TRAGIC MEMORY: Warwick firefighter Michael Coombes reflects on the 10 year Christchurch anniversary.
TRAGIC MEMORY: Warwick firefighter Michael Coombes reflects on the 10 year Christchurch anniversary.

Warwick firey reflects on Christchurch tragedy 10 years on

When Warwick firefighter Michael Coombes got the call to help out with a New Zealand earthquake, he said yes without thinking twice.

Little did he know he would bear witness to one of the most tragic disasters in recent history.

February marks the 10 year anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch in 2011 and killed 185 people and caused widespread destruction,

Mr Coombes, was the only Warwick firefighter on scene and had one year’s worth of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) training before jumping on-board.

But just hours into the mission, Mr Coombes realised no amount of training could have prepared him fully for the reality.

“The first night I was there I was lying in my tent when I thought someone was outside shaking it, but it wasn’t, it was an aftershock,” he said.

“We ended up there for 12 days and saw a couple of hundred aftershocks.

“After that first night, it was just a regular occurrence.”

The CTV building the Australian team was appointed to accounted for 60 per cent of the earthquake’s fatalities.

The six-storey building was home to Canterbury Television station, doctor’s surgeries and language and nursing classrooms.

In the years after, the building became marred in controversy as inquiries uncovered serious flaw exposed in its design, construction and inspection

To this day, Mr Coombes can’t believe the sheer size of its tragedy.

“The levels were literally pancaked on top of each other,” he said.

“It was certainly confronting, it took us roughly five days to clear off that site because of the amount of levels we had to keep searching for people between.”

: Search and rescue teams scour through the wreckage of the CTV building on February 28, 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
: Search and rescue teams scour through the wreckage of the CTV building on February 28, 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Now with 20 years firefighting experience under his belt, he said little compared to the widespread devastation of Christchurch.

“I’ve done cyclones and floods here but it’s not comparable to the damage done to Christchurch,” he sad.

“Christchurch was just city blocks and blocks of damagec buildings.”

Mr Coombes hasn’t returned to Christchurch but hoped the anniversary was a chance to reflect on the “overwhelming” help that poured in from across the globe.

He also hoped it marked a tragedy that would never be repeated.

“They lost buildings, history, that can’t be replaced,” he said.

“One good thing since then is that there’s been better designs built to cope with (earthquakes), and Christchurch has been able to rebuild in a different architecture than they had before.”



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