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Citycare teams worked tirelessly to repair and restore infrastructure after the catastrophic Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, 2011.
This week we’re sharing stories from our team to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the disaster.
Here are their personal recollections:
Mark Aydon, National Tender Manager, Christchurch
“Citycare was heavily involved in running and coordinating the infrastructure support response.
Our mission was to get safe water to the people as soon as possible.
It was all about getting the right people with the right skills into the city and the response we got was overwhelming.
On day one, 40 subcontractors turned up to help and by day four we were coordinating 140 businesses, from all over the country.
As it was a normal business day our people were on the ground during the quake – doing repairs on base core infrastructure from the September quake.
Some of our staff didn’t go home for days in the aftermath.”
Mark Bradley, Fleet team, Christchurch
“I found it amazing that the day after the earthquake in the early morning hours workers were coming in to fix the city when their own houses were munted and their families upset. They still came in. There was a greater need for the city than their own need.
The priority was ensuring access for emergency services, to the hospitals, the rest homes, to get the arterial roads all running despite the liquefaction.
We provided showers and meals were provided by the community because many of our staff didn’t have electricity or water at their own homes. There was a constant supply of meals, baking and food dropped off because the community couldn’t do much, so offering food meant they were doing something.
There was a great community response.
Just before Christmas of that terrible year, the New Brighton water main had burst, the workers at lunchtime were finding Christmas cards from children wishing them merry Christmas for fixing their water. Alongside was Christmas cake and gifts of thanks, mostly food.”
Steve Pearce, Strategic Account Manager, Christchurch
“In the first few days, the majority of our facilities maintenance staff were assigned to evacuating tenants in Council housing complexes on the eastern side of the city that were red stickered or badly affected by liquefaction or affected by rock fall zones such as at Sumner.
We assisted Council teams to complete tenancy checks and were on call 24/7 for emergency callouts.
Sometimes we were moving people in the middle of the night to stay with friends or family or at other available housing or motel accommodation.
It could be at any time of the day or night as that happened to be when the civil defence or engineering assessments were completed on a property and it was considered too dangerous for them to stay.
Teams then moved to boarding up premises and making them safe.
Some staff were assisting at the Emergency Operations Centre in the Christchurch Art Gallery, assisting Civil Defence and the Armed Forces to organise resources and set infrastructure priorities.
Other teams helped Civil Defence establish emergency welfare locations at Council sites around the city and to help council re-establish core operations for itself, so key staff and its call centre teams could operate and be in a position to take calls from the public.
In the following weeks we co-located some of our team to assist in coordinating engineers to assess council-owned buildings.
We assigned a number of staff to assist another client – Nurse Maude – to enable them to keep their hospital site running.”
Neil Newth, Manager Christchurch City Council Water
“We had a lot of areas without drinking water and a lot of pump stations were triggered to stop because of the impact.
We also had to manage wastewater contamination as well as fixing the water supply.
At our depot, we had a whole emergency operations centre running and I worked with other managers to coordinate the work of up to 38 contractors, with all of their staff, in water.
We worked closely with council staff from Christchurch but also from other areas. They would come to our depot and we would work as a team – on strategy and on plans.
The main objective for our team was getting as much water back as fast as we could.
It was a hell of a mess! The February earthquake did a lot more damage (on top of the existing damage from the September quakes).
With the rubble, a lot assets – valves – got buried under and it was harder to find to fix the supply.
We had crews isolating mains and fixing leaks, reinforcing pipes to get the water to the people.
A lot of pipes shifted and there were a lot of areas we couldn’t initially get to.
I worked 29 days in a row, 16 hours a day, to help keep things going, coordinating the teams, ensuring all of our forepersons and field staff got appropriate care and time to rest, too.
There were a lot of good people working for us and with us. We had consultants and very experienced people help us.
We divided the city in areas and had a briefing every morning and every evening to cover as much ground as fast as we could, allocating and prioritising jobs for each team.”
Tony Ewens, Taranaki Branch Manager
I went to Christchurch many times to lead the teams there with repairs.
Our clients here in Taranaki supported our own water and waste technicians, stopping their work and going to Christchurch to help.
We mobilised about 30% of our New Plymouth workforce. It was pretty quick.
I was one of the first managers to arrive down there to help with the set up, get the teams organised and get the emergency response underway.
It was organised chaos!
We were given different parts of the city to work through.
I was looking after Avonside and Dallington.
On the first shift, I was managing 32 staff, from Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Masterton, New Plymouth and South Taranaki. And our Christchurch teams were here as well, so all these people came in and worked together to help.
We ran like this for two to three weeks before getting into a rotation system.
On the ground, the teams were housed in caravans. Staff worked 16-hour days, seven days a week and every fortnight we rotated.
Staff returned to their regular duties, at their regular branch, for a two weeks period, and then travelled back to Christchurch.
We did this three to four times. We also brought in service trucks, equipment and supplies.
As a manager, my role was to ensure my team was getting adequate breaks, food and supplies, making sure we had the right equipment and direction to do the work that had to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Managing emergency calls that came in and prioritising.
The staff were great and had high levels of motivation.
They all worked pro-actively and felt good about it – it was rewarding work.
The residents were also very appreciative, that really kept us going.
Our focus was on getting water services back on as soon as possible – getting water back to the people.
Fixing water mains was a priority – getting the mains under control and minimising water loss.
Then we started laying new water mains – directly overground, just so people can get water into their houses.
The aftershocks were ongoing so we had to constantly monitor the infrastructure for damage and fix breaks and leaks swiftly.
Then we cleaned and flushed the mains and the pipes so that water was potable and safe.
Every main that we fixed, we were getting closer to gaining full control of the water supply – that’s what we were working tirelessly for.
It’s also important to recognise all the people in the branches across the country who ensured the continuity of water services for their local community with reduced staffing. Their work load also drastically increased while part of the team were helping out in Christchurch.
Donny Haenga, Water Serviceperson, Wellington
“When we saw the news on TV, it was a shared moment and a group of us immediately volunteered to go down to give a hand.
On my first trip, I stayed for over a month, almost two, without going home.
We’d always have about 10 people on rotation, some would swap to go home and come back in a couple of weeks.
After the first trip, I came another three times. My family was very proud and supportive.
We did as much as we could every day. It was hard but also awesome to know we were contributing to something big.
It was all about helping others. It’s work that just had to be done.
The damage was crazy!
We were focusing on the suburban areas. It was very full on and some pipes were really, really broken.
Every day we were allocated a work site, an area or a street. We would turn the main on, mark the leaks and move onto the repair work – digging everything and fixing the pipes. And then onto the next site.
We worked in pairs all along the network. We had excavators and trucks and all the tools we needed to do the work – it was pretty well organised.
There were people from everywhere, just working hard to keep things going.
We had some strong teamwork going on and we created some good friendships, too.
I’ve been in the industry since 1995. That’s just what we do: getting the job done, working for our communities.”
Misty Soper, Environmental Services Manager, Christchurch
“I began my career at Citycare as a temporary labourer cleaning liquefaction from the streets of Christchurch.
I joined the team on 23 February 2011, one day after the Canterbury earthquakes.
I had been working as a manager of the Treehouse karaoke bar in the heart of Christchurch city.
With no work to go to the day after the earthquakes, I was pleased to have picked up a temporary job.
That first week was hard work. It was exhausting. It was long hours and physically demanding.
Over a few months I lost 32kg walking and shovelling.”
Jason Briskie, Water Serviceperson, Taranaki
"My hand went up straight away when I heard there was an opportunity for us to go down and help.
I was part of a group of six – we were the first from New Plymouth to go. We stocked up, because we heard there was a shortage of fittings, and hit the road.
We drove down and took the ferry with an overnight in Picton. At first, we stayed at the Wigram Airforce base and they took really good care of us.
The next few times – I came back three more times – we stayed in campervans.
We fixed pipes and leaks as fast as we could to get people back on the water supply.
The job in itself wasn’t very hard but there was a lot of damage.
We’d be assigned to a specific area. In the first street we’d assess the situation, isolate the issue, fix the leaks and breakages and move onto the next street.
Some days we’d spend the whole time on just one small area because of how extensive the damage was.
We weren’t familiar with the city so had to understand the layout and the plans, the local infrastructure and terminology.
They have submains in Christchurch. It’s not something we have in New Plymouth.
I liked those – it’s a smart system because we can isolate issues with much more precision and fix things quickly and in increments with less disruption to the residents.
It was interesting working on those and learning from our Christchurch teams about the way they do things.
I loved helping down there, it was an opportunity to do something meaningful. We worked 12-hour days, sometimes more, and it was rewarding because with each extra hour worked, more people were getting water back in their homes.”
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When Christchurch residents report an issue with their water, various Citycare Water teams step in to ensure the problem is repaired in a timely way.
Thousands of residents report water reticulation problems in Christchurch each month and prioritising the fixes is a continuous exemplar of collaboration between the council and Citycare Water.