Within a couple of hours of the earthquake striking Christchurch in New Zealand, Fr Paul Shannahan SM, National Director of Missio-New Zealand, quickly sent a message to all Missio offices around the English-speaking world from Wellington in the North Island and approximately 270 miles away from the epicentre of the earthquake. As he wrote, the full extent of the tragedy was yet to unfold. At time of going to press there are 65 people known to have died with an unknown number buried beneath the rubble of fallen masonry.
Fr Shannahan wrote: "A violent earthquake suddenly shook the South Island city of Christchurch just before 1 pm today. It measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. The Central business area saw many buildings partly or wholly collapsing especially the older ones. Multiple deaths are being reported as people are freed from under rubble and collapsed shop verandas.
"Two buses were hit by falling debris and deaths are anticipated. The TV news room was badly struck; with roads covered with debris or broken water mains and the weird emergence of liquefaction from the earth and many phones out, it means reporting is sketchy and limited. All in the central area have been directed to the large open Hagley Park as after-shocks continue and more masonry falls.
"The two well known Anglican and Catholic cathedrals have seen large sections fall to the ground and they may be beyond repair. The biggest ‘damage’ is on people. Many were traumatised in the 7.1 quake last September but this one is worse in that it was in the middle of a working and school day. It hit with such vigour. It shook whole building violently. Hundreds have sustained injuries but shock and fear is scaring them even more. Thousands are trying to get home and many more are leaving the city to stay elsewhere.
"A full scale emergency has been declared. Army and Civil Defence personnel have been enlisted to assist Police and Fire brigades. The latter are mainly doing rescue work but now that fires have broken out, they have little water to fight them. Helicopters have begun dropping huge amounts of water on the biggest blazes.
The damage is widespread but its full extent is hard to gauge at this early stage. Prayers and messages of support would be one thing all could do at this time."
Missio-Australia responded by immediately launching a prayer campaign for the people of Christchurch across the 160 countries around the world in which Missio is represented as the Catholic Church’s official support organisation for overseas mission."
Mr Martin Teulan, National Director of Missio-Australia said: ‘We’re shocked and upset at the terrible death and destruction. I was there this time last year, and it is an absolutely beautiful city with wonderful people. We ask that every Catholic in Australia join us in showing our overwhelming prayer and support."
Monsignor John Dale, National Director of Missio-England and Wales wrote to Fr Paul Shannahan sm National Director of Missio-New Zealand on behalf of all Missio supporters in England and Wales, saying: "Our prayers are with you and the people of New Zealand at this tragic time. May the Lord of all courage and consolation be with you."
For further information about the work of Missio, go to www.missio.org.uk