In the months after he stood on the rubble, listening to the voices of the trapped, Paramedic James Watkins was waking up in the night, sweating.
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The February 22, 2011 earthquake killed 185 people. Source: 1 NEWS
An experienced emergency worker was later honored for his bravery, and was awarded a medal for saving lives when he climbed into a tunnel in the wreckage of the CTV Building. But late at night, when it was all over, his mind wouldn’t leave him alone.
He said this month: “Suddenly these images have returned to your mind. You recall what you saw, and you see what was in the day, the smells, and it seems that everything is back.”
“I thought,” I can handle this, I can handle this, “and it got to the point where” I can’t. “
The humble hero is one of many rescuers the memory will follow for years after the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011.
It was a disaster that permanently changed the emergency services that responded to it, and with the tenth anniversary, many are still grappling with the enormity of the experience.
When a 6.3-magnitude earthquake shook the city, Watkins was sent straight to the CTV site in his black and white uniform, and he instantly found himself in a scene of chaos.
“It was very loud and loud and hot there, and you could hear the sounds,” he said.
“You stand on a lot of rubble, you sit there, you get aftershocks and things are vibrating, and you think I hope these things don’t move while we’re standing on the he-she.”
Soon he was assigned to work with firefighters and doctors searching for survivors, unaware that the death toll would subsequently reach 115 people at that one location.
The office building was flat, with each floor collapsing on top of one another.
“We were digging away, then the rubble was removed, and I remember a void of concrete underneath that alleged tunnel, and the way it fell created a tunnel, and it was decided we’d better go in and have a look.
“The fire service went in first, took a look, and basically came back and said, ‘Yeah, we can hear voices.’
The medical staff was admitted, so Watkins joined the emergency doctor.
“Basically, it was, ‘I’m really going with you,’ and we went in and found some patients there, and I don’t remember how long it took to get them out, but we pulled them out, and just a sense of relief and maybe even joy because we really managed to get living people out of this mess.”
Across town, at the site of the collapsed PGC Building, ordinary civilians were the first to reach the scene. The office also collapsed, trapping dozens of people between floors.
Attorneys David Lange, Andrew Riches and Toby Giles were among the many people working in the house next door who rushed in to help and immediately found people in need of help.
They were part of a group who immediately improvised, and as the ground continued to shake, they built a ladder out of some kind of fabric fence.
The trio sat down together for an interview this month, remembering how people started running from everywhere to help.
“An arm came out, and there was someone in between the broken floors, and we managed to get it out, and it was totally fine,” Riches said.
“While this was happening, perhaps the biggest aftershock of the day shook the building, and it was definitely the closest thing I could think of that I was going to die. Because on the side of this building, I looked up and there was all this metal, loose debris, that seemed to come down.
“You can’t jump into the building, and there wasn’t enough time to get to safety and I just remember sticking to and thinking” That’s it, it’s all over, “but when the aftershock stopped we were fine.
The trio, who say they are “bound” to the experience, still work together to this day at Saunders and Co and were later honored for the championship.
Giles added that it was all part of “kiwi nature”, where “you see something and interact with it.”
He said, “I don’t know if it’s some kind of built-in forecast, but you’d think anyone on the street would do the same.”
Watkins echoed these sentiments in his interview, saying it was just one part of a much larger process.
“The idea of being a hero, I struggle with it,” he said, “I’m just one of many people who do work.”
“When something happens and people run from what is happening, we are trained to do the opposite and run towards it, and I suppose at the time, that’s what we all did, everyone.”
In the years following the tragedy, he took counsel to help overcome the conflict he felt in the aftermath.
It all started to sink when he started driving home for the day, with the music turned off, and the car was quiet.
He said, “I came home, saw my wife, and then basically took a long bath in hot water, looked at my uniform and thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to use that again,’ because it was dirty.”
“I said to myself later,” He is in control of me, “just having flashbacks, and sleeping at night was the most important thing. You close your eyes at night, and you’re tired, you want to go to bed, close your eyes, and you wake up after an hour or something like that sweaty.” .
For a long time after that, he wasn’t even able to catch a glimpse of CTV when he passed by, and the anniversary brought up many agonizing memories.
But after a decade, he managed to make peace with her, and this month he returned to where it all happened for the first time.
Not long ago even when he was standing there, chills ran down his spine, his palm was sweating.
“Ten years, I think to myself, where did I go?” He turned around to look at the flower wall.
Memories were jumping back, but this time, many were positive.
He said, “I felt honored to do my part on this day.”
“These people will never forget.”
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