22 February quake

At 12.51pm on Tuesday 22 February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake changed the lives of Cantabrians. The quake killed 185 people, injuring several thousand and causing widespread damage to Christchurch and surrounding areas. Thousands were left homeless, businesses were destroyed and building infrastructure and services were severely damaged.

New Zealand Red Cross' response involved more than 160 staff and volunteers from across the country. Local Red Cross branches responded by setting up welfare centres in and outside of Christchurch. Places where these welfare centres were set-up included Kaikoura, Kaiapoi and Mossburn.

The volunteers provided first aid and distributed blankets and water to evacuees in welfare centres. Emergency response teams supported the urban search and rescue effort, ran welfare centres and offered logistical support.

There was also a Public Registration and Inquiry Database of Emergencies (PRIDE) registration centre set up by Marcus Bird, which tracked and registered more than 50,000 displaced people.

Nooraynsha Jones (AJ) was appointed leader of the Christchurch Restoring Family Links (RFL) team following the quake. Her team helped on more than 1,000 missing people cases. "I've loved every moment of it, because I got to put families back together," she said.

Her story featured in the 100th edition of Red Cross News in May 2011.

"AJ's small team of five or six trawled the internet, White Pages, social network sites and police information looking for the missing. If those options [proved to be] futile, another team would door knock and speak to neighbours or friends.

"'You have to be so sure this is the right person. It's a lot harder than I ever imagined it would be,' she said. 'It's quite stressful, because you are dealing with people's lives - you can't make small mistakes because they'd have very big effects.'

"When searching for someone that appeared on the police deceased confirmed or possible list, AJ said it was passed over to the appropriate authorities. But if the person was alive and well, they often got to make the phone call to share the news.

"Looking after the team, AJ rarely got to make these phone calls, although she managed to reconnect two lost brothers that may never have spoken again if it wasn't for the earthquake.

"'It was hard in the beginning because we were sometimes asked to look for people and we knew they were on the unconfirmed deceased list, it was so sensitive,' she said. 'We had a situation once where someone came in and asked us were we really sure about a death, and we had to call the police, we couldn't help them. It was really sad.'

"AJ said being located in an office helped her disconnect from the grim reality of what they were doing every day.

"'But we had a lot of support and that really helped set us up. We knew how to deal with things and had a counsellor around,' she said. 'It was a huge learning experience, and I got to do something of real value with Red Cross. We had a great team and I loved it.'"