Sunday, 27 February 2011

There are heroes everywhere - Christchurch earthquake

The are so many stories being told, and so many heroes identified. This article written by Andrew Holden, Editor of the Press is one that moved me.

When the first quake hit I was halfway out of bed. Our six-week-old baby was squawking, and my shift was the early hours.

As the house wrenched, my partner Dairne got to Raffi first. We huddled in the doorway as the 7.1 quake slammed Christchurch.
Much has been written since about our good fortune – that the quake hit when few people were up, and that no one was killed. In the months since, we've endured thousands of aftershocks. We had a plan for rebuilding the city. We were lucky. We are not lucky now.

On Tuesday, general manager Andrew Boyle popped in for a chat. It took only seconds to know this one was massive. The building jerks violently, and we hear crashing stone and brick. Andrew dives under a table, while I head to the corridor and stop a fleeing colleague as splintering glass falls around us. We cower next to a wall, the newsroom a cloud of dust.

Andrew Holden (left) talks to Robert Fisk

When the quake stops, journalists are heading down rubble-littered stairs. Andrew comes out. I dash back in and grab my things. At the building's entrance there's stone lying smashed on the footpath. Staff shout at me to run, worried more stone will fall. I can see the cathedral's spire has collapsed and I know there will be many killed this time.

One reporter has a head wound but says he is OK. The first-aiders gather and start helping. I send a text to Dairne to let them know I'm all right. I look at our lovely old building. Most of it is still standing but half of the top floor has collapsed, the turret hanging. Another jolt has people screaming, and the turret swings and smashes into Andrew's office.

There are heroes everywhere in Christchurch. Here, workers who are building us a new seven-storey home we are due to move into in three weeks, climb on to the roof and dig injured staff out. The finance department is worst hit, and Andrew will spend all hours on the roof with search and rescue, freeing three staff. But they have to leave one behind, and Andrew has to speak with her husband and son, out on the street. But long before then, as I stand with my colleagues, someone touches my shoulder. Dairne is standing in front of me with Raffi. I'd forgotten she was coming to town. We hug, both of us crying: "We're OK, we're OK."

In the next half hour, we move to a parking lot to do a check of names and a clumsy journalistic triage – who can and wants to work, what equipment they have. I try to send them in pairs. Olivia Carville heads to the main pedestrian mall, passing bodies on the way, where she finds a badly injured friend who she comforts until her husband arrives, and later writes an astonishing first-person account.

I drive my family home, the decision to grab my keys now vital. I'm in some kind of cheap disaster movie, only this time it's real. The roads heading into town are clogged, but heading away it's a question of watching for dips or rises ahead, until we get towards the estuary, where Christchurch's particular earthquake weakness, liquefaction, has ripped the roads apart. The bridge is broken, the road a lake. We join a procession of cars finding the only way home, over one hillside with broken homes, and on to the Causeway.

At Redcliffs, rocks have crashed into the back of the primary school and crushed homes. Around the corner to Sumner, the cliff is shattered, its multimillion-dollar homes horribly close to the edge. In Sumner the returned services club has a massive rock lying beside it.
Our home is miraculous – no broken windows, the floor even more creaky than after the first quake, but, by and large, little damaged. We have no power or water, but we have a home. I start the drive back to our new printing plant, just 18 months old. Twice we have had to evacuate there. I spot Olivia. I don't know yet what she has seen but I give her a hug.

All of us know we want to put out a newspaper. Everything we've collected has gone straight to the web, but a paper gives people solidity, a touch of normality. We don't realise it, but with power out few people can watch television, or use the internet. The old media stalwarts – print and radio – are all many have.

I'm writing this on Friday morning, in a whole new world. We are refugees staying with friends out of town, where life is normal. Ours is a story being repeated across Christchurch, as people realise that if they can't help, they are better off somewhere else.

Our newsroom is now swelled by staff sent in from around New Zealand and Australia to help. Yesterday photographer Iain McGregor was in tears. I hugged him – he is seeing things in his home town that no one is prepared for. Our paper is now just a slim volume and we know we'll never go back into the old Press building.

For the moment we'll produce a paper out of a canteen, a couple of offices and a conference room. We don't know the cost yet, there are names of the people who have died, and we know them. Colleagues and friends have homes that are ruined. Rebuilding will take years.

I've been crying – at the experience, and at what I see. They are a tough people here, and it is a beautiful place, but we're in pain just now. But that's no reason to stop.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Antarctic history damaged in epicentre town, Lyttelton

The iconic Timeball Station in Lyttleton was destroyed in the earthquake

Shackleton, Scott and Mawson set their  chronometres by the time ball machine at Lyttelton before departing for Antartica.  After the earthquake, the ball remains on top of the tower at the world-famous Timeball Station, one of only five left in the world, but the rest of the treasured navigation landmark is a wreck.

Sledging in Winchester St, Lyttelton, prior to the departure of the Terra Nova on its second voyage, 1910.

Port of Lyttelton

Eamous Antarctic explorers and  sailors Scott, Shackleton and Mawson  chose the Port of Lyttelton as the New Zealand base for their Discovery, Nimrod and Terra Nova expeditions. Scott was reportedly given two choices of base for his first expedition: Melbourne and Christchurch - each of which had a magnetic observatory. He may have chosen Christchurch simply because it was closer to the Antarctic, but the presence of his cousin, R.J. Scott, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Canterbury, may also have had an influence. As in Port Chalmers, there were generous offers of goods and services from the Harbour Board and local businesses. Scott and Shackleton were rewarded with similar generosity on their subsequent expeditions, as was the Australasian Antarctic Expedition when its ship the Aurora called at Lyttelton in 1912.

It was a town where my granfather was a publican and fisherman and served Antarctic sailors such as Tom Crean, Lashley, Frank Wild  and Edgar Evans at his bar, said my Father, who was born there in 1910.
Petty Officer Edgar Evans had once more been enjoying a drink ashore in Lyttelton  and when he returned to the ship, he fell off the gangplank just as the Bishop of Christchurch was about to go aboard to bless the ship and her crew.
Morning, Discovery and Terra Nova at the Port of Lyttelton during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904.

Today, 4 days after the tragic Christcurch earthquake,  from a distance it looks deceptively tranquil.
But the town was the closest to the epicentre of Tuesday's quake.

Normally the port is reached from Christchurch by a tunnel that goes beneath the mountain range, but it has been closed to traffic all week because of damage from rockfalls.

Instead, we reached Lyttelton along the road that snakes through the valleys and follows the coastline of this beautiful natural harbour.

Just outside the port we saw one of the more startling sights of the Christchurch quake - a bungalow with a gaping hole through its middle that looked as if it had been hit by a missile rather than an earthquake.

At first glance, it was hard to make sense of what could have happened. But then, about 50m (164ft) further down the hill, we saw the massive boulder that had come hurtling down the escarpment and crashed through the core of the property.

It was the size of a small car, and had seemingly hopped over the road like a bouncing bomb. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, it had not killed anybody.

'Violent shaking'
As we drove into Lyttelton, we saw that parts of its were in ruins. Many of its Victorian heritage buildings are so badly damaged they will have to be demolished.

From near Sugarloaf, a view down to Lyttelton and the entrance at Godley Head. It was from this port, the gateway to Antarctica, that Scott, Shackelton and Mawson left for Antarctica. Photo: Bob McKerrow

“It was just like an avalanche, everywhere I looked just rockfalls”
Alex Herbert Lttleton resident

Its historic Time Ball building, among the last remaining in the world, was wrecked. So, too, was the Volcano Cafe in the main street, along with the Lava Bar next door.

As is the case everywhere in the quake zone, its churches have been badly damaged.

That said, given the scale of the quake, its proximity to the surface and the simple fact that Lyttelton spans the epicentre, its surprising how much of the port is still standing.
Still more amazing it that nobody was killed in the town itself, although two local residents lost their lives walking in the hills. One man was discovered by his daughter, and had been felled by falling rocks.

The inside one of the cafes on the main street run by Dave Radzner is strewn with broken coffee cups and plates, rubble from the fallen brick work and splintered tables and chairs.

The quake hit at lunchtime, and the cafe was full. Half-eaten sandwiches remain on the tables.

Historic buildings have suffered severe damage in Lyttelton Dave has vivid memories of the moment, at 1251 local time, when the quake hit.

"This was just a bang, and then, you know, carnage, just violent shaking," he said.

"There was a lot of screaming and 'get the hell out of here'. I was one of the first people out of the door, and I didn't stick around.

"My children are up at the school 100 metres away and I don't think I turned around. I just grabbed the kids and took them off home. As long as I have my wife and two children within arms reach of me that's all I need to operate."

Only one person was injured in the wrecked cafe, a waiter burnt by boiling water from a toppled urn.

Historic buildings have suffered severe damage in Lyttelton

Over the way, Alex Herbert had just finished repairing his family home from the damage caused by last September's earthquake. It had cost him $NZ140,000 ($105,000, £65,000), but the brick walls had fallen down again.

He was surfing at the time when the quake hit, and thought that his board had been bitten by a shark.

"All of a sudden I got this jerking feeling. I thought a shark was biting my board. I honestly thought I was being attacked by a shark," he said.

"I turned around and there was no shark there. But the water started doing these bizarre patterns. There was a change in air pressure. Up and down motions, and then I looked at Sumner and all the cliffs were falling down.

"It was just like an avalanche. Everywhere I looked, just rockfalls."

Lois Olgivie has run the Volcano Cafe and Lava Bar for 23 years, but fears that she will not be able to rebuild because no insurance company will offer cover.

"Its means a lot. We've had a fantastic time. It's been a very community thing. A lot of people come in here for a meal and drink. It's going to be sad to see that go," she said.

"That's what we're looking at. I can't see insurers are going to insure brick or stone buildings."

Lyttelton's war memorial was also badly damaged. But the Anzac spirit it represents is about resilience and battling against the odds - and that is still intact.

I just heard that Robert Falcon Scott's statue in Christchurch was badly damaged also. The famous statue is at the left.

Thanks to the BBC Nick Bryant for permission to run part of his article.


The historic Timeball Station in Lyttelton will be dismantled.

The 1876 building was badly damaged in the September quake and sustained even more damage during last Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) chief executive Bruce Chapman said it was too hard to save the category one landmark.

"It is with enormous regret that we must take this step, but public safety is paramount,'' he said.

"Our decision is based on specialist engineering information and guidance, as any decision about heritage buildings damaged in the quake should be.''

''The Timeball Station is too damaged and too dangerous for us to consider anything other than dismantling, but this work will pose problems.''

Chapman said the steep, secluded site will make it difficult to save the building.

"This is an extremely difficult site. The steep site means there's no way to drive on and the potential to position a crane, below or above it is very limited. We are constrained not only by issues of access, but also by the risk of injury to any personnel who will need to be involved with this work. We are not prepared to put anyone's life at risk.''

Lyttelton's Timeball Station, photographed in December 2008.

But he said there could be hope for rebuilding the tower.

"If we can find a way to dismantle the Timeball Station that allows us to retain as much of the building's materials as possible, we will do so. This site remains significant and we would hope that in future we can do justice to this important building,'' he said.

"NZHPT is looking at all possible options for the reconstruction of the tower. But it may be some time for that decision to be made."

The decision has been met with sadness by local leaders.

Bank Peninsula councillor Claudia Reid said the station was Lyttelton's Christ Church Cathedral.

"The Timeball is every bit a landmark for this place and for its harbour and all who come here as Christ Church Cathedral is for Christchurch. That tells you something about how significant it is to us all,'' she said.

"The fact that the NZHPT want to find a way to dismantle it gives us some hope for some form of restoration or partial reconstruction or partial rebuild at some time in the future.''

Lyttelton-Mount Herbert Community board chairwoman Paula Smith said it would be a "big loss''.

 "I think it is sad news, but most people in the community would be philosophical and we are all accepting that some of our category one structures are not going to survive this process,'' she said.

"It is a significant Lyttelton landmark visible from all around the harbour and it will be a big loss.''

The timeball station was one of five working timeball stations in the world.

The station was built in 1876 as a navigation aid for ships. A large ball dropped down a mast on top of the building at a given time so ships could ensure their clocks were running to time.

A property on Reserve Terrace was evacuated this week over fears high winds could topple the building.

Lyttelton chief fire officer Mark Buckley said the building was being monitored as it was in a "precarious position''.

"We are trying to get the right resources and specialists we need to do that [demolition] and it is taking a bit of time,'' he said.

"At the moment we are just monitoring it. It is a very precarious sort of position that it is in

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Are you alive there Brian ? Christchurch earthquake !.`

It's been a rough week. First my old friend from Red Cross in Geneva passed away on Monday, the earthquake struck my hometown on Tuesday, and an hour ago I got the news from my daughter that my old athletic coach and close friend for more than 47 years. Brian Taylor is missing in the Christchurch earthquake. The photo right shows Brian timing his athletes at QE II park in Christchurch, a photo I took in 2009,

The news says: Brian Taylor, the managing director of King's Education, who is presumed to be under the rubble of the collapsed building, returned to the CTV building at 12.30pm for lunch on the day the quake struck..

The Dominion Post writes:  His wife, Christchurch Girls' High School principal Prue Taylor, said he would have returned from a meeting about that time, though she had pored over different scenarios trying to imagine where husband Brian could be.

"We generated scenario after scenario of where he might be, because we don't actually know he was in the building ... but we're pretty sure he was. [He] would have arrived back as the earthquake hit."

She and eldest son Hamish biked down to the CTV building on the first night and waited for hours into the early morning, alongside other anxious families, offering each other solace and sharing stories of loved ones.

"Realistically, the chances are remote, but you hear about miracles ... and I think maybe there's going to be one here, and you hope maybe it's going to be ours."

Brian and Prue have been married for 46 years, after meeting at Otago University, and have two sons.  I went to theri engagement party in Dunedin, but missed their wedding as I was overseas

Prue said to the Press that her husband was a survivor..

"If there is a way to survive he will. He's a scientist by trade and he knows all about how the body works and about survival techniques ... and he's very determined."

That thought had brought her comfort in the first 24 hours, but hope was beginning to fade, she said.

She had been bolstered by a "huge network of support" including family – her youngest son flew in from Sydney yesterday – friends and colleagues. But everyone felt helpless, she said, as they resigned themselves to another night not knowing what had happened to Taylor.

"I just wanted to go in and pick up a shovel and help and do something [but] there isn't anything anyone can do."
They last saw each other at 6am on the morning of the quake, and even though this is a recovery operation, she hasn't given up hope.

“I'm not going to say it's futile until the policeman knocks at the door,” she says.

Ms Taylor, who is principal at Christchurch Girls High, says the decision to move the rescue operation into a recovery phase was hard to bear.

“I know if it was me in the rubble, Brian would have stopped at nothing to try and get me out and make sure everything was being done,” she says. “And although I can't get in there with my spade and shovel I know the people in there are doing their very best. It's a hugely difficult time for everybody.”

Brian’s son, Hamish, says the family are doing their best to be optimistic.

“We sit here and we just hope and pray for a miracle and I'm sure other families are feeling the same, but it's reassuring to hear they have gone back into the site,” he says.

She said it was "amazing" what the disaster had brought out in neighbours and community and she was grateful for all the support received.

Ninety students and staff from King's Education Ltd, housed in Christchurch's earthquake-ravaged Canterbury TV building, are either missing or unaccounted for.

Brian Taylor (right) and myself. January 2009.

Brian should have been with me in Sri Lanka on 22 February working with Colonel Madugalle, Vice President of the Sri Lanka Amateur Athletics Association. We had been planning to bring Brian over to train Sri Lankan athletic coaches in preparation for the next Coimmonwealth Games to be held in Sri Lanka. Brian was really excited about this visit and so was I. I had spoken to my boys about Brian being able to analyze their running style and coach them a little.

Tonight the little light blue box beside Brian's name on SKYPE has a cross beside it and strangely, for the last few mornings, I have missed seeing brianwtaylor pop up on screen showing me he is on SKYPE. I never bothered enquiring about him because 'Tails' was invincible and indestructable, or at least, that's what I thought.

Here is the SKYPE message Brian sent me on 31 December last year.

[31-Dec-10 10:38:13] Brianwtaylor: Hi Bob, Happy new year to you too. I can work on a date for the middle of Feb. I will try and check flights as well. We go camping on Jan 4 for 2 weeks. I will try to get flights sorted either while I am away or before I leave on the 4th. I will not have easy computer access, but cell texting is good, if you can send me your cell phone number. Brian

Sadly, we had to postpone his visit until March as the mid- February dates clashed with the Cricket World Cup being held in Sri Lanka and neighbouring countries. We should have stuck to that 10 day period starting 15 February 2011.

I will keep looking every day on SKYPE, hoping for the miracle, for the cross to change to a tick. Usually we chatted a few times a week, about his pending trip, and what we were up to in our lives. Often it was a quick "good morning, how are you."

Brian and Prue invited me to their home on New Year's eve 2008-09 and a few days later in January 2009 I spent time with Brian at QE II Park , where the 1974 Commonwealth Games were held, watching him coach his athletic squad. I wrote at the time: "

It was a joy to meet again with my former athletics coach, Brian Taylor, who lives in Christchurch and coaches some of New Zealand's leading athletes. Brian coached me from the age of 14 to 20, and as a group, we did some revoluntionary training, an expanded version of Arthur Lydiard's methods. In those days we ran more than 130 miles a week with often a 26 mile run over the hills of Dunedin on a Sunday. Unknowingly at the time, this endurance conditioning prepared me for exploration in later life and I owe a lot to Brian.Forty-seven years after he started coaching, Brian Taylor is still putting in hundred of voluntary hours a month coaching young people. It is role models like this that produce great sportspeople in New Zealand. They are New Zealand's unsung heroes.

Brian Taylor with some of the athletes he coaches. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The news about Brian being trapped in the CTV building goes on to say,

"Of those nine were staff -- King's Education managing director Brian Taylor among them -- 10 were from the Toyama Study Group from Japan, 13 were "new Monday starters" and 58 were "other students", according to the institution's website."

The school specialises in teaching English to international students.

Six of the 15 staff at the school had been accounted for, 11 students from Toyama Study Group had been rescued and 17 of the "other students" were safe.

Many of the rescued students had injuries and were in Christchurch Hospital, with one transferred to Auckland Hospital.

King's Education was opened in 1994 and in its last NZQA audit achieved a rating which put it in the top 5 per cent of New Zealand's English language providers.

Searchers were still looking for survivors in the devastated Canterbury TV ( photo left) and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings.

Friend David Gill wrote to Brian: "Brian, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family and all my friends and former colleagues at Kings Education. You have always inspired me Brian."
Another friend Jenny Roberts wrote: "Brian you have been such a good friend and mentor to me over the years."

I am still shocked thinking that Brian may be dead but am praying the miracle will ocurr and he will be pulled out alive. He is as tough as 'old boots', so if anyone will survive, it will be Brian.

Prue, I am unable to contact you but my thoughts, prayers and love and hope go out to you and the boys. Having been involved in earthquake rescue for over 35 years, you have to hope and pray for the best. In the West Sumatra earthquake in late 2009,  I ran the Red Cross operation and we were still finding people alive after 10 days, so there must always be hope until proved otherwise.

To sister Suzanne and Ross,  you must also be feeling incredible pain and grief. My love to you both.

Hang in there Brian. !

Read the comments by Jim Williamson and Nev Cleveland who, along with myself, were coached by Brian.

A photo of Neville (r) and myself in 1976 or early 77 after a 20 km run in Featherston.

Brian's Dad was a very famous man, Warrington Taylor, who had a huge influence on Brian and all the young athletes he coached: I convinced Brian to set up a blog to record his Dad's achievement. He asked me to do it for him HERE IS THE LINK

As you will note, Brian inherited many of his Father's qualities, a sense of justice and fair play, a belief in helping those who are struggling in life, and a curiousity that led him into science. And like his Dad, he disliked imposters, or phoney people. Brian was less of a diplomat than his Dad.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Christchurch - my home town battered but not beaten.

Christchurch, is there a more beautiful city in the world ?

Up to 120 people may be in the rubble of the CTV building and a further 22 bodies inside Christchurch's Cathedral Square, police say.

There are 238 people missing after Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake although some may have already left Christchurch before the disaster, police believe.

It comes as the official death toll from the quake rose to 76.

This was how Christchurch looked when I was there last July. This was taken from my good friend Robin Judkin's house in Clifton Terrace overlooking Sumner beach. Robin and his neighbours were directed to move yesterday as the hillsides were threatening to slide.

This was the city I trained in for three months in 1969 as a seismological and geomagbetics technician  before departing on a  Super Constellation plane for Antarctica where I spent 13 months. This was the city I departed from for my first Red Cross mission oversea in 1971. It was here I left with Paul Caffyn in 1989 for Hobart where we planed to be the first people to kayak the Tasman sea.

This is where I own a house and my dayghter Ruia and her husband Gavin live. Luckily they survived.

With possibly up to 200 people likely to have been killed by the quake, it is a city in mourning where rescue experts are working round the clock to save lives. I have located most of my friends from my Antarctic, mountaineering, skiing and Outward ound days, and friends made more recently living in Christchurch. I have been getting a constant flow of messages from them, but a few are still missing.
Officials said no-one could be alive under the ruins of the Canterbury TV building

My old friend Dave Ellis who owns Earth, Sea and Sky outdoor clothing manufacturing company has seen his own business crash around him as have others friends, similar experiences.

My friend Marja sent me this message this morning:who is not only looking after her own children but other children from a 'home' and running a shower service.

"Bob I am so happy that your daughter is safe. Did she get trapped? We didn't know until 5 pm where our kids were. So great to see them walking through the fence. We are good now We've got a kid from the home here and otheres will come later to take a shower. Take care Arohanui ."

Being in Sri Lanka working on a Red Cross flood operation that has affected over 1 million people as well as a recovery operation for people affected by the conflict, I follow events very closely from afar. Starting by career with the New Zealand Red Cross I am proud of the work they are doing.

Red Cross has eight teams and over 100 staff and trained volunteers from all over the South Island currently working in Christchurch to support the relief efforts. Response and welfare teams from Christchurch, Timaru, Nelson, Blenheim, Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown and Greymouth are working in conjunction with other agencies such as Civil Defence, New Zealand Police, the local councils. Teams are conducting urban search and rescue, setting up welfare centres for displaced people and managing the logistics of distributing Red Cross supplies. Yesterday 200 large tents, 2000 water bottles and 1800 blankets arrived from the Red Cross warehouse in Auckland for distribution.

NZRC is not currently requiring or accepting donations of goods or volunteers at this time. New Zealand Red Cross are currently focusing on�roles supporting the CDEM response. Urgent email enquiries can be referred to our National Emergency Operating Centre at
I just noted that Shell New Zealand is to donate $1 million to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. That's a wonderful start to a crucial appeal.

Today. Police Minister Judith Collins today described the horrific conditions rescue workers face, with bodies being pulled "in ones and twos" from the rubble.

"We've got 76 at the morgue at the moment and more coming through.

"I've never seen anything like it."

The names of those killed and missing will be released later today, Prime Minister John Key said earlier.

Earthquake victims are being held at mortuaries at Christhchurch hospital and Burnham Military Camp while the coroner's office deal with the aftermath of so many dead in Christchurch's earthquake.

Chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean said no bodies have had to be transferred out of the region and contingency plans to cope with the heavy demand was working well. "I am confident that in this time of immense grief and sorrow we can cope with whatever the death toll reaches."

Key has overhauled his Cabinet to free up Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, who will drop his other portfolios to focus on the quake.

United States President Barack Obama has told John Key the US is ready to provide any further help needed in the earthquake recovery effort.

Key and Obama spoke on the phone for about five minutes just before midday in a conversation requested by US leader.

"The President asked about ongoing aftershocks and reiterated that the United States stood ready to provide further help, should New Zealand need it," a spokesman for Key said.

I mourn for those who have died and pray for those badly injured for fast recovery, and my heart goes out for those who are grieving for loved ones, and fervently pray for those who are trapped, and still alive, that they will be rescued today.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Christchurch earthquake - 23 February 2011

:Rescuers  battled over night trying to find up to 200 people believed to be trapped in buildings in Christchurch. Another survivor is found.


LATEST: A temporary mortuary to deal with Christchurch earthquake victims has been moved to the Burnham Military Camp "for capacity reasons", Cabinet Ministers have just been told.

The development comes as Christchurch people have woken to a scene of absolute carnage, with bodies lying throughout the central business district. The living, trapped in many buildings, are fighting for their lives after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck at a shallow depth 10km southeast of the city at 1pm yesterday.

Rescuers are still hearing signs of life from the two worst hit buildings - Canterbury Television in Madras St and Pyne Gould Guiness in Cambridge Tce - both of which collapsed. Three people had this morning been rescued from the CTV building and eight from the PGG building.

The number of bodies formally identified stands at 39 but that number is expected to soar today. Prime Minister John Key said the 65 death toll quoted yesterday "remains an accurate prediction".

Key has ordered that the flags on all Government building fly at half mast until further notice as a mark of respect for people killed in the quake.

Police had deployed a large disaster identification team and there had been offers from Australia for more teams.

"The challenges are very, very real. In the health area, a lot of extra resource is being deployed," Wevers told ministers.

Christchurch Hospital seemed to be managing the load, however. Schools would be used as local water distribution points.

A lot of offers of support from the private sector would be marshalled by civil defence in Christchurch.

"The key point is the co-ordination from the Wellington end and at the Canterbury end. It's working reasonably well."


Rescue efforts by hundreds of search and rescue workers from around New Zealand today focuses on the collapsed Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Guiness buildings.

Shane Cole, a Fire Service station officer and an member of the urban search and rescue team, said rescuers had heard banging in buildings and one person had managed to send a text message this morning while trapped on the first floor of the CTV building.

They had rescued eight people from the PGG building overnight and three people from CTV. No one had been rescued so far this morning.

He did not know how many were still trapped but estimated there were up to 20 in the PGG building and "a lot more" in the CTV building.

Cole said rescue staff were were operating in "perilous" conditions with aftershocks further destabilising buildings.

Hesaid their focus from the start had been to extract those still alive and they had been forced to work around fatalities.

"we just had to give up (on them) and concentrate on the live people."

They had started the recovery by breaking holes in the collapsed roof then had moved to the rear of the building which was less damaged, where they had carried out more rescues.

He said they had been "reasonably successful" so far and were hopeful of finding more people alive.

Some of those rescued had suffered serious injuries, with one trapped up to the waist, and others with trapped limbs.

Cole said the work was painstaking and the building perilous with persistent aftershocks but "we just keep going. We've still got people trapped.

"it's tough working in the building with aftershocks - it's quite scary."

Those trapped were overwhelmed to be rescued, he said.

"they're really ecstatic that we've got them out. Some of the people that we've found they're trapped in half a metre ... Space surrounded by furniture and everything.

"I guess the most sobering thought for them is when they get out and see the condition of their building

22 February

It's been a traumatic day for so many people living in Christchurch as a second major earthquake struck within six months. I got the news at 7 a.m. this morning  Sri Lanka time and the first thing I did was phone my daughter Ruia, who lives in my house in Christchurch. She works in a medical centre and when the quake struck, the ceiling of the clinic fell in, and fortunately no one was injured. She and her colleagues treated people who were injured in the area but were sent home as aftershocks were causing more falling debris. But on the other side of Christchurch, nearer the epi-centre, the situation was tragic. In the centre of the city where tourists and lunch time workers gather, people were crushed by falling debris and trapped in buildings that collapsed.
It's just after midnight in Christchurch, 12 hours after the quake, and rescue workers toil through the night  burying into collapsed buildings, hoping to find people alive

Everyone whether in Christchurch or who had relatives there, experienced extremes of emotion. Some of the New Zealanders who worked in Indonesia after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed over 150,000 people in Indonesia, received a message from the former Minister for Tsunami, and now the Prime Minister in Indonesia, Mangkusubroto. His message was sent especially to David Hopkins; Noel Trustrum and myself for the various forms of work we did in the psot Tsunami operation. New Zealand specialists assisted Indonesia, now Indonesia is expressing solidarity. the message read:

My heart is with you in this difficult time. Hope all your love ones are safemfrom the earthquake. If theres anything that we can help, I am at your disposal. I pray to God for your safety, Kuntoro.-

Here is the latest from various New Zealand websites

Construction workers and search and rescue specialists toiled under floodlights to dig out survivors and the dead from buildings flattened by the earthquake that ripped the city apart.

Dozens of search and rescue and medical staff have arrived to continue with the frantic recovery effort.

Yesterday's earthquake has claimed at least 65 lives and scores more are injured in what Prime Minister John Key says "may well be New Zealand's darkest day".

At least 65 people are dead after the shallow 6.3 earthquake hit 10km southeast of the city, just before 1pm. There have been constant aftershocks, as powerful as magnitude 5.7. The latest significant aftershock measured magnitude 5.0 and hit at 7.43pm.

The death toll is already the second highest from a New Zealand earthquake - outranked only by the 256 people killed in the violent 7.9 1931 Hawke's Bay quake, whose 70th anniversary was marked earlier this month.

Police have reported "multiple fatalities" at several locations in the downtown area, including in buses crushed by falling buildings.

Buildings have been destroyed with at least 100 people believed to be trapped inside. Rescuers warned some people remained trapped overnight.

More bodies were likely to be pulled from the rubble of the Canterbury Television building which collapsed in the earthquake, a man involved in assisting rescue teams in their hunt for survivors said tonight.

Rescue workers frantically try to find those trapped inside the Pyne Gould Corporation building.

The Southern Demolition employee, who did not want to be named, told NZPA rescue personnel pulled bodies from the rubble while he was assisting in the recovery effort.

"We were working on one side of the building and on that side we managed to pull one person alive but we also pulled out a body. On the other side they pulled out four or five - I don't know if they were dead or alive.

"It was awful," he said.

The New Zealand Red Cross Response 

"NZRC is not currently requiring or accepting donations of goods or volunteers at this time. NZRC are currently focusing on roles supporting the CDEM response. Urgent email enquiries can be referred to our National Emergency Operating Centre at

"For welfare related enquiries and requirements for affected persons please call the Government help line on 0800 7799977 (NZ number)."

"To lodge an enquiry in relation to missing relatives please call the NZ Red Cross National Enquiry Centre on 0800 REDCROSS (0800 733 276) (note this line may be overloaded)"

"International restoring family links enquiries from Red Cross or Red Crescent national societies can be sent to further information will be pending."

The Australian Red Cross, through their bilateral agreement with the New Zealand Red Cross, will be sending emergency support staff to assist with the operation.

A bus crushed by falling debris.


Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has told TVNZ the death toll could double.

It could be later this morning before the number of missing is known.

The next official update is expected at 5.30am today when Civil Defence will hold a press conference in the Beehive bunker.

Up to 31 Japanese students from a foreign-language school are believed to among those trapped under collapsed buildings in the city.  The students, from Toyama city, were eating lunch when the earthquake struck. There are reports three of the students have been taken to hospital, one in a serious condition.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun's online Japanese edition, responses have been heard from nine of the trapped students.

The Pyne Gould Guinness building has tilted at an awkward angle and slumped to the ground with 30 people thought to be inside, while people are trapped under desks in the Christchurch Press building opposite Christ Church Cathedral.

Fatalities have been reported in the Canterbury TV building, while the Forsyth Barr Tower has lost its stairs, so those trapped high above ground had to be lifted out by crane.

People are also feared trapped in hotels, Civil Defence Minister John Carter said.

"What we don't know is whether they were out looking around the town or were in their rooms."

Christchurch Hospital is operational but people are being asked to keep the Emergency Department for major casualties only.

A generator has been brought in to maintain power supply at Christchurch Hospital Riverside Block. "If power is not fully restored this evening patients at Christchurch Hospital's Riverside Block may need to be evacuated," a statement said.

Click here for further information from BBC who provided this map:


A Royal New Air Force Boeing 757 was due to land in Christchurch from Whenuapai Air Force Base at 10.30pm last night carrying 54 search and rescue staff, plus 20 St John's medical staff.

More than 200 soldiers are assisting NZ Police with cordon duties and the Navy's vessel Canterbury docked in Lyttelton has offloaded around 160 persons for cordon support duties.

Two Iroquois helicopters from Ohakea have arrived to assist with rescue efforts in the city. Other Navy ships are also on the way.

The NZ Army's medical teams are at four different locations around Christchurch with military officers working with the Police. NZ Defence Force firefighters are working with local fire brigades.

English said the force of the earthquake was above the limit modern buildings were designed to withstand.

An estimated 1200 people sheltered in Addington overnight, while nurses with specialist intensive care skills are being flown to the city.

Schools are closed until further notice.

Residents have been told to stay at home and save any safe water for drinking, including rain water which could be collected as rain falls tonight as the city's reservoirs have been shut down. Toilets should not be flushed and water should be boiled as sewage systems have failed, Parker said.

Parker said up to 25 buildings of significant size in the city were probably damaged beyond repair.

Hospitals around the South Island were being cleared to take the hundreds of casualties expected, while makeshift hospitals were being set up in parts of Christchurch.

Emergency triage centres for the injured are operating at Latimer Square, Canterbury University and the Sanitarium Building in Papanui - not South City or the Spotlight Mall, Sydenham, police said.

"This is a big problem. Far worse in casualties than the 4th of September, largely because it happened at a different time of the day," Civil Defence director John Hamilton said.


Pyne Gould Corporation has confirmed that staff from the building are missing, but would not say how many. The company was working to account for each staff member.

People died when buses were crushed under falling building facades, Radio NZ reported.

At the building's cordon, Labour Party leader Phil Goff said earlier this evening that at least 30 people were feared trapped inside and at least one person was killed. Families were congregating at the cordon, he said.

Parker said: "There are people fighting for their lives at the moment but there are also people fighting for them."

"We're in the middle of an extremely serious situation. We're preparing ourselves for what I think will be a really sad, bleak day for our city but be reassured everybody is doing what they can."

Parker said there were currently people still trapped in cars and buildings, with some being able to phone to say they're trapped.

An aerial view of the  Pyne Gould Corporation building.

Defence Forces have been called in to assist with the earthquake recovery and were going door to door checking on residents.

The airport was closed to all but emergency flights and Lyttelton tunnel was shut.

Christchurch Hospital remained open but was also damaged. It asked that only seriously injured people come to the emergency department. It had a full emergency plan in operation.

Power should return to half of Christchurch tonight, with most of the city back on in the next three to four days, lines company Orion said.

St John's Ambulance had run out of ambulances and was using four wheel drives to get the injured out.

The New Zealand Blood Service has been flooded with calls from people wanting to donate blood.

The service said it presently had adequate blood stock, but would advise through its Facebook page and website if that changed.


Thousands of homeless Christchurch residents are tonight bracing for a long, cold, wet and worrying night in welfare centres.

The Christchurch City Council said a welfare centre at Addington Raceway had closed due to high umbers, believed to be about 1200.

People were instead asked to go to Burnside School, Papanui High School, the Lyttelton Recreation Centre, Brooklands Community Centre or Akaroa Senior School. said the temperature was expected to fall to 9-10degC overnight, compounded by light rain. Many more aftershocks were also expected.

However, the showers should clear in the morning and a high of 18degC was expected.

An Urban Search and Rescue team (SAR) from Australia would arrive after midnight.

Two New Zealand SAR teams were on their way as well as ambulances from around the South Island.

Some critical patients had been flown from Christchurch to other hospitals around the South Island.

Military personnel were being coordinated to make areas safe.


The spire of Christchurch Cathedral, the heart of the city, has collapsed.

Dean of Cathedral Peter Beck said they tried to get out who they could but it was now in the hands of emergency services. "It doesn't look good".

He had "no idea" of how many people were inside.

Power was out in a significant portion of the city. While some parts will have power restored overnight it could be fours days till power was restored across the city.

A significant number of hotels have collapsed and it was not known how many people were inside, the Civil Defence Minister said earlier this afternoon.

Bodies were seen being taken out of the damaged YHA hostel in the city.

On the corner of Lichfield and High Streets, a block of shops had completely collapsed and rescue services believed four or five people are trapped in the rubble.

One body had been pulled from the wreckage.

People trapped in the CBD have put signs up at the windows saying 'HELP'.

Helicopters were being used to put out fires in the central city.


Amber Armitage said people were wandering around central Christchurch trying to get out but all exits from the city were blocked.

There was a strong smell of gas and clouds of dust.

A bus on Colombo St was "completely trapped under bricks" and people were working to free passengers trapped in it.

She said the quake felt much stronger than the 7.1 quake on September 4, 2010 and believed the city was "irreparable".

Former Blenheim woman Joh Bloomberg was working in Ballantynes department store in central Christchurch when the earthquake struck.

"I was clinging to this cupboard next to my desk. I thought it was going to be fine, but it got worse and worse, and went on for so long. It's the worst one I've felt."

She walked outside to nearby Lichfield St and saw a car flattened by a fallen section of building.

"I'm normally pretty calm with things like this but when I saw a huge concrete slab on top of that car ...

"It's squashed down to zero. You never think you'll see anything like that."

Everyone was screaming as they left the store.

A colleague of Miss Bloomberg's walked outside to Cashel St mall and saw people lying on the ground who she thought had been hit by falling rubble from a nearby cafe.

Kay Cowlishaw said there was destruction everywhere.

"There's just water pouring out and sewerage, the whole garage is filled with water. There are cracks in the road.

Sally Blundell lives in Opawa and said their whole house shifted on its piles.

"We have no water, no power. We are really shaken. Most of us do not know what has happened to the inner city. We are just hearing reports on the radio and it sounds really frightening. The ground is still like jelly, a low level shake all the time."

Malcolm, a policeman from Darfield, was driving in the city when the earthquake hit.

"I thought I had a flat tyre, then the place was shaking like hell."
He said oak trees in the Hagley Park had been uprooted and fallen across tents.

"I'm shaken, I'm at Christ College now and the school is a shambles - there's a lot of damage to the buildings.

"All of the water pipes are burst and it looks like a tsunami coming across the park."

"It's just unbelievable - just the sheer power."

His daughter was at Rangi Ruru school and she said students were running around screaming.


A patient in Christchurch Hospital, who was in the riverside block when the first quake hit, said things were falling down and some elderly people were injured in the stairs.
"It was just a lot of panic. The nurses and doctors were quite calm but I think just like the first time, it was all quiet, then all of a sudden there was panic."

Christchurch Hospital is operational but people are being asked to keep the Emergency Department for major casualties only.
The hospital, along with most other hospitals in the region has suffered infrastructure damage, a Health Ministry statement said.

A generator has been brought in to maintain power supply at Christchurch Hospital Riverside Block. "If power is not fully restored this evening patients at Christchurch Hospital's Riverside Block may need to be evacuated."

Large volumes of patients are being triaged through the Christchurch Hospital ED, many with serious injuries. Patients with non-life threatening injuries are being assessed and treated in Christchurch Women's Hospital and the Outpatients Department. Patients from the top two floors of Christchurch Hospital have been evacuated to lower floors. There is some water damage throughout the hospital but staff are awaiting further assessments.

St John district commander Tony Dowell said they had been seeing a range of injuries from serious to minor.
Mostly of the injuries were from crushing. St John was mobilising resources from West Coast, Dunedin, Nelson and South Canterbury.

What a tragic earthquake. On a personal level I have contacted all my relatives and friends in Christchurch, and they are well. I am trying to contact my good friend Ed Cotter, veteran mountaineers, who climbed with sir Ed Hillary. Ed is 82 and lives on the cliffs overlooking Sumner. My daughter Ruia is trying to contact him. If you have come across Ed Cotter, please let me know.

Thanks. And may God bless those who are trapped and please rescue them, and may he comfort those who have lost loved ones.

Thanks to stuff and New Zealand Red Cross for use of material off their websites.

Earthquake causes glacier to calve

Glacier watchers on the Tasman Lake had an experience of a lifetime yesterday.

Two guides and 16 passengers were on two boats on the lake when the 6.3 magnitude Canterbury earthquake hit, triggering tsunamis and causing a massive ice calving off the glacier.

Aoraki-Mt Cook Alpine Village Ltd general manager tourism Denis Callesen said the guides were radioed from the village as soon as the earthquake was felt, so were able to prepare for the event.

Mr Callesen said the boats endured 30 minutes of tsunamis, up to 3.5 metres high.

Staff are trained for the event, knowing to turn the boats towards each tsunami and motor gently forwards.

About 30 million tonnes of ice calved – 1200 metres across the face, 30 metres above the lake and more than 250 metres below the surface to the bottom of the lake and back for about 75 metres.

Mr Callesen said it was either the third biggest, or second-equal biggest event in Tasman Lake's history.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Let's remember and honour Sue Parvan - A loyal Red Cross worker

Sue Parvan was a remarkable woman who worked at our Red Cross (IFRC) headquarters since 1974.
Early this morning I got the sad news she passed away yesterday in Geneva.

As a friend, I would like to pay tribute on behalf of those by of us working in the far-flung corners of the globe, who were loyally served by her for so many years.

I first met Sue in January 1975 when I came to the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and as we were a similar age, joined a group which including about 15 of the younger brigade which included George Weber, Mohammed Othman-Chande, Francis Parakatil, Martine-de Robert, Rene Carrillo, Rosemary Kinnes, Moira Hartop, Pru Perry, Martin Perret and Thomas Andreasson,

We played volley ball once a week across the road in that school hall, followed up by a rowdy and warm evening in the Cafe du Soliel, went out for group dinners on a Friday night and had loads of fun together. Sue moved through the ranks of the League, then the Federation and in her many positions, I found her such a helpful colleague, who would go the extra mile and do those things for field staff, many clearly beyond the call of duty.

Two people I would always seek out when I came back to Geneva throughout my career, was Sue, and later, Harold Masterson. Somehow we three clicked, and as I wrote after Harold’s death, we all used to joke about and say in different forms, “ If we stay with the Federation, and retire at 65, all we need to do is walk across the road to the old people’s home in Rue Colladon, and live there, hopefully get the odd consultancy, meet at the Cafe at night to continue our tutoring of young delegates, and perhaps restart the volley ball club. Black humour was often to the fore with Sue and Harold, as they both had, at times, wicked senses of humour.

I must have visited Geneva over 50, probably 70 times, over the years and I don’t recall a visit where I didn’t call on Sue, and catch up on how she was, and to get the low-down of the health of the Secretariat.

She always seemed to be rushing, purpose and goal driven, but when she saw me her face would light up and with a beaming smile, we would hug each other.

Since Zonalisation, visits to Geneva are rare, but I met her last in January 2009. We spent more time chatting than usual, as we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We had tea together and I had never asked her before about her pre-Red Cross life and she told me much about the interesting life she had led as a young girl, travelling a lot with her parents. She was always interested in my work and wanted to know in detail what I was doing.

Sue, I got the news this morning and feel sad that I never wrote to you last week. I remembered you as I do from time to time, and thought, “ I’d better drop a note to Sue and tell her about life in Sri Lanka." Why do we always put the important aside and put writing a dreary report as a higher priority.
It said in the email I received

"She should also be remembered for the quiet courage with which she fought the challenges she faced."   Why did you not share your challenges and trials with a friend ? I know, you never liked imposing on others. That was your humility and modesty which I admire.

So Sue and Harold, you never made it across the road to Colladon. I don’t think I will honour that agreement, joke or not, because when we made plans, we were going to be there all together. It would be lonely by myself.

Rest in peace dear friend.


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Navam Maha Perahera - A remarkable pageant in Sri Lanka tonight.

Ablai, my 11 year old boy, and I went out early evening to watch the The Navam Maha Perahera, a colourful, bright and drum and trumpet led pageant, which  is  held anually in February, and displays the rich religious and cultural tradition of Sri Lanka. Hundreds of monks Navam clad in colouful robes solemnly walking in the procession are a unique sight. Youth clad in white carrying Buddhist flags march in front. Sacred relics housed in a casket are carried by a majestic elephant on its back. Dancers display the different types of dances prevalent in different parts of the country. So are the drummers who exhibit their skill in handling numerous forms of drums. This year, all the money and food given to the temple will go to assist those affected by floods in Sri Lanka.

About 100 decorated elephants were in the parade some bedecked with covers with delicate embroidery and precious stones and others, such as the one below, in a simple blue cover.

Gangarama temple. People come early to get the best viewing places.

The Perehara revives the ancient forms drawing dancing troupes from all parts of the country and providing an occasion to display their prowess.

The beneficiaries of events such as these are the traditional Dance Troupes, who now enjoy a revival of interest in their dance and forms of entertainment. The Perehera thus has a direct relevance to the preservation of  ancient Sri Lankan Cultural Heritage. The entire organization of the Perahera is handled by the young people associated with the "Gangaramaya' Temple. The Perahera was first started in the year 1979.

In Sri Lanka the Colombo Nawam Maha Perahera takes pride of place. In the Buddhist World no country can claim to have held such a Colorful, Cultural Pageant. Gangaramaya of Colombo.2, attends to the organizing work. The Flags, Banners and Decorations used for this Event are available for use for similar events in other parts of the island.

The lead Elephant waits in the temple for the procession to begin.

Raising funds for flood victimsflood victims

By Ven. Galaboda Siri Gnanissara Thera (Podi Hamuduruwo of Gangarama Temple)
In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Central Bank complex in 1996 it was decided to divert all contributions received for the Navam Perahera to the families of the victims of the destruction. Accordingly the funds were handed over to the then minister in charge, the late Mr Lakshman Jayakody and the usual Perahera was held as a Mal

This year, having considered the plight of those who lost everything they possessed due to the recent floods and other natural disasters in the North East, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa, it is decided to allocate a part of the contributions received for the Perahera to provide assistance to the needy in these areas. The Perahera however will be held as usual.

The Gangaramaya is now in the process of receiving large quantities of dry rations and other items for distribution among the flood victims.
The unforeseen climatic changes that prevailed recently all over the world had a heavy toll on Sri Lanka too.
The displaced persons owing to floods and landslides need immediate assistance. It is our belief that the distribution of essential items and other needs could be successfully handled by the Buddhist temples and other religious centres based in those localities. The dedication of every individual is important. Our countrymen have always been in the forefront whenever a situation of this magnitude arose and their caring and sharing had never been wanting.

As the procession moved towards my apartment, I folowed them, caught these happy dancers.

Looking from the 8th floor of my apartment building to a cavalcade of dancers and elephants slowly winding their way through the city.

All photos above taken by Bob McKerrow and are copyright.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

You can never recapture

You can never recapture
The sight of your first snowfall
Or the tenderness of your first love
The feeling of aloneness in the wilderness

Memories cascading like waterfalls of time

First memories of splashing in puddles
And seeing brightly wrapped presents from Santa
Scrunching on carpets of Autumn leaves
And the smell of nuts from the gum tree

Memories cascading like waterfalls of time

Hearing the song of a Tui
And the flit of the fantail
Chasing waves on wild beaches
And rainbows after spring showers

Memories cascading like awterfalls of time

The smell of your grandparents
Sitting in their warm laps
And a coin slipped in you pocket
And hugs that radiated eternal love

Memorioes cascading like waterfalls of time

The strong tug on your fingers
As you hooked your first fish
And squirmed at the thought
Of having to handle and gut it

Memorioes cascading like waterfalls of time

Ablai caught his first fish today, a 'trigger fish.'  " It tastes like chicken,' says John. Ablai is 11 and it was his first fishing trip and I was reminded of a poem I wrote (above) some years back about how you can never recapure many things you did for the first time. It was such a joy watching him hook, haul in the line, and see the first and only fish he has caught.

The team 'The skipper' rear left and John Kao. In the front Ablai, left and Jason Kao.

Ablai McKerrow (l) and Jason Kao (r) before starting on the trip today.

Master diver and marine expert John Kao who took us on the trip today. John has been diving professionally most of his life, apart for some years in the early 90s when he was a field officer for the IFRC for 3 years with the Red Cross Internally Displaced Persons  programme during the war in the north of Sri Lanka..
The fish Ablai caught wasn't quite this big, as he examines the one caught by the other boat that we met at sea.

Quite a few container ships were waiting off shore, hoping to unload in Colombo Port.
While the rich and famous patronise the more up market beaches south of Colombo, ordinary families living in Colombo use this beach near Hotel Baech Wadia. where we started and ended outr trip today.

This morning we had a beautiful dawn and tomorrow it is Poya day, full moon and the
Navam Maha Perahera festival which  starts at the Gangarama temple, two minutes walk from our  apartment..

The streets of Colombo transform under the weight of 100 colourful elephants during tomorrow's full moon. Since 1979, the Navam Maha Perahera has annually attracted more than a million spectators to the Gangaramaya Temple, at Hunupitiya by picturesque Beira Lake.

The event usually has as many as 1000 performers. The fearsome kas karayas inaugurate the processions by cracking their whips in the air, while schoolchildren scurry behind, carrying colourful flags.

Plenty of noise is contributed by percussion bands, conch shell blowers, stilt-walkers, flautists and drummers, but the real guests of honour are the elephants, visiting from all over the island.

So today's holiday was so enjoyable and tomorrow promises to me a colourful one, with lots of noise, excitement and epitomises what I like about Buddhism..