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New Zealand earthquake shakes hearts in Holyoke PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Lee   

Graeme Smith and his wife Dolly of Holyoke didn’t sleep too well Tuesday night, Feb. 22. After seeing the reports of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in New Zealand, their first thought was if Graeme’s sister was OK.

Glennis Pierson, Graeme’s sister, lives near Christchurch, New Zealand, which received major damage last week after an earthquake shook a lot of the city to the ground. Pierson is an office manager for Ernst and Young Accounting Company.

It wasn’t until later Wednesday that Graeme was able to reach his sister by phone. He managed to contact a good friend, Bruce, the previous night and had been receiving e-mails from other friends.

It is estimated the epicenter of the earthquake was near Lyttelton at a depth of five kilometers or 3.1 miles. Lyttelton is just to the southeast of Christchurch. This earthquake was much shallower than the quake that hit the same area Sept. 4, 2010.

Pierson was in her office building on the fourth floor when all of a sudden computers began crashing off desks. Their first instinct, according to Smith, was to get out. And that’s what Pierson and her coworkers did. They went straight to the stairs and down the four floors while the building was literally falling down around them.

Smith said everyone in his sister’s building made it out safe and sound. Once outside, people ran to their vehicles and hightailed it out of the city.

Ironically, Ernst and Young moved into the building 18 months ago. The building they moved out of was leveled during the earthquake. The same day of the earthquake, a contractor/designer was touring the new building with staff, deciding on ideas for an office remodel. After the quake, he left because he said the building would need to be bulldozed and a new one built.

“I can’t comprehend it,” Smith said. “It’s unbelievable. I would’ve never thought it would happen in a million years.” He spent 46 years in Christchurch before moving to Holyoke 14 years ago. The Smiths last visited Christchurch four years ago in 2007.

“What if” is a phrase that pops up when disaster strikes. “What if I were here,” or “What if I were there?” For Graeme and Dolly, “what if” hits a little closer. They were planning to travel to New Zealand but used the funds to work on their home in Holyoke instead. Had they decided to go, they would’ve been there at the time the earthquake hit. They do have plans to travel there in February 2012.

One of the more famous landmarks, the Christchurch Cathedral, received damage when the steeple portion collapsed, trapping people inside. Dolly said she climbed the steps to the top of the steeple during past trips.

Graeme said he understands the main part of the city is blocked off and people aren’t allowed downtown. He mentioned people are primarily confined to the individual suburbs.

Although his sister’s home, which is located in the suburbs, received heavy damage, it is still livable. It took nearly a day for her power to be connected which is why he was unable to contact her right away.

The Smiths describe New Zealand as a very friendly and laid back place. The rebuilding process will take time and lots of money, but Graeme said the people not affected will reach out to those in need.

Tourism has always been really good to the area, but that will take a back seat now that there is work to be done to restore the city. Christchurch is home to nearly 400,000 people. As of Monday, Feb. 28, an estimated 154 people were dead with over 200 still missing.

Brother of Helen Einspahr also in New Zealand

Helen Einspahr of Holyoke hasn’t been in direct contact with her brother Richard Paine, but a niece told her that he was OK. Einspahr was told things fell off the walls and everyone was a little shaken up at her brother’s home.

Paine is a retired airman who lives in Christchurch with his wife Helen.

Einspahr said she hopes everyone is OK. “You can rebuild buildings but a person can’t be replaced,” she added.