Tongan leader reflects on the Christchurch earthquake 10 years on
Tony Fakahau opens up about the impact of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the aftermath for the Tongan and wider Pasifika community.
“It’s still raw,” Fakahau told John Pulu as he reflected on the 10-year anniversary of the quake. 12.51pm, 22 February 2011 – the precise time that the magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit.
“Every time it comes up, those memories and the anxieties and the tough times back then I… Yeah. I haven’t quite gotten over it… We don’t really talk about.”
Fakahau was in Wellington when it first hit. He managed to get on a ferry that night, driving from Picton to Christchurch with a search and rescue team sent to relieve exhausted Christchurch rescuers.
“The thing that went through my mind was my children, my kids, and where were they?”
“The other part I was thinking about was my church… also the community – what was happening to the Tongan community and also the rest of the Pacific community.”
Fortunately, Fakahau’s children were safe. As the aftershocks continued, Fakahau went to his church at Crohane Place in Addington, where the congregation of 50-70 people had gathered together.
“There were no rest rooms, no water, no power.”
Fakahau says at the time, there were no support mechanisms for his community.
“They set up the tents at Hagley Park. If you wanted to have temporary accommodation, food, etcetera, you all go there, everyone lives in that area – men, women, everyone goes in.
“However, I knew that as a Tongan, we don’t roll like that. No matter how hard it is, it’s very difficult for some of the brothers and sisters to sleep in the same quarters. So that’s why they were happy at the church, even though it was difficult.”
Fakahau says the next couple of days were about making sure his church community was looked after, then expanding to the rest of the Tongan and wider Pacific community.
One of the challenges the community faced was access to food.
“When they moved everybody to the temporary shelters in the city, all the meat that was in the butchery and factories – a lot of the sipi that the Tongans eat which was cheap – they took all of that. So we didn’t have any meat.
“So what we did was work with the Tongan community at the time to go to the farms and do what we’re normally good at – do it the Tongan way, get all of that stuff and try and share it.”
Fakahau, who was working for the Ministry of Māori Development at the time, emailed photos of the meat to his department and the CEO.
“I said, ‘Listen, it’s good that Māori are getting looked after, but my people are suffering. The supply line needs to not just go straight to the normal channel. There’s a Pacific community all around Christchurch; we need to shift the food, clothes and everything around.'”
Fakahau helped set up a makeshift warehouse at Crohane Place to gather and distribute supplies for the community.
“Fortunately, the trucks started coming our way, stopping, unloading stuff, and we became a little depot and started distributing. So that’s what I saw was useful to do for my community at the time.”
10 years on, Fakahau says many Pacific families who lived in Christchurch at the time have left. But the memories will always be there.
“There’s this deep feeling that’s in you knowing what happened and the journey that the community and the people have had to have all the way through.”
Watch John Pulu’s full interview with Tony Fakahau above.