World events hit home

Rathfriland man Noel Hamilton narrowly escaped the tsunami that engulfed parts of Japan in 2011 - but now he is devoted to helping the country in its recovery
Rathfriland man Noel Hamilton narrowly escaped the tsunami that engulfed parts of Japan in 2011 - but now he is devoted to helping the country in its recovery

DURING the past year there have been various worldwide events which have affected local people across the district - whether they live at home or abroad. Here is a summary of the global news that affected local people.

A Dromore native and a woman formerly from Donaghcloney are among those whose harrowing tales have helped bring home the devastation of the New Zealand earthquake.

Lynda Patterson, who hails from Dromore, had been working in the collapsed Christchurch cathedral where she had been theologian-in-residence since moving to there six years ago. She said she was convinced she would die in the quake - which killed 20 people.

Lynda said, “When the building stopped shaking, we made for the back door, checking that all the staff were accounted for.”

Describing the “apocalyptic” scenes in the aftermath of the quake, she said, “Looking up and down the main street, we could see buildings down and vehicles crushed.

“To the south of us we saw people clambering over wreckage to try and get people out of cars as more buildings fell around them; the soundtrack was fire alarms and people screaming.

“There was a man with a broken leg lying on the ground beside me, and dozens of people around looking dazed and covered in blood.”

After the disaster Lynda felt haunted, she said, by the thought that they had failed to get everyone out of the ruins.

Meanwhile, The Leader managed to contact a former Donaghcloney woman, now living in Christchurch, who described having to cope without water or power while the repair work got underway.

Lillian Uruquart (neé Copeland), who lives in Woolston, just 10 minutes from the city centre, said, “I’ve lived in Christchurch for 40 years and while we have had earthquakes we have never had anything like this.”

The war in Afghanistan truly hit home earlier this year when it emerged Stephen McKee, a Banbridge native who was on his second tour with the Royal Irish Regiment, had been killed after the truck he was in drove over an IED.

The 27-year-old was due home just weeks later, and left behind his wife Carley, mother Heather, father Bobby and brothers and sisters. He had been serving in the war-torn region with his younger brother Michael when he died in March.

Shortly after his death Stephen’s family released a statement paying tribute to their wonderful son, brother and husband. “Stephen was a brilliant son and as parents we are so proud of everything he achieved in his short life. He was a wonderful and loving husband to Carley, and an amazing brother.

“Above all that, Stephen was a soldier and we as a family take great comfort fromthe fact he died doing a job he loved. Stephen’s life was the army and we have been touched by the many tributes people have paid.”

The family have since undertaken fundraising for the RIR Benevolent Fund and various other organisations. Banbridge District Council agreed that Lance Corporal McKee’s name will be inscribed on the town War Memorial.

A missionary from Rathfriland told of his lucky escape following a devastating tsunami in Japan.

Noel Hamilton had been attending a Christian conference in Thailand when the quake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale struck the North East of Japan in March, sweeping away many coastal towns and villages, including Sendai where he and his wife Eileen had been formerly based.

Noel, who is married with four grown-up daughters, first travelled to Japan in 1981 with OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship).

He and his wife and family travelled extensively throughout the country during this time, although Eileen and the children returned to live in Carrickfergus some years ago to facilitate the girls’ education at home.

A week after the tsunami Noel spoke to the Leader and described the utter horror it left in its wake.

He said, “My apartment was a shambles. I opened the door to a mess of broken glass, dishes and CDs, with many other things scattered everywhere and pictures askew on the walls. The telephone and fax machine were lying on the floor and my computer printer was broken.

“Outside, supermarket shelves were emptying. There was no milk, bread, rice or petrol to be had anywhere because of panic buying.

“A church member phoned and warned me to keep the windows closed because of the danger of radioactive fallout, since the first explosion had taken place at the Nuclear Reactor that morning and a venomous cloud of radioactivity was heading our way.

“The amazing Samurai spirit of the Japanese people was evident as the members showed great love and care for each other, and for me, and they had a gritty stoicism and determination to hang in and keep going. I was very moved.”

This was not Noel’s first experience of an earthquake in Japan - nor his first brush with death, as he was one of three people injured in the 1972 IRA bomb attack on Banbridge town centre.

He had been driving through the town at 11.50pm on March 20, 1972, when a huge, no-warning bomb exploded outside Houston’s store, causing damage to 60 shops and injuring three people.

Although he was the person closest to the bomb, Noel suffered only from severe shock and was amazed at the headlines in the local press that week, claiming how ‘Local Man has Miraculous Escape’.

He added, “I began with a personal experience of a bomb in Banbridge 39 years ago, when my life was miraculously preserved during a year when hundreds were killed in Northern Ireland by terrorists.

“I never expected to be writing about such terrible events from the other side of the world all these years later.

A Banbridge woman living in Norway said the peace and democracy of her adopted home would not be destroyed following the brutal massacre of 76 people in July.

Lorraine Sorensen, nee Avery, lives in Norway with her husband Jay and their six-month-old son Nikolai. The former town hairdresser said the mass murder of people in Oslo and on Utoya Island shocked the normally peaceful country.

The mother-of-one, who moved to Norway six years ago, said she and her friends were still struggling to come to terms with the horror of what happened.

“The mood over here is one of disbelief and terrible sorrow, ” Lorraine told the Leader from her home outside Oslo. “At the moment I don’t actually feel that I can talk to you about how life is here normally.

“Like many others I’m still trying to get my head around what has happened in Oslo. For it being such a peaceful country it is hard to take in. Normal life in Norway is so free and peaceful with no need to think of any danger in any way. So you can imagine the shock that people are in.

“A neighbour of mine was lucky enough to take a flight home on Thursday evening, when she should have really been working on the Friday in the government building. A cousin of my husband’s was on the island and was fortunate enough to get away.”

Many communities gathered together after the tragedy to light candles and hold silences in memory of the victims and Lorraine lit a candle in her home in solidarity with them.

Lorraine, whose sister will visit her this week and spend some time in Oslo during the trip, said the terror brought back memories of Northern Ireland’s troubles.

“Like us in Northern Ireland the Norwegians will not let this put fear into normal daily living, ” said Lorraine.