Driving the quake-damaged route from Culverden to Kaikoura is testing the mettle of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) truck drivers ferrying vital aid supplies to the seaside community.
“The damage caused by the earthquake is very evident. Fault lines have sheared the road in half in many places. There are a lot of overhanging rocks. A number of bridges have also been damaged and cannot be used for heavy vehicles so we had to find alternate routes,” Staff Sergeant (SSGT) Dan Rosewarne said.
SSGT Rosewarne drove one of the 27 Defence Force trucks in the first aid convoy that reached Kaikoura last Friday. The convoy was halted for a day by bad weather, causing risks of further landslides. It ferried 44 tonnes of vital supplies including 7320 litres of diesel, 1540 litres of petrol and 10,000 litres of potable water.
Due to risks of further landslips, aid supplies for Kaikoura are prioritised over provisions for military personnel and are placed at the front of the convoy, SSGT Rosewarne said.
“That way, if we are cut off because of a landslide, the supplies for the affected communities would have gone ahead.”
The Defence Force trucks travel in a single file at 30kph, about two-thirds slower than they would if the roads were not damaged. Communication is constant to ensure everyone is aware of the obstacles ahead.
“There are lots of obstacles we have to manage. The rocky and undulating terrain, and the steep drops are very similar to Afghanistan,” said SSGT Rosewarne, who was deployed twice previously to Afghanistan.
He said the Defence Force convoy took about four hours to cover the 100km distance from Culverden to Kaikoura, compared to only between 60 and 90 minutes before the earthquake.
Due to the heavy rains last week, streams burst their banks and the Defence Force trucks had to cross waist-deep waters, he said.
“Our drivers and other personnel are dedicated to the task of bringing aid and other essential supplies to the community of Kaikoura. They are highly skilled and well-trained to navigate the numerous obstacles along the route,” Lieutenant Colonel Rob Loftus, the Commander of the Logistics Task Group, said.
“This is the first time for many of them to be operating on this type of roads. So the fact that they have been able to do almost daily runs to Kaikoura speaks well of their skills and training.”
NZDF aid convoys have ferried 155 tonnes or 38 per cent of total aid supplies delivered to Kaikoura since last week.