Earthquake ‘worse than disaster film’

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“Worse than a disaster movie” is how a former Kirkcaldy man has described the horrific earthquake in New Zealand’s capital.

Robbie Blankenstein (27), son of local businessman Martin and his wife Liz, has lived in Hokitika in the west of the South Island for three years with his partner Justine and son Ben (1).

He was drafted in to help with the national emergency in Christchurch through his role as a voluntary paramedic with St John’s Ambulance, which he has served with since he arrived in the country.

Devastated city

The earthquake struck on Tuesday lunchtime, when the South Island city was at its busiest.

It was Christchurch’s second major tremor in five months, and New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster in 80 years.

And, after a gruelling three-hour trip with his ambulance crew through the mountains to reach the devastated city, followed by an 18-hour shift attending emergency callouts around the city, he called his parents to let them know he was safe.

Martin explained: “Robbie just described a scene of utter devastation with buildings destroyed, dead bodies, huge cracks and bumps in the road as well as holes just opening up and swallowing cars and telephone boxes.

‘‘ There are also a lot of aftershocks making things worse.

He saw a bus squashed by a building, and described people having to have limbs amputated to free them after being trapped in buildings – it just sounds horrific.

“Robbie was mainly involved in treating people suffering heart attacks brought on by stress after the earthquake.

Kirkcaldy links

‘‘On one visit to A&E department with a woman originally from Montrose, he was greeted by another Kirkcaldy man – Graham Bee – who he was at Balwearie High School with, and who is working as a doctor in Christchurch.

“They were friendly at school but went their separate ways after leaving school when Robbie went to Dundee to study geography and Graham to Aberdeen to study medicine.

‘‘It was quite a surprise for him to see him standing there in the hospital.”

Mrs Blankenstein, who had a long conversation with her son yesterday morning, said he was “obviously traumatised” by the horrors he had experienced, but was now home safe and well with his family after a friend with a helicopter flew him back to Hokitika.

“He is exhausted and was going straight to bed before going back to work,” she said. “We are very proud of him.”