Seven years after the devastation of the Christchurch earthquake, Sergeant Victor Velthuis can still vividly recall the “massive” extent of the damage.
Sergeant Velthuis, from Search and Rescue at Williamstown, was among about 130 Victorian officers sent to New Zealand in what was the state’s first and, to date, only major international police deployment.
Victoria Police last week marked the seventh anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake that killed 185 people on February 22, 2011, after hitting a city already weakened by an earlier quake in September, 2010.
When Sergeant Velthuis arrived, less than half of the 172 bodies eventually recovered had been found.
He was sworn in as a special constable to have temporary jurisdiction in New Zealand.
“I went over with three others two days beforehand as a pre-deployment group,” he said. “The whole city was in lockdown – obviously the whole city was crumbling, very dangerous and they were trying to keep people out.
“The New Zealand police were working massive hours, so by the time we got there, they were very, very fatigued and they needed the support.
“When we came, we were able to relieve their command elements and troops on the ground to give them a couple of days’ rest because their homes and the like were also in disarray.
“[There was a] massive amount of damage … like walking through the middle of Melbourne with some buildings intact, others on a lean and others crumbling, cars a mess.”
Victorian police supported urban search-and-rescue crews from all over the world in methodically searching buildings and recording information for the coroner.
“Just the shellshock of the locals was difficult,” Sergeant Velthuis said.
“We did some fundraising … on days off, crews were helping different neighbourhoods.
“There was a situation they call liquefaction … it’s like quicksand, so houses, cars, everything … go under.
“So our guys were helping out on their days off with their shovels in different neighbourhoods, looking after people there.”