The week before Christmas is always hectic. Ten days before Christmas Nelson, a small sunny city on the northern tip of the South Island, got *hammered* by rain over a 48 hours period. Slips and flooding in the region caused extensive damage, and a civil defence emergency was declared.

I’m now a member of a Red Cross Emergency Response Team, and we were activated and sent down to help. (There was a period of yo-yoing and we got a series of conflicting go/no-go instructions, as Red Cross tried to figure out if teams were being sent, and if so, which teams, and when.)

Our Porirua-based team ended up being down there Wednesday and Thursday last week. I was assigned to a team doing phase two house inspections. This team had a civil engineer, a geologist, and a NCC building inspector. Plus me, the Red Cross rep. It was my job to be Welfare support- to talk to the homeowner, determine if they needed help, and get them registered with the Red Cross, and give them info (phone numbers) on who they could call for assistance and information.

But our team ended up going out mostly to do re-inspections on red-stickered houses. Red sticker means evacuate now, so there were very few homeowners for me to interact with. So I spent my time working with the experts trying to assess the ongoing risk to damaged or threatened houses- could we go from red sticker to a conditional yellow, or even a green, and let people back into their house before Christmas?

And this is where I discovered that spending time with Zane induces an area of effect knowledge of geology, especially landslips. Probably due to his habit of coming back from his work-related geotech studies and giving us fun little slideshows of the landslides he’d been studying. What this means is that I ended up as a participant, not just an observer, as we explored the land damage and assessed risks.

Scarps and Tension Cracks and Unstable Surfaces- Oh My!

I saw plenty of million+ dollar houses, with fantastic views, which were doomed. Building on the edge of a steep hillside for the (admittedly fantastic) view is fine, until the hill falls away dooming your house, and threatening the houses beneath. We did at one point follow a bunch of ground damage downhill and found a house that had been missed in the initial survey which had a huge unstable soil mass hanging right above the main bedrooms at the back of the house. The homeowners probably weren’t happy to find the new yellow sticker on their front door when they got home- no sleeping in the house until the land was fixed.

It was satisfying to help people out. The homeowners we did meet were all so grateful to see us arrive- they just wanted help and some knowledge about their house and its fate. I discovered that Red Cross has very good brand awareness (no real surprise there). I was interested to note how when people discovered I was a volunteer, out on the street 3 days before Christmas, they were extra appreciative people were giving their time for them. It made them feel good and valued, and that is why we were there. The threat of losing your home is tough on people, doubly so before a holiday. The Welfare aspect is not why I joined the RC team- we’re trained in all sorts of Search and Rescue, Triage, and First Aid stuff- but at the end of the day we’re there to help, and if that means just being a sympathetic person to talk to, then it’s time well spent.