Earthquakes and Rabbi's

Contributor: Chris Concannon

Date: 21 July 2011

Airey Consultants has been extensively involved in the Christchurch earthquake recovery effort. Shortly after the February 22nd quake, two directors from Aireys, Roger Twiname and Ian Gibson were down in Christchurch helping with building inspections on a voluntary basis.

Shortly afterwards the Christchurch city council and civil defence invited consultancies from around NZ to provide their services in a council run effort to assist with rapid building response. Airey Consultants was quick to respond sending down groups of two engineers on an ongoing weekly basis.

The initial response involved extensive level two surveys of quake damaged buildings in the red zone of the CBD. The red zone is an area of the CBD that is effectively in lock down, encompassing some of the most heavily damaged buildings. It is secured by the army via access checkpoints and regular patrols by the police ensure the public do not access the area.

Over the course of our involvement the focus changed from rapid building assessment (which was carried out a quicker than expected pace thanks to the overwhelming support from organisations around NZ), to building access. This phase was primarily to allow business owners access to obtain essential business items. Our involvement was to escort the people to the building in the red zone and carry out a quick structural review of the building and decide the terms of access if any. Access was not limited to yellow or green placarded buildings, we were also required to assess in some instances the possibility of allowing access to a red stickered building. Red stickered buildings were effectively unsafe and no member of the public could enter. Yellow allowed restricted access and green was deemed safe for access.
An Israeli delegation was in Christchurch to lay wreaths at the CTV site for their lost countrymen and women. During a shift on Rapid Response, David McKenzie a Director from Airey Consultants and I were asked to escort a group of Rabbi’s to a building in the CBD. The building was a centre for the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish movement and had been assessed and given a red placard.

We entered the building with one of our safety team, a member of the Wellington Fire service and instantly identified an area of concern. The upper floor perimeter walls were constructed of unreinforced brick and were showing severe cracking and had failed out of plane in some areas. The roof was supported by large timber trusses spanning at least 10 metres from wall to wall. One of the roof truss supports had buckled and was seated on only 20mm if that of its brick wall support. The wall itself was severely cracked, a moderate aftershock possibly would cause this wall to completely fail and bring the roof truss down with it.

We decided we would allow access for one person only and allow 10 minutes to obtain essential items to minimise the risk. Rabbi Menachem entered with us and we quickly realised the importance of the items they wished to recover. Ancient scrolls, irreplaceable scripts, chalices, books were quickly being sorted ready to be taken out of the building. David and I and the Wellington fire fighters assisted in carrying out hundreds of books and irreplaceable artefacts. We made multiple trips into the building, filling the Rabbi’s Ute parked outside, eventually removing all items of importance. The Rabbi’s were so grateful for our help that they insisted we join them for a drink later in the evening as a thank you.
That evening we were overwhelmed with the gratitude shown to us.
rabbi It was very humbling and we quickly realised how much our help had meant to them. The house we were invited to was full of Rabbi’s from around the world, the US, Canada, Australia, Israel. We were treated with food, beer, songs and great company.

One thing from the evening that really stood out was the phase “L'Chaim”. In english meaning “To Life”. The Rabbis insisted every time we took a drink of beer or wine that we yelled “L'Chaim!” It brought the human element of our work to the fore. As a parting gift David and I and the Wellington Fire Fighters were given a bottle of kosher wine and a Chabad Lubavitch skullcap.

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