21 Feb 2020

Help Is On The Way: TV doco remembers the 2011 Christchurch earthquake

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:35 pm on 21 February 2020

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch police sargeant Dave Harvey was outside the earthquake-damaged Hotel Grand Chancellor on Cashel Street, unsure if anyone was trapped inside.

In case they were, he grabbed a can of spray paint and painted 'Help is on the way' in one-metre high letters on the road.

Christchurch's Hotel Grand Chancellor minutes after the 22 February 2011 earthquake

Christchurch's Hotel Grand Chancellor minutes after the 22 February 2011 earthquake Photo: Stefan Kracke

Harvey's quick thinking really helped the people trapped in the hotel, says Clare Mackey, producer of the new documentary Help Is On The Way.

The film, which tells the story of the rescue of 36 people from the hotel, screens on Prime TV at 8:30pm this Sunday.

Help Is On The Way is from the same team who made the documentary Finding Jeremy, which followed Hotel Grand Chancellor survivors Andy and Amber Cleverley's attempts to find an American man named Jeremy that they were trapped with.

In 2011, the 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor was one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch.

Although it didn't have any structural damage after the September 2010 earthquake, the magnitude 6.3 quake in February collapsed its Internal fire stairs between Level 14 and Level 22.

The whole building was on a serious lean and the 36 people trapped inside had a terrifying 3 or 4 hours while a team of rescuers tried to get them out, Clare says.

Hotel Grand Chancellor

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

When Fire Service ladders proved too short to reach them, rescuers decided to use a crane and a man cage to air-lift them.

Eventually, the hotel guests were moved to the roof of the car park building next door where crane operators picked them up.

These crane operators, the police and the construction workers who were in the hotel at the time of the earthquake risked their own lives.

So many bad news stories came out of earthquake but Help Is On The Way recognises a story of hope, community and selfless action, Clare says.

New Zealanders are so stoic and humble, though, it was difficult to get them to recognise their actions as anything other than ordinary, she says.

As a crane operator named Bill says in the film: "It's just what I had to do, eh?"

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