endeavour on the 18th of August 1956 at Butler’s Wharf on the South Bank of Thames just below the Tower Bridge. The huskies were housed in kennels on the ship foredeck and, except for a spell of rough water in the Bay of Biscay when they were all sick, they withstood the long journey to New Zealand well, via Kingston, Jamaica, Panama Canal and Tahiti.

In Tahiti the crew and the dogs received traditional Tahitian hospitality with each of the dogs being garlanded with flowers. After eight weeks out from London the dogs landed in Auckland where they were quarantined in Auckland Zoo until they went south.

Fifteen husky pups, bred at the Auckland Zoo, were about nine months old when they arrived at Mt. Cook for the further training. One reliable source believes these pups were bred from descendants of the dogs used by Admiral Richard Byrd for his 1928-30 Expedition to Antarctica.

On 21 December 1956 when the HMNZS Endeavour, left Bluff she carried with her most of the men and dogs ready to set up New Zealand’s first base in Antarctica, Twenty-four of the remaining dogs, mostly the untrained dogs from Greenland and some of the Auckland Zoo pups, were taken to Scott base aboard the American cargo ship the SS. Private John R. Towie a WW2 Victory Class cargo ship.

On January 5 1957, the majority of the 61 huskies set their paws on Antarctic ice. After some local training trips with the dog teams a longer trip commenced. On 19 January 1957 three teams left Scott Base to cross the McMurdo and Ross Ice Shelves to the Skelton Glacier, but five days later they were back. George Marsh got terribly sick a few days out and with poor radio communications, Brooke and Peter Mulgrew made a mercy dash back to get medical help. Sensing the urgency, the dogs covered the 50 km back to Scott base in just over seven hours, a speed of just over 7km an hour. Marsh was airlifted out the next day suffering from diphtheria

Dr George Marsh

This was not the first time huskies have been involved in life-saving action against diphtheria. A monument of the most famous Greenland Husky of all, Ba lto, in Central Park New York, keeps the courageous image of this breed alive. Photoof Balto below.

In 1925, the gold rush town of Nome in Alaska, was threatened by a diphtheria epidemic in the middle of a dark winter, and the only way to save the lives of over 2,000 inhabitants, was to get a twenty pound packet of diphtheria anti- toxin over a trail that usually took 25 days. The word was flashed out by telegraph from Nenana, Alaska to diphtheria stricken Nome, over 674 miles of the roughest, most desolate country in the world. The route was known as the Iditarod mail trail, now a famous dog sled race.

The dog drivers were predominantly Innuit, Athabascan Indians and Scandinavians. The little Norwegian Sepal with his lead dog Togo, made 84 miles in one day. Gunnar Kasson ran the last 55 miles to Nome, with 13 dogs. He left in total darkness and in an 80 mph wind driven snow storm. The lead dog Balto an Inuit Siberian, put his nose down and sniffed and felt his way along the hidden trail. In the tradition of the great Innuit huskies, Balto, ears flattened against his head, to keep out the driving snow, nose working to pick up the trail, guided his team, driver and serum to Nome. When they reached their destination at 5.30 am on February 2nd, the half frozen Kasson collapsed by his battered dog team and began pulling ice from Balto’s frozen feet. “Balto”, he was heard to mumble…..” Damn fine dog.”

A seal is butchered by Richard Brooke for some hungry dogs, (plus some seal liver for the dog handlers, see on the right!) Spring Journey, at the Stranded Moraines, Sept. 1957. Photo. Bernie Gunn.

During the summer of 1957, the New Zealand expedition huskies went on many trips with their drivers moulding and training them into solid teams.. However, training the dogs had its moments. Bob Millar describes one of those periods when the dogs would do nothing right. “ Dog trouble was with us yesterday and it looks like it will be another problem day. “ We were so exasperated that we turned a bitch loose and the dogs, like a pack of rugby forwards, surged forward, never noticing the 1000 pound load behind them.”

At Midwinter's Eve,1957 Bob Miller deputy leader says a few words. Bob, or Sir J Holmes as he later became, was an artilleryman in the desert in the war. On left is Dr Trevor Hatherton, geophysist and IGY chief. On right is Dr Ron Balham, our resident biologist. He also was co-opted for a time into driving tractors to the Pole.

The greatest feat of exploration in Antarctica by New Zealanders using dog teams was the Northern Party of The Trans Antarctic Expeditions (1955-58) which left Scott Base on the 4th of October 1957, comprising, Brooke, Gunn, Warren and Douglas.

The Northern Party at Corner Peak, Feb. 1958. Photo: Bernie Gunn

They returned to Scott base on February 6th 1958 having travelled over 1000 miles by dog sledge and had obtained the information required for the preliminary geological and topological mapping of 20,000 square miles of rugged mountain country. In terms of knowledge gained, geological, exploratory and topographical, this journey might well be regarded as the most rewarding in Antarctic history. A tribute to the two teams of huskies that pulled all the equipment, food and supplies for 127 days.

A photo taken by Bernie Gunn when he used dogs on an expedition to climb Mount Huggins.

By late 1959 the dog population at Scott Base had dwindled to 26 dogs. The New Zealanders, realising the usefulness of the dogs for field work, decided to search for more dogs. In May 1960, Wally Herbert, Dr. Hugh Simpson and Myrtle Simpson (a New Zealander) were driving through Arctic Norway and in an old Austin van, planning to explore Spitzenbergen. Wally and Hugh had spent many years in Antarctica together. Late in May they arrived in Tromso, the northern-most village in Norway, renowned as a starting point for Arctic expeditions, having seen Nansen, Amundsen, Sverdrup and many others depart here by ship for the unknown. In this remote Arctic village, Wally Herbert received a telegramme from the New Zealand Government asking him to go to Greenland and buy twelve dogs for the NZ Antarctic Expedition, and transport them via the USA, Hawaii, Fiji and Christchurch to Scott Base where he was invited to join the expedition for two summers and one winter.

An early Antarctic Husky listening to a grammaphone. Photo taken by Herbert Ponting on Scott's Terra Nova Expedition.

Wally carried on with his expedition on Spitzenberge (now Svalbard) for a few weeks, before he had to kayak along the coast to Longyaerbyen to catch a boat back to Norway. Three weeks later he arrived in Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland. He made his way to Jacobshavn which had a dog population of over 3000: two dogs to every human being. This village had supplied dogs to many polar expeditions and there was always great excitement when ‘Kabloona’s’ (whitemen) came to buy dogs. Wally recalls his days in Jacobshavn, “the villagers were delightful old rogues to deal with when it came to buying dogs, and some of my happiest recollections of Greenland are the wranglings between dog owners and myself through interpreters. I often received the most incongruous answers that were presumably lost in the translation, but by drawing portraits of dog owners and priming them just before the final purchase with a crate of beer, I eventually got the dogs I wanted.”

The Greenland huskies were flown south aboard a Globemaster of the US Military Air Transport Service from California, arriving at Scott Base at the end of October 1960.

The 1963-64 summers saw the end of an era in Antarctica with the introduction of ‘Tin Dogs’, motor toboggans, winding up a decade of dramatic journeys by dog sledge. It was fitting that Bob (Sir Holmes) Miller, Ed Hillary’s deputy on the TAE, led the last major New Zealand dog sledge expedition. In 101 days, this expedition collection over 500 geological specimens from 145 localities, occupied over 50 stations. In all they sledged 1600 miles and surveyed 49,000 square miles of previously unmapped country.

From 1964 onwards, most New Zealand field parties moved about by motor toboggan. The dog teams continued to be used for short scientific and field trips of a recreational nature.

When I arrived at Scott Base in October 1969 I did numerous trips with Chris Knott the dog handler.

Chris Knott, dog handler Scott Base 1969-70, hitching up a team to the sledge at Scott Base, Photo: Bob McKerrow

Often we would set off with a team each and race over the ice shelf towards Mt. Lister and Huggins, or visit the Shackleton and Scott Huts at Cape Royds and Cape Evans. In a strange way, although being a science technician, I became the second dog handler and helped Chris to train, to feed them, and to assist him with the unpleasant tasks of killing aging seals to feed them over the winter. My lead dog was Rangi and he was an enormously strong dog and I spent many sunny evenings down at the dog lines talking to the dogs one by one, but Rangi always got special attention.

Chris Knott leaving the dog lines at Scott Base, for a training trip 1969. : Bob McKerrow

From 1970 onwards, efforts were made to acquire dogs from other Antarctic bases to minimise in-breeding. In 1975 a bitch and a dog came in by Twin Otter from the British Base Rothera. They evidently mated in the air over the South Pole and their progeny were successfully integrated into the Scott Base teams. In 1979 pairs of huskies were exchanged between Mawson Station and Scott Base.

In January 1986 when the DSIR’s Antarctic Division announced they were pulling the huskies out of Antarctica, Christchurch newspapers debated the issue at length. While this debate was raging, I was slugging it out on the Arctic Ocean with 49 huskies, as a member of Will Steger’s International North Pole Expedition. During the training period and on the expedition, Will often quizzed me on Antarctica and of his dream to cross the continent with dogs.

Will Steger driving a team of dogs on his 1986 North Pole Expedition

When I returned to New Zealand I saw an opportunity for the Scott Base dogs to be kept together, and to go to a good home with Will Steger, the veteran Arctic explorer, at his homestead near Ely Minnesota where he runs a dog sledding outdoor centre. I began negotiations on behalf of Will Steger with Bob Thomson, Director of NZ Antarctic Division. That was in the days before New Zealand’s Antarctic bureaucracy had reached its politically correct zenith, and the deal was finally sealed with a handshake and a few beers with Bob Thomson. The Scott Base Huskies’ had their last winter in Antarctica in 1986.

The author, Bob McKerrow on a training trip with Will Steger on Baffin Island in 1986.Photo: Will Steger

The last outing by the Scott Base dog team was on 17 January 1987.

The dogs on the team were: Jens, Bjorn, Footrots, Odin, Kiri, Nimrod, Tania, Stareek, Julick, Monty, Herbie, Casper. Tama and Rehua

Each name has a history. Monty after Colin Monteath a mountaineer and Antarctic traveller, Odin after Mt. Odin overlooking Vanda station and named by Colin Bull, Nimrod after Shackleton’s ship. Arnold Heine, veteran of countless trips in Antarctica, calculates there have been between 500 and 600 named dogs at Scott Base in the 30 years they have been in the NZ sector of Antarctica.

Arnold Heine on Mt. Harmsworth in 1957. Photo: Bernie Gunn

Grant Gillespie, the last dog handler sent me an envelope with the names of all the dogs, a special post mark, and Ross Dependency stamps, and the words:

Carried on the last dog sledge journey made in Antarctica by the Scott Base Dogs – 17 January 1987.

On February 4 1987 at midday, the US ship the Greenwave, entered Lyttelton Harbour delivering the last 14 Scott Base huskies. Accompanying them, was Grant Gillespie, the last dog handler. Watching on the wharf were many people who had close association with the Huskies such as Murray Douglas, who, with moist eyes, spoke to me about his days training the first Scott Base Huskies at Mount Cook and then accompanying them to Scott Base in 1956-57, veterinarian David Marshall who had worked with the health of the dogs for over 12 years. Pete Cleary, dog handler at British Antarctic bases for two years, and dog handler at Scott Base in 1978-79, Richard Balm dog handler in 1985-86, Eric Saxby who had done so much in organising the return of the dogs, and Bob Thomson, Director of Antarctic Division, were there. One 81 year old woman I spoke to said she saw the dogs off in 1956 and was pleased to welcome their offspring back.

This was the type of terrain the Antarctic Huskies excelled in, rugged, at altitude and remote. Taken near the Beardsmore Glacier.Photo: Bob McKerrow

As I boarded the ship to help take the dogs off, I was impressed with their condition. They were excited and looking at me with anticipation. I spent a lot of time at Will Steger’s homestead on a Lake near Ely, Minnesota in preparation for the 1986 North Pole expedition, and knew they would have a great home there, and a possibility of returning to Antarctica with Will.

Bob McKerrow guides a reluctant husky off the ship in Lyttleton. Grant Gillespie passes behind.

David Marshall checked each dog as we put them in cages and loaded them onto a truck. Murray Douglas took great interest and remarked “: They looked similar to the ones he took down.” My two daughters, Tania and Kira helped Grant, Eric and I load the dogs on the truck. Eric drove the truck as I sat on the deck with 14 howling dogs in cages; a curious traffic officer passed on a motor bike and stood up on his footrests and gazed at the dogs, and decided that asking questions would not help anyone.

Man and dog in Antarctica. Photo: Bob McKerrow

We got the dogs to the airport and we lugged their cages into a refrigerated chamber. The dogs were now mine. Will Steger said he would pay for the air freight to the US, but the money had not arrived. It was 5 pm. I knew if I presented my American Express Card, the woman on the counter would phone Amex HQ in Auckland, and from previous experience, I would be declined. I knew from previous experienced the office closed at 5.30 pm in Auckland, so I dithered around pretending to be examining the dog’s condition. At about 5.45 pm I presented my Amex card and the women said, “ I think the office for verification is closed. Do you have a good credit rating ?” Deliberately lying through my teeth, I said “I am wealthy, no problem “ and she gave me a bill for NZ$ 25,000. Will’s money came into my account a few days later.

Grant Gillespie had agreed to fly with the dogs via Nadi, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Denver, finally arriving in Aspen Colorado on 25 February 1987. Sadly, on arrival it was discovered that one dog had died, it was Stareek, a seven and a half year male. Stareek was the name of one of Scott’s dogs and in Russian means “ The old man.” The old man had led his team all the way to the US, and an autopsy revealed he had died of stress. All the other dogs arrived in perfect condition.

Keizo Funatsu describes meeting the dogs at Snowmass Colorado for the first time. “ I worked for Krabloonik Kennel there and Grant brought them over before they went to Minnesota. They had never seen trees and were fascinated by them, and slowly learned to take a pee on trees! “

Grant settled the dogs in at Will Steger’s homestead in Ely Minnesota before returning to New Zealand some months later.

Two years later, five of the 13 Scott Base dogs were selected for an arduous crossing of Antarctica with Will Steger’s International Trans-Antarctic expedition

In March 1990, Will Steger completed what no man had ever before attempted: the crossing of Antarctica on foot using dogs to pull the sledges. Steger and his International Trans-Antarctica Team performed an extraordinary feat of endurance covering 3741 miles.

In his book Crossing Antarctica, Will Steger describes the performance of the former Scott Base Dogs:

“Keizo’s team is the unruliest of the three, comprised of the five Antarctic dogs and seven from the Homestead…”

The five Antarctic dogs were: Bjorn the leader, Odin, Monty, Herbie and Casper. Of the thirty-six dogs that set out on the Trans-Antarctic journey, only twelve completed the full 3,741 miles. Three of them were from Scott Base, Bjorn, Monty and Herbie. Their Antarctic births at New Zealand’s Scott Base, strong genes and acclimatisation were a key factor. Monty was taken by Kenzo back to Japan, along with another dog, Kinta, to Osaka, where Kenzo used them as the foundation for a new dog team that he used at an outdoor centre he set up.

Five years later fear of the impact of dogs on wildlife led to a new clause in the Antarctic treaty: 'Dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs currently in those areas shall be removed by April 1994.' The last dogs were removed from Antarctica on 22 February 1994, 96 years after Huskies were first used for transport in Antarctica during the Southern Cross expedition under the Norwegian, Carsten Borchgrevink, in 1898 -1900

Fittingly, to close the story, I quote from the letter I received from Keizo Funatsu (photo below)on 1 September 2009

Hello Bob,
I am Keizo Funatsu. I received an email from Will Steger about you. I had the New Zealand Antarctica dogs during the Trans-Antarctic expedition 20 years ago. I have been living in Alaska for 15 years. I miss all Antarctic dogs. Their power was incredible to compare to Alaskan huskies here.

Monty and Herbie were brothers, both 4 years old and strong dogs. Bjorn was one of the leaders and the oldest dog in the Antarctica team. I think he was 6 years old. Those three Antarctic dogs completed the journey. Casper and Odin flew back when the aeroplane came to us on our way the South Pole. Odin got frostbite and I forgot why Casper flew out.

Bjorn was 8 years old when he completed the Antarctic trip. He was a good leader.
Monty and Herbie were strong fighters but they were steady workers and cute dogs.
All male Antarctica dogs were fighters among them but it was fun to work with.

Monty went to Japan to breed with some other dogs in Hokkaido, the northern-most island in Japan. Monty bred with the offspring of the dogs which Naomi Uemura brought back from his trip in the Arctic. Naomi was a famous Japanese explorer who died on the Mt. Denali right after his successful first solo winter ascent.

Kinta who came from the Eskimo village in Canada completed the journey and went to Japan. Kinta went to Hokkaido and worked for the outdoor school there.

For me, the journey is completed. The offspring of the New Zealand’s Scott Base dogs returned to their rightful place, the northern parts of the world after 31 years of useful work in Antarctica. For posterity, I list the names of the last Scott Base dogs and their details:

Thanks to David Harrowfield, Colin Monteath, Arnold Heine, Grant Gillespie, Will Steger, Keizo Funatsu and Gary Lewis for assistance with his article


Name Date of birth Sire
Odin m 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Tania f 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Casper m 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Herb m 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Monty m 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Kiri f 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Bjorn m 15-12-82 Tama and Helga
Footrots m 09-09-81 Julick and Abbe
Tama m 02-06-80 Muff and Cherry
Stereek m 09-12-79 Muff and Kiritea
Rehua f 14-06-79 Dick and Karen
Nimrod m 14-06-79 Dick and Karen
Julick m 14-06-09 Dick and Karen
Jens m 28-7-78 Huka and Kuia

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bamboo Shelters for victims of Indonesian earthquake - Learning from past experiences.

Learning from previous earthquakes. 13 days after the severe earthquake in West Java, the Indonesian Red Cross build the first transitional shelters out of new bamboo (see left of picture) and use the old roof tiles from the collapsed house in the centre-right of the picture. This must be a record in the previous history of the early recovery phase of earthquakes, in getting strong transitional shelters up so quickly. Photo: Bob McKerrow
PMI volunteers work round the clock to put up strong bamboo shelters for earthquake victims at Sukamana village near to the top of Malabar, an ancient volcano in West Java. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A tent city has been assembled by the Indonesian Red Cross at Sukamana village. Photo: Bob McKerrow

It’s two weeks ago today that a serious earthquake struck West Java here in Indonesia.
Latest figures put the number of people displaced at 177,490 and 65,592 houses severely damaged.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the work being done by the Indonesian Red Cross when I travelled with the Chairman and Secretary General after the strong earthquake that struck western Java on the afternoon of 2 September, 2009. Staff and volunteers of the Indonesian Red Cross or Palang Merah Indonesia (PMI) were deployed immediately to do assessments and in the first 48 hours 1,500 family tents, 3,000 tarpaulins, 5,000 blankets and sleeping mats as well as 1000 hygiene kits were dispatched to the affected areas.

Yesterday I was so excited to see the brilliant work being done by the PMI, especially in getting the first bamboo transitional shelters up. The PMI learned valuable lessons from the Yogyakarta earthquake that struck Central Java in 2006, when they quickly built 12,500 transitional shelters out of bamboo, at a cost of approximately US$ 170. These shelters have a life of up to five years and the enable people to get out of tents within a few months.
The PMI plan to build an initial 3000 transitional bamboo shelters.

Yesterday we had a meeting on site with Mar'ie Muhammad, Chairman PMI, Iyang Sukandar Secretary General PMI, and Bill Marsden, country coordinator Australian Red Cross about increasing the number of shelters. Experienced volunteers from the Yogyakarta Chapter PMI have come to this affected area and are using their construction experience from the Yogyakarta earthquake, to put quality shelters up quickly.

The secretary-general PMI Iyang Sukandar (right) discusses the merits of a recently constructed bamboo transitional shelter built by PMI volunteers. They plan to build 3000 such shelters in the coming weeks. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Many houses in Bandung district are totally destroyed. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A tangle of roof beams is all that remains of one house in Jagabaya village, Bandung district. Photo: Bob McKerrow
People are clearing the rubbish from collapsed houses in Ciamis after an earthquake hit West Java. Photo by: Kikin Kuswandi/Indonesian Red Cross

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Traditional houses at Ono Limbu, Nias Island, Indonesia. The houses are set on a series of vertical pillars (enomo) which are not anchored into the ground, but rest on stone blocks. Secondly, the vertical pillars are reinforced by slanting piles (ndriwa), which created very resistant earthquake-proof three-dimensional structure. This is why the traditional structures survived the 2005 earthquake. The Red Cross, in building houses, took into consideration the tradition of building in wood, and built houses out of wood in consultation with communities. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I came back from Nias last week and said I would post a few photos and write about my trip. On my four earlier trips, I got glimpses of the culture and visited a World Heritage site in southern Nias, but this time, while inspecting one of our many water, sanitation and housing projects, I discovered a very traditional village named Ono Limbu. Here I saw many traditional houses and stone statues, pillars, columns, flat stones and Stonehenge type arrangements. It was utterly fascinating, I would like to write a little on the Megalithic culture and to do so, I have borrowed from papers written by the Nias Cultural Musuem and also from Wikipedia.

Some historians and archaeologists have cited the local culture as one of the few remaining Megalithic cultures in existence today. While this point of view is hotly debated, there is no doubt that Nias' relative geographic isolation has created a unique culture. Nias best known for its remarkable diversity of festivals and celebration. The most well known events are War Dances, performed regularly for tourists, and Stone Jumping, a manhood ritual that sees young men leaping over two meter stone towers to their fate. In the past the top of the stone board is covered with spikes and sharp pointed bamboo. The music of Nias, performed mostly by women, is noted worldwide for its haunting beauty.

A warrior in battle dress in the Nias Heritage Museum. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Gunungsitoli is home to Nias's only museum, the Museum Pusaka Nias (Nias Heritage Foundation), which houses over 6000 objects related to Nias's cultural heritage. The museum had recently built a new building and had improved their storage and exhibitions when the 2004 earthquake and tsunami occurred. The museum suffered some damage to the grounds and collections, but museum staff are working to recover from this devastating event. More on that later.

Stone Statues outside a house in Ono Limbu, Nias Island. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The predominant religion is Protestant Christianity. Six out of seven Niasans are Protestant; the remainder are about evenly divided between Muslim (mostly immigrants from elsewhere in Indonesia) and Catholic. However adherence to either Christian or Muslim religions is still largely symbolic; Nias continues into current day celebrating its own indigenous culture and traditions as the primary form of spiritual expression.

The people of Nias build omo sebua houses on massive ironwood pillars with towering roofs. Not only were they almost impregnable to attack in former tribal warfare, their flexible nail-less construction provide proven earthquake durability.

Nias is home not only to a unique human culture but also endemic fauna which differ from other areas of North Sumatra because of the island's remote location separate from Sumatra.

The Nias megaliths are found in the hilly and coastal (or lowland areas). Nias megaliths show a mixture of old and new megaliths. Old megaliths, such as menhir, terrace, and flat stones, and new elements (which also may be classified as megaliths), such as human statues and animals, are found there. New megaliths consist of neogadi, sitilubagi, neobehe, and lawolo.

Small stone statues honour the dead. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Menhirs symbolize the male while flat stones are usually female. Vertical standing stones and imposing stone statues are set up to achieve and maintain the honor, prestige and popularity of a leader. A large number of kerbau (water buffaloes) are sacrificed as hundreds of people come from other places to actively participate in the ceremony. A communal spirit of the megalithic society is not only shown in the way they build megaliths or ceremonial houses but also in their way of deciding on questions of customary law or cases. Such a place to settle and reach consensus between leaders and people are found in the areosali.

Firstly, all houses were set on a series of vertical pillars (enomo) which are not anchored into the ground, but rest on stone blocks. Secondly, the vertical pillars were reinforced by slanting piles (ndriwa), which created a very resistant earthquake-proof three-dimensional structure.

While surviving earthquakes, Nias traditional architecture is presently endangered by two big challenges, namely deforestation and modernization. Nias has largely been stripped of its forests over the past 150 years since head hunting ceased and the population grew rapidly. This has nearly depleted the native efoa, manawa dano, and simalambuo hardwood trees, used for the pillars of the traditional clan houses (omo hada), chief houses (omo sebua or omo nifolasara) and large meeting halls (omo bale).

Graves of ancestors, recent and old, take a prominent place in front of the houses. Ono Limbu. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Secondly, modernization has reduced the strength of the clan (mado), with most Nias people preferring now to live in Malay houses, while the government has also forsaken Nias traditional architecture in all official buildings.

Larger stone statues in the village of Ono Limbo. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Fortunately, two European charities — the German aid organization, Johanniter Unfall Hilfe, and the British Turnstone Tsunami Fund — have assisted the rebuilding of remaining omo hada on the island. Johanniter cooperated with the Nias Heritage Museum (Museum Pusaka Nias) in Gunungsitoli, the capital of the Nias district, while the Turnstone Tsunami Fund cooperated with the Medan-based North Sumatera Heritage.

The Nias Heritage Museum. (Museum Pusaka Nias) Photo: Bob McKerrow

With Johanniter’s assistance, Museum Pusaka Nias has helped families rehabilitate 26 traditional wooden houses in 13 villages. In addition, with financial assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the Muenster and Konstant Municipalities in Germany, the Museum has rehabilitated eight more traditional houses in seven other villages. Then, with the assistance of other donors, the Museum has distributed funds — ranging from Rp 200,000 to Rp 5,000,000 — to 357 traditional house owners to rebuild their traditional houses.

Inside the museum in Nias: Photo: Bob McKerrow

The museum was trusted by all those donors due to the serious dedication of its director, Johannes Hammerle, a naturalized German-born priest, to revive Nias traditional architecture. I met Father Johannes some time back and he explained how he has studied chief houses (omo sebua) since 1990, and supervised the construction of the museum compound — with its various wooden buildings — according to Nias traditional architecture, involving Nias and German carpenters.

Tsunami and earthquake:

On December 26, 2004 the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake struck a few kilometers north of the island, creating tsunamis as high as 10 meters. 122 people were killed and hundreds more rendered homeless.

On March 28, 2005, the island was again hit by the 2005 Sumatran earthquake, initially presumed to be an aftershock following the 2004 quake, but now regarded as the second-most powerful earthquake in the world since 1965 and twelfth-most powerful ever recorded. At least 800 people were reported dead, with the possibility of more than 2,000 casualties. Hundreds of buildings were toppled and many thousands of people were made homeless.

Nias's coastline has changed markedly with the tsunami and earthquake. [7] In some areas, the coast has moved over 50 m inland. In other areas, as much as a further 100 m of land is exposed from the sea. The uplift of land has been recorded as being as much as 2.9 m.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has been priviliged to work with PMI ( Indonesian Red Cross) in building water and sanitation systems, livelihoods and houses on this culturally rich island of Indonesia. The water and sanitation programmes have brought clean water to approximatley 100,000 people. or one sixth of the island's population, and houses have been provided to 3,000 families, 2100 of them from the Canadian Red Cross.It has been a joy, a rare privilige, to workn in one of, or if not, the last megalithic cultures in the world.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Leaving Nias tomorrow

I leave for Jakarta tomorrow after spending five days on remote island of Nias, situated west of Sumatra. What a fascinating place to visit. This was my fifth trip to the island to see the outstanding work the Red Cross (IFRC) has done there. I travelled with Nigel Ede, who is in charge of the operation on Nias. I will post some photos over the weekend but here is an article written my my colleagues Ahmad Husein, which will give you an idea of what we have been doing here.

Sabaria Lasse, 49, in front of her new latrine in Hilizukhu village, Lahewa, Nias. After she saw the popularity of the latrines built by Red Cross for community, she built a new one with her own money.

Sabaria Lasse, 49, always looks enthusiastic every time people asking about her new latrine. It is a half brick and wood construction situated behind her house in Hilizokhu village in the northern district of Lahewa, on Nias Island.

“I copied the design of the latrines that the Red Cross built and I made it with my own money,” she says proudly.

Before having the latrine, Sabaria and others in the village just dug a hole in the back yard or used the riverbank as their local toilet. With a poor understanding of good hygiene practises it wasn’t surprising that the incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea was high among the villagers

Children play happily in a springwater catchment structure being built by Red Cross in Ombolata Afulu, Nias. By channeling the water from this hill area down to the village, children now can access the water easier.

The situation changed after the Red Cross arrived in the village two years ago. The earthquake that struck Nias in 2005 left almost 80% of the homes in the district damaged or destroyed. The Canadian Red Cross stepped in to rebuild over 2,000 houses on the island, they also funded the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to carry out water supply and sanitation projects across Lahewa.

“Historically Nias has been a little isolated from the rest of Indonesia. We discovered that prior to the earthquake less than 30% of the island had access to clean water, that’s alarmingly high“, says Nigel Ede, IFRC’s Head of Sub-Delegation in Nias.

Clean water, basic sanitation and an understanding of good hygiene practices were an obvious priority when the IFRC assessed the humanitarian needs on the island. For the past three years the IFRC has focused on providing 35 communities in Lahewa and a further 30 communities in the central district of Mandrehe with community toilets, tap stands and washing facilities. Some villagers are now benefiting from piped water connected to spring water catchment systems while others have rainwater harvesting tanks that provide water throughout the year.

“I saw the latrine made by Red Cross; people like it,” Sabaria remembered. Each three or four families got a latrine to share. But for elders like Sabaria and some other villagers, the preference is for a latrine nearby their houses. So she decided to build a new one for her family. It took three days to install a latrine with septic tank, which cost USD 100.

Better access to clean water
It’s not easy to implement the programme in an area such as Nias. For instance, in Ombolata Afulu village, people have to walk hundred metres to reach the village’s old water catchment tank where they collect water from spring water source located 300 metres at the hill. The water is channelled to a tank using basic bamboo pipes.

With IFRC support, a permanent spring catchment is now being completed which safely pipes the spring water to three water catchment tanks from here it is piped to communal tap-stands around the village. “We thought about building toilets before but could never afford to – food was always our main priority”, says Belifati Warowu, the head of village. “Now 40 families in this area will have access to clean water at their doorstep”.

Ownership of each project is taken by the community. The IFRC provides funding, raw materials and technical expertise. The community has to form a committee to decide upon and manage the projects. To show their commitment, villagers contribute sand and gravel for the construction work to the value of about US$100, and they also provide some labour. Committee members are taught to disseminate good hygiene practices, such as hand-washing to other villagers and the Red Cross is also training local school teachers so that the right health message reaches children at an early age.

Serious but not fashionable
Basic sanitation is still a serious problem in many developing countries. Nearly a billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water .

“Safe water and good sanitation are essential to poverty reduction and good health”, explains Nigel Ede. “Diarrhoeal diseases kill more children worldwide than HIV and malaria combined, but when you compare international funding, remarkably little is spent on clean water and sanitation”.

IFRC statistics show that in 2007 and 2008, around 60 per cent of all requests submitted by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for allocations from the IFRC Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) were directly or indirectly related to outbreaks of acute diarrhoeal diseases. This is about 35 per cent more compared to similar statistics in 2006.

Fatal Neglect’, a recent report produced by the NGO WaterAid, also highlights the imbalance in healthcare investment and the lack of political will to invest in basic sanitation. The report argues that the global response to diseases caused by poor sanitation is ’simply not rational’. It suggests this is because sanitation is just not fashionable or emotive enough to get politicians excited.

Water and sanitation programs such as those on Nias continue to improve the health and welfare of millions of households throughout the world. Over the last 15 years, more than nine million people globally have directly benefitted from IFRC water and sanitation programmes.

Friday, 4 September 2009

It Couldn't Be Done - a week to forget !

Do you ever have one of those weeks you'd prefer to forget? I spent last weekend preparing and packing for a move to our new apartment on Monday and Tuesday. My boss from Kuala Lumpur arrived on Tuesday morning. I felt so guilty because I should have been helping Naila move my 700 plus books and papers that would be a great foundation for a new museum. Meetings with VIPS for three days, dinners, the usual inquisition you go through when bosses come on inspections. Then to top it off, a major earthquake late Wednesday afternoon and a relief operation. Interviews with CNN, BBC, Al Jezeera, and NZ and Australian media for two days. Tomorrow I leave for a week to the island of Nias which was badly affected by the Tsunami and a later earthquake. We have large water sanitation programme there and a big team that I need to visit. So I have Saturday and half of Sunday to unpack boxes and get our new apartment in shape. And guess, what have I been saying to myself all week ?

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn’t," but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "couldn’t be done," and you’ll do it.

from Collected Verse of Edgar Guest
NY:Buccaneer Books, 1976, pg. 285

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Earthquake in Java, Indonesia

People are clearing the rubbish from collapsed houses in Ciamis after an earthquake hit West Java. Photo by: Kikin Kuswandi/Indonesian Red Cross

This afternoon I was driving between offices in Jakarta when I saw hundreds of people running out of a high rise building onto the street. A few seconds later I got a text message saying a large earthquake had struck near Bandung.

I got confirmation from the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) that it had caused some damage in and around Bandung.

People rushed out of buildings in Jakarta when a violent earthquake shook the capital.

At the meeting with Danish, French, Honk Kong and Spanish Red Cross we pieced information together from computer maps and messages we received from the field. A tsunami warning was issued but fortunately the wave generated was quite small and caused little damage.

Later I received a more detailed report from the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI)

Following 7.4 SR main shock after shock hit 3 times in Tasikmalaya and surrounding area, the tremor of main shock felt across Java island from Banten and even reach Bali. It was reported that 12 districts affected by the earthquake, namely: Bogor
district, Cianjur, Sukabumi, Municipality of Sukabumi, west Bandung, Bandung, Garut, Banjar, Ciamis, Tasikmalaya, Municipality of Tasikmalaya and Purwakarta, also in central Java tremor also gave impact in Cilacap District

Most of the area that is severely damaged is the coastal area in southern part of Indonesia. Communication line still disturb in Tasikmalaya in Banjar reported electricity cut off due to effect of the earthquake, 5.000 idps in Sindang Barang Cianjur. In Bandung 13 Village in pangalengan subdistict reported severely affected affected, 30 idps in Cimaung Bandung. For time being reported that 22 people died (Ciamis 2 people: Cianjur 12 people: Bandung 6 people; Garut 3 People) and 29 people injured, also reported that 810 houses damaged and 16 public facility building collapsed.

Immediate need for survivors are tarpaulins and tents

I arrived home six hours after the quake and Naila, my wife, was still somewhat shaken by the quake. "First I heard a loud noise then the building started swaying, the lights swung violently and I heard people screaming and talking loudly", she said.
She then told me how she joined a huge throng of people rushing down the stairway in this 30 floor building, and of people tripping, fainting, children and Mothers screaming. Old people struggled to get down the stairs and she said it was like a scene from a horror movie.

Then she showed me all the cracks in the apartment that were caused by the quake. A huge crack ran diagonally across the wall in the boys bedroom where they were sleeping peacefully. The kitchen, hallway and lounge walls all bore cracks as well.

Before i went to bed I got a detailed report from the Indonesian Red Cross and was delighted to read of their efforts in rescue, tending to the injured and providing food and shelter to the homeless. Wayne, our Disaster Coordinator has released large numbers of relief items from our warehouse in support of the PMI efforts.