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Friday / March 1.
HomemifeatureChristchurch: A Personal Perspective

Christchurch: A Personal Perspective

Optometrists in New Zealand’s Canterbury district are struggling to find a way forward after a second major earthquake hit the area in February. The earthquake destroyed the iconic city of Christchurch and surrounding areas. It shook the confidence of people across New Zealand. An ever-escalating number of people have died, including the influential optometrist and former president of the New Zealand Association of Optometrists, Mr. Paul Dunlop

I was born in New Zealand. It is a country, so tiny and far removed from the rest of the world, there is generally little to fear. No nasty deadly snakes, life-threatening spiders or snapping crocodiles. No devastating bushfires or cyclones either. Just a mass of fault lines, the largest of which, the Great Alpine Fault Line, runs the length of the South Island and continues up through the North Island. In reality, New Zealand experiences thousands of earthquakes every year, but most are too small to feel.

The earthquake that struck the country on 22 February was very different. It had its epi-centre in Lyttelton, just south of Christchurch. The tremors were felt as far north as Wellington in the North Island and as far south as Dunedin.

Unlike the previous major quake on 4 September 2010, this quake caused significantly more damage, especially in the areas of Christchurch, Summer, Lyttelton and Heathcote. And, it had a massive impact on the people. That’s because, although the magnitude was less than last year (September measured 7.1), the 6.3 jolt struck while workers and shoppers were enjoying their lunch hour.

One caller asked if anyone had seen Paul, an optometrist who was helping his local church mend their organ in his lunch hour when the church collapsed

To make things worse, while the September shock occurred 33km deep underground, the February quake occurred just 5km under which made it much more violent.

Powerful aftershocks continued to rock the city. Buildings caught fire and the region was filled with giant plumes of smoke and dust clouds.

Great Sadness

According to media reports, radio stations received many calls from people in tears in the aftermath of the quake. One caller asked if anyone had seen Paul, an optometrist who was helping his local church mend its organ in his lunch hour when the church collapsed.

Grant Firth from the New Zealand Association of Optometrists said, with great sadness, that the impact of the earthquake killed Paul Dunlop, an optometrist and former president of the Optometry Association of New Zealand, who was doing volunteer work dismantling a church organ at the Durham St. Methodist Mission Church when the quake hit (for more on Paul Dunlop go to ‘In Memoriam: Paul Clarence Dunlop’ elsewhere in this feature).

Fortunately, other optometrists in the area have survived, Mr. Firth said.

The earthquake has been devastating for many optometric practices in the Canterbury region with 28 of the 45 practices temporarily closed, many yet to re-open.

“We thought everything was settling down in Christchurch after the first quake so this second one has come as a big surprise,” he said.

“Our optometrists struggled so hard to survive after September, I’m sure they must be wondering whether they can keep going. Some who were practising from old buildings had to re-locate after the first earthquake, but they were beginning to get their businesses back to normal. One optometrist, who had been affected in September, had brought plans forward to earthquake proof his optometric practice – but I don’t imagine that this had taken place.”

Mr. Firth, who lives and works in Wellington, said the magnitude and devastation of the earthquakes has made him nervous about living in the area. “Wellington has always been predicted to be the most likely city to experience earthquakes – the major fault line runs through the city – so we expect them. But Christchurch is an area that was never thought to be of concern. I feel very apprehensive.”

Darkest Day

Prime Minister John Key said it was likely the quake would prove to be New Zealand’s “darkest day”.

“It’s just a scene of utter devastation, it’s just so vastly different from the last earthquake where, yes, there were some horrifying scenes but this is central city at a very, very busy time where you’ve had a massive earthquake it’s been violent shaking on probably what was very weakened infrastructure.”

Mr. Key said New Zealanders should be assured the Government was doing everything it could.

For optometrists and other businesses in the Canterbury area, it will no doubt be a long haul to get their businesses up and running and their lives back into some semblance of order. Mr. Firth said that once the dust has settled and the New Zealand Association of Optometrists has had a chance to talk to affected optometrists, help will be on its way. “We don’t know what the needs are at the moment, it’s too early but we will look at doing everything possible to help optometrists get back to business. In the meantime, we are acting as a clearing house, helping industry members who want to provide assistance to get in touch with affected optometrists.”

Long Term Impact

I’ve just been back to visit the land of the long white cloud and that fearlessness, the optimism that is usually so evident within the country’s small, friendly population, has shifted. Flags are flying at half-mast and the papers are filled with stories and images of people who have lost their lives and heroes who put their own lives on the line to save others.

There were few people I spoke to who didn’t know or know of someone that had been severely impacted by the earthquake. I was standing in a small gallery in Piha, a wild black sand beach on the west coast of Auckland, when the woman serving me received a call from her brother, informing her that her father, who lived in Christchurch, had just died. While he had been ill for some time, it made me wonder about the indirect stress and impact that the earthquake will have on people in months – and years – to come.

Ironically, I was in New Zealand to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I say ironically because there are many in Christchurch who have had their own lives cut drastically short. Others, who have lost their grandparents and now, can never hope to celebrate such an incredible milestone.

Let’s hope the ground will soon stabilise, that predictions of future quakes will be proven wrong and that our fellow Kiwis can resume their once blissful existence in the slice of heaven that New Zealand really is.

In Memoriam: Paul Clarence Dunlop
14 May 1943 – 22 February 2011

Paul Clarence Dunlop, 67, was a well-known Christchurch optometrist and former president of what was formerly called the New Zealand Optometrists Association (NZOA). His family practice served the Christchurch community for more than 110 years.

He was a member of a team of eight that was dismantling an organ at the Methodist Mission Church on Durham St when the quake hit.

He was killed with two men from the South Island Organ Company. Other workers managed to escape.

Mr. Dunlop completed his optometry practice in 1965 and joined his family practice, Paul Dunlop and Associates, which he ran with his wife, Sue. He had a particular interest in contact lens fitting and behavioural optometry, particularly learning difficulties for children.

Mr. Dunlop joined the NZOA in 1964 and was the Association’s president from 1990-92. During his time on the NZAO Council from 1984-94, he was involved in all aspects of running the Association, developing policy and administrative procedures.

Mr. Dunlop was the editor of the Association’s magazine, The Bulletin and responsible for developing and editing Association pamphlets. He was also an active member of the International Federation of Asian and Pacific Association of Optometrists from 1979-2001, which preceded the Asia Pacific Council of Optometrists.

Mr. Dunlop served several terms on the council of the Asia Pacific Council of Optometry (APCO), including time as Vice President. He was appointed to the Governing Board of the World Council of Optometry in 1999 and was Secretary of the Contact Lens Society from 1972-76. He most recently served on the national registration board and as president of the New Zealand College of Optometrists (2004-06).

A true gentleman, Mr. Dunlop was well respected both within and outside the optometry profession. In addition to his extraordinary contribution to optometry in New Zealand and the Pacific, he was greatly involved in the musical life of Durham Street Methodist Church in Christchurch as an organist and organ technician.

Kim Tay, a former patient, said: “Going to Dunlop’s was a regular feature of growing up in Christchurch for me from an early age, as I became more and more short-sighted, and the visits were always memorable for Paul had such a great combination of being so intelligent, informed and professional, yet sweet, kind, and always quick with a joke or a laugh. Paul was also my mother’s optometrist and a family friend, and it’s hard to believe such an iconic, delightful man has been lost. We will miss your smile, Paul.”

Optometry Staff Save Patient

Colombo Street is the main road of the city of Christchurch and one of the worst hit in the last quake.

Colley Robinson Optometrists, a practice owned by OPSM, is on the intersection of Hereford and Colombo streets. Resident optometrist Mr. Tim Robinson was testing a patient’s eyesight when the earthquake struck.

“I had almost finished testing when we felt violent shaking along with incredible noise. We lost power and my patient’s glasses fell off the table beside her. I was scrambling around on the floor in the dark looking for them,” he said.

The patient, Ms. Gay Gould, was visiting Christchurch from Papamoa, a town in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island. With no experience of earthquakes, she had little idea of what was going on.

“It was more frightening for her – my staff and I knew what was happening – we’d just been through the earthquake in September. To make it worse, the lady’s husband had gone up the street, she didn’t know where he was,” said Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Robinson said he and his staff helped Ms. Gould to safety. “We stayed in the practice for a minute between two beams of steel before we went outside. That was the right thing to do – I think many people died because they went outside too quickly.”

The entire veranda of the building in which Colley Robinson Optometrists operates collapsed, “like a tilt-up-door”. Fortunately in doing so, it provided some protection from the bricks and glass tumbling down from above, and created a small triangle of space through which Ms. Gould and the practice staff could exit.

“I was an idiot. For some reason I directed them outside then went upstairs to collect my bike,” said Mr. Robinson.

“My staff led the lady into the middle of what is normally the busiest street in Christchurch and I joined them there. Some were very concerned and worried about children in crèches and schools, but it was important that we stayed together, looked after each other, until we knew what was going on. Thankfully my patient’s husband turned up.”

Disaster Scene

Five minutes later, the police ushered everyone on the street towards open space. “It was like a disaster movie – everyone heading in the same direction. I looked across at the Cathedral, but there was nothing to see but clouds of dust. It’s a part of the skyline that I’ve always looked to, the spire has always been there. But there was nothing,” he said.

Mr. Robinson said that throughout the earthquake he didn’t feel panic or fear, “You just do what you need to do at the time”. However the aftershocks are draining: “it’s emotionally hard. You’re just not sure what’s going to happen. And to be honest, I cried every day for the first five days after the quake. Sometimes it’s just too much. Too much sadness… it’s overwhelming.”

While the Colley Robinson building has been shut down and will no doubt be demolished, Mr. Robinson says it was its structural integrity that saved his life and the lives of his staff and patient. “We had the building strengthened 14 years ago. It was annoying at the time but it saved our lives. The new building laws will be much stronger again, and that’s a good thing.”

The Future

And as for the future? Mr. Robinson has been transferred to OPSM’s Canterbury practice in Riccarton for now and plans to stay in Christchurch. “My family is here and I have no intention of leaving, however I absolutely respect those optoms who choose to move away. There’s no need to be brave. You do what’s right for you.”

Mr. Robinson says there is kindness everywhere. “It’s quite beautiful, but it’s a shame it takes an event like this to bring it out.”

Lifesaving Guidance

At the Old Exchange Building on Hereford Street in the centre of Christchurch, it was an eight-year-old guide dog, aptly named Kiwi, that saved the life of a vision impaired man. Mr. Blair O’Connell, a Telecom sales rep who is almost completely blind, was dealing with a customer on the phone when the earthquake struck.

“I dived under the desk. Kiwi was already under it. I grabbed Kiwi’s harness and he was keen to get out of the building. We were out of the building in the middle of Hereford Street with hundreds of others when the second big aftershock hit. There was lots of screaming and hysterical people.”

Mr. O’Connell said Kiwi led him to a safe riverside spot where a passing motorist picked them both up and took them home.

“I guess the fundamental motivation of any animal is survival. Based on a threatening situation, for them to put the safety of their handler – above the primeval requirement of survival – is quite astounding,” he said.

Team Effort

There are 40 guide dog teams working in Christchurch and none of the dogs abandoned their owners during the quake. “Handlers and dogs worked together very well to get out of the area as quickly a possible,” said Mr. Peter Metcalf, head of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind’s Guide Dog Services said.

However, Mr. Metcalf said that many of the Guide Dogs caught up in the quake were now stressed and would need retraining.

“There is also the harsh reality that some of the dogs will have to be retired because of the stress they’ve been through,” he said