Earthquake in New Zealand : All Doors Closed in Christchurch YMCA — For the First Time in 149 years

As you will have all seen the news by now you will well know that Christchurch has again been hit hard by an earthquake.  It is significantly worse than the one we suffered last year in September, and with quite different consequences.

Staff of the YMCA are unhurt and safe.  So far I have not heard news that any of our residents, students or accommodation guests have been hurt, and most have been accounted for.  However, with 75 confirmed dead in the CBD it is likely that many of us will know some of the deceased.  People are grieving very much for material things at the moment – but the grief for actual people we know and love is likely just around the corner.

The facilities of the YMCA are all closed.  Two of our facilities are within the police cordon – that being the main YMCA at 12 Hereford Street (Accommodation, Student Hostel, Williams House, Climbing Wall, Cafe, two fulltime youth education programmes, conference room, dining room and all the administrative staff), and the new Education Centre (the home of 8 staff and 40+ teenage students).   These two centres have suffered considerable damage although it has yet to be quantified.  

The main YMCA has certainly been badly flooded and pre-existing earthquake damage has been worsened.  The Education centre is a leased premise.  I have not seen this centre with my own eyes but the words “it’s trashed” have been used by staff who were there at the time of the quake.  

We have two other centres outside of the cordon.  One is Bishopdale YMCA and the other is the camp at Wainui.  

Bishopdale has suffered minimal damage – on a scale similar to the last time I believe.  We will have to repair the stadium roof, yet again! The west side of Christchurch city, where Bishopdale is located, has barely been affected.  It is quite amazing.  Most of that side of town still have full facilities – water, power, sewerage etc.  

At Wainui Park, at the time of the earthquake, three schools were enjoying their school camp at Wainui.  Wainui Heights and Powell Village were full.  One school evacuated immediately, but the other two stayed overnight and evacuated yesterday.  The damage at Wainui has been minimal.  The Akaroa area was hit less badly than the earthquake in September.  Again, remarkable.   Staff were well trained and knew exactly what to do when the quake hit – not to mention the children also having all been through this already.  Panic was therefore kept to a minimum and the Wainui staff coped well with the situation.  Incredibly, no utilities have been affected there.  Power was restored quite quickly and water, sewerage etc were not impeded at all.  

So, as far as our Y is concerned,  the main areas of damage and destruction is the City Y and the Education Centre, the two centres within the CBD and the police cordon.  

Everything is closed.  There is little point in trying to “get back to normal” until power, water and sewerage is restored across the city, and the cordon lifted.   To acknowledge the stress that many staff may be under due to how their homes/families have been affected, there is no intention of trying to regroup staff before Monday.  We may get staff together on Monday at Bishopdale to assess what we can do for our members – particularly our young people and our older adults.  Until then, it is best that we sit tight and not add pressure to the gridlock of cars that is the few roads around the city that are still able to be driven on.  

For myself, my family are safe and well.  Our house has been damaged further – compounding the damage from the September quake.  However, despite no water, sewerage etc we have a house that is water-tight and quite comfy.  We are lucky to have our power back on too.  

At the time of the quake, I was having a lunch meeting in a cafe in the CBD. The entire cafe is now rubble.  We were dug out of the building by police.  Emerging into the street a short time after the quake, I felt calm, enjoying in some ways the adventure of it all.  I now realise how lucky we all were.  There was chaos and carnage on the street in Christchurch.  People screaming and blood everywhere.  I helped extract one person from a flattened vehicle, amazingly unhurt although very distressed.  

I raced back up the road to the YMCA only to fall over numerous times because of violent aftershocks.  When I got to the City Y it had been evacuated to Hagley Park, along with the rest of the Christchurch central city businesses.   We did manage to gather together in the dining room of the Y about an hour later, offer comfort and hot drinks to our YMCA guests and other random passers by, and take a form of ‘roll call’ to start to account for people.  It was raining inside – the flooding throughout the building on all floors, through the ceiling onto the ground floor.  At this stage none of us were really aware of the extent of the damage in the central city.  

Civil defence then advised us to totally evacuate and lock down the building.  We were all back to Hagley Park.  We set up tents and a soup kitchen and began feeding our people and anyone else who came along.  Eventually Civil Defence set up a proper tent for people to overnight in.  Many of our guests, Williams House residents and university/youth housing students stayed overnight at Hagley Park with 4 of our YMCA staff.  Of course if it weren’t bad enough it had to rain all night.  Yesterday the airport got cranking again, so we took van upon van load of our Y guests to the airport or to the homes of friends.  Now there are about 10 of our Williams House residents still at one of the refuge centres, but they are cheery.  An offer to go and stay at Wainui was turned down – they are making new friends at the refuge centre and enjoying themselves no end!

The future is obviously very uncertain.  If the Y building turns out to be structurally sound then we will have to repair flood damage etc before anyone can stay again.  However, we may be better off than many others – some massive hotels only a few blocks away from us have been condemned.  Most of the backpackers are destroyed.  I have little hope for the future of our Williams House – but of course, I’m not an engineer.  

My main worry is the psychological state of the whole community.  The stressful event is made worse by the fact that the aftershocks continue – big, and regular.  Many people are not coping well with this.  As a community, we had still not recovered from the last time.   I expect that many of our staff have homes that have been badly damaged.  The timeframe for repairs will be long.  Our house had still not been assessed by EQC after the September quake, if that gives some kind of perspective.  The scale of the repair effort is massive, and meanwhile the people of Christchurch continue to shake rattle and roll – worrying about future quakes, their employment, their homes… and of course it won’t be easy to sell a house in Christchurch for a while!?   

On the bright side, we will be made more resilient from this.  If nothing else, this will help us focus on what is important in our lives.  I also managed to pay our staff yesterday – so at least that is one less thing for the team to worry about.  

And on a reassuring note – we are OK.  We will be OK.  And we have much to be thankful for.  Thanks very much to you all for your support, your messages, and your $$$ offerings!  All is great for the spirit, the optimism,  and the practical realities we are facing.  

Logistical stuff:  The YMCA server is obviously down so email contact is only via personal email addresses.  My cellphone never stops ringing – mostly my own staff team.  I do however appreciate your messages but don’t hang out for lots of answers!  Later today I will be able to update our website – where I intend to do daily updates on our home page.  So from tomorrow please check there for any new news.  This information can be passed on to our international family too.

Thanks and love to you all.  

Josie Ogden Schroeder , Chief Executive Officer , Christchurch YMCA

Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs has made this statement:

Both Ric Odom (Chief Executive Officer, YMCA of New Zealand)  and Josie Ogden Schroeder (Chief Executive Officer, Christchurch YMCA) expressed that there is still much uncertainty and still too soon to have a coherent plan in place.  The scale of the repair is massive and the psychological state of the comuunity is worrying.  They both want to thank once again all of you for your solidarity in this darkest time of New Zealand.

In view of the urgency and anticipation of the need for support, we would like to make this initial appeal for financial support for assistance and possible relief-rehabilitation works.

Kindly indicate your pledge of support  (kohei(at) ) that should be sent to the APAY account.

With much thanks and appreciation,

Kind regards,

Kohei Yamada, General Secretary, Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs 

All Doors Closed in Christchurch YMCA — For the First Time in 149 years

23rd February 2011
We are sharing the next update from Ric Odom, CEO New Zealand YMCA, on the situation in Christchurch. Please note that Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs is offering to coordinate support. More about this later.

Communications are still sporadic partly due to the fact that full power has not yet been restored across Christchurch. Damage throughout the city and environs is much worse than first thought and aftershocks continue. There has been significant loss of life — more than 75 confirmed dead when I last heard but the expectation is that this will rise as there remain many not accounted for.

Authorities are reasonably sure there are a lot of people still in collapsed buildings or under rubble. It seems likely that the majority of these could not have survived though rescue efforts continue. The 3 YMCA centres in Christchurch city (including the main centre which has the  head office and hostel) are closed and evacuated.

The camp, which is located some distance from the city, has also been closed but I have no word on damage there. Damage is significant at the main city Y but the extent is not known as it sits within the cordon established around the central city where noone other than rescue personnel is allowed. I suspect the education centre may also be inside this cordon but have no information on that.

In fact, we have little information on the overall situation at the Y except that we know the staff are safe and all guests and members were safely evacuated. I do not know if any staff have family missing, injured or killed.

For certain at least some will have suffered damage to their homes. The CEO — Josie — tells me she has no idea when the Y will open. It could be weeks or months. Our own Ys have rallied with offers of support and we are sending an immediate cash donation to them as we know that whatever the situation, funds will be needed. Kohei has offered to coordinate an appeal throughout APAY and we have gratefully accepted his offer.

When things do eventually settle down the future for the Christchurch Y will be very difficult. This is our second largest Y and as their President, Ed Heald, has said in a text message, for the first time in 149 years, all the doors at the Christchurch YMCA are closed and noone knows when or if they will open again.

On behalf of the Christchurch YMCA I acknowledge the messages of support being received by email, Facebook, Skype and other media.

Thank you all for your kind words and prayers.   None of the YMCAs in New Zealand have suffered any damage — in fact few others felt the earthquake. But we are all affected and we are committed to helping our YMCA family members as best we can.


Ric Odom, National Chief Executive Officer, YMCA New Zealand YMCA  

Latest news from YMCA in Christchurch, New Zealand

23rd February 2011
Josie (CEO of YMCA Christchurch) made contact a short while ago.  The YMCA staff and hostel tenants are safe but all have been evacuated.  The YMCA facility in the city — which includes the hostel has suffered significant damage.  The camp was full but is in the process of being evacuated. All the Christchurch YMCA centres are closed and there is no way of knowing when they may re-open.  Josie thinks it could be weeks or perhaps even months.  Much of this depends on the extent of the damage and of course the premises will need to be inspected  by engineers. Given the damage you have all seen, this could take some time.

It is too early to determine the financial impact on YMCA Christchurch but it will be severe.  They will lose income for some time but will still have outgoings (such as staff salaries).  They are insured but how this will be handled is too early to say.  Remember this Y was still trying to recover from the losses sustained from the September 2010 earthquake.

Ric Odom, Chief Executive Officer, YMCA New Zealand 

Earthquake — Christchurch — New Zealand

22nd  February 2011

An earthquake has again hit Christchurch City, New Zealand, and the news are reporting at least 65 dead and up to 200 people trapped in damaged buildings. As we pray for the victims and for the people trapped, hopefully being rescued by rescue teams working hard just now, I forward a message from Ric Odom, Chief Executive Officer, YMCA New Zealand:


Good Evening. No doubt you are up to date with what is happening in general terms from the news. Early this afternoon, a shallow 6.3 earthquake hit Christchurch City. You may recall an earthquake greater than 7 struck Christchurch last September and there had been well over a thousand aftershocks since. While there was extensive damage to buildings then and since, there had been no casualties. Todays earthquake was much worse – and there continue to be aftershocks.

As of now, I can tell you there has been extensive damage throughout the city with several buildings either destroyed or severely damaged. The death toll currently stands at 65 but is expected to rise as search and rescue teams work to enter damaged buildings.

The Christchurch main hospital is functioning and several triage centres and field hospitals have been set up in the city. Many hospitals throughout the country have cancelled elective surgery and discharged those patients who can safely be discharged in anticipation of receiving casualties form Christchurch. The city’s emergency services are stretched but reinforcements of police, fire, ambulance (including rescue helicopters) and search and rescue teams are on the way. I understand search and rescue teams are also on their way from Australia. The military has also been sent to the scene to help with establishing cordons and providing medical and logistics support. The international airport is close.

Communications are limited, power is out throughout much of the city and water and sewerage is disrupted. A state of emergency has been declared. I received one text message from the CEO of YMCA Christchurch, Josie Ogden Shroeder, but have no information on the state of the YMCA. Of some comfort (I hope) is that the main YMCA and hostel was designed to withstand an earthquake of much greater magnitude and survived the September earthquake with little damage. The relatively new Bishopdale centre may be a different story but I have no information on that.

Ric Odom, Chief Executive Officer, YMCA New Zealand


We shall try to keep you updated on the situation for the YMCAs in Christchurch as we get more informations.

Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General — World Alliance of YMCAs  

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