RICHLAND — Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes is used to being the one called out for an emergency, quickly responding and helping rescue people.
When he learned about the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, killing at least 113 people and leaving hundreds more trapped in rubble, he wanted to hop on a plane to help in some way.
It's in his nature to want to help, but Baynes also has a personal connection to the city that will be forever changed by the quake.
A native New Zealander, he used to live in Christchurch and worked side by side with the same firefighters who now are sifting through collapsed buildings trying to find survivors.
"It's hard. A little piece of me, the emergency responder in me, thinks I should go and try to do something," he said. "I want to go back and see and try to do something, but I can't do anything about it. ... I know the city so well, its buildings, it's just impossible to imagine them not as I remember them.
"It's almost not quite real."
The quake struck just before 1 p.m. Tuesday in New Zealand, which meant it was around 4 p.m. Monday in Richland. Baynes learned about the earthquake after his stepdaughter sent word through Facebook to a friend who got a message to Baynes.
Holly Baynes, 22, is living in Christchurch after recently completing school at the university there. She is trying to get her residency to stay and possibly complete some post-graduate work, he said.
Baynes said he and his wife immediately connected with Holly through Skype to make sure she was OK and help calm her down. The house, which was built in the 1920s and was added onto by Baynes in the 1980s, still is standing and has no structural damage, he said. Baynes has owned the home since the 1980s.
Everything inside the house, however, is another story.
Dishes and glasses were tossed out of cupboards -- Holly has one plate left -- and items and mementos Baynes had collected through the years are all piled up in the trash, he said.
Other houses nearby suffered extreme damage, lost power and were evacuated, but Holly stayed safe inside her home and never lost power, he said.
"She's doing great ... but her mom's a little frantic," Baynes said. "We've been very lucky. She's been through two huge earthquakes and did not get hurt in the least."
He's seen pictures and video of the city, and said it looks like his old fire department didn't have any problems. They likely got all the rigs out of the station as soon as it hit and have been working ever since.
Baynes went back to Christchurch after the earthquake in September, which caused structural damage around the city but no deaths.
"Damage is far worse this time," he said. "It's going to be a long haul. They're still looking for survivors. ... The loss of life this time, it's going to go down as the greatest single loss of life in the country."
Baynes was just there visiting over the Christmas holiday, and he returned Jan. 18. He now can't imagine what the city is like now, with the skyline changed. An iconic cathedral in the center of town collapsed with people on the observation deck. The 27-story Hotel Grand Chancellor is slowly falling down and four blocks around the hotel have been evacuated, he said.
"Beautiful old buildings that I've grown up seeing are gone. I don't think they can recreate that," Baynes said. "Lovely old churches built of stone, the brick work. I don't think there are the skills or ability to pay the cost of getting that back up. It's going to be rebuilt, and it will look really different."
Baynes said he and his wife are contemplating going back down again, but they're also trying to see if they can convince Holly to return to the Tri-Cities for a while.
"She doesn't want to run away. She wants to stay and help," he said, noting that she's already signed up to help clean up offices at the hospital.
He knows he wuold do the same, but admits Holly's mom is having a hard time with it and, like any mother, just wants to be able to see her to know she's safe.
For now, Baynes will continue to watch what's happening from his home away from home.
"I've had phenomenal support from people here ... it really helps a lot," he said of the numerous people in the community reaching out to make sure his family and friends are safe.
"I've never been in a community quite so willing to take the effort. It's amazing to have that support."
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; email@example.com