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New Zealander Keeps Tabs On Quake-Ravaged Homeland
Friends in New Zealand are calling Clark Graham - in Escalon - to make sure his family in New Zealand is safe.

That's because communication in the Christchurch area, struck by a massive 6.3 earthquake on Feb. 21, is spotty at best and friends can reach Graham to find out how his family is faring by calling him at home in Escalon.

The New Zealand native, who now lives on Yosemite Avenue with his wife Kim (Pereira) Graham and their two children, said he has been able to stay in touch with his family in Christchurch via Skype.

"I actually saw it online about six minutes after the quake struck," Graham said of learning about the disaster. "I actually grew up about five hours south (of Christchurch) but my whole family lives there now."

That includes his mother, Bunty, his dad Dick - who was recently moved to a convalescent home - and his two sisters, Christine and Jan, and their families. His sisters have had to move in temporarily with his mother, as their homes were without water and power following the quake.

Clark, Kim and their children were in New Zealand last year, and felt some of the aftershocks from a 7.1 magnitude quake that struck in September. The difference, Graham said, was that the September quake was well below the surface of the earth, about 20 miles, while the February temblor was much closer to the surface, about three miles deep, causing deaths and much more widespread destruction.

"Reality is beginning to set in, as more information gets out, there's a real somber feel," he said.

Graham's sister Jan is a nurse and has been involved in the rescue efforts, helping those injured in the quake. Sister Christine was lucky to escape injury, as she was in a high-rise building giving a presentation when the quake hit, while his mother was in a dressing room at a store trying on some clothes.

All were safe, but impacted by the quake and the aftermath.

"My mother said my sister returned from work the other day and she'd never seen her so white," Graham said of the effect it has had. "She's been into homes that are really devastated."

His father's convalescent home was without water and power early on, and his mother kept busy making batches of cookies to take to them as a treat.

"It was a very different one than the one in September," Graham added of the two earthquakes.

He and his family have been back to New Zealand for a couple of visits. Wife Kim was living there when they met and after having the birth of their first child - son Joshua - there, decided a few years ago that it was time to move back to the States, and spend some time near Kim's family in Escalon. Their second child, daughter Nadia, was born here.

Growing up in New Zealand, Graham said it is a country that is very picturesque, with a beautiful landscape, and a slower pace, where "people have time for each other."

Movies have been made there, the country welcomes tourists, and Graham is certain his homeland will ultimately triumph over this tragic event. Among the buildings hardest hit was a famous cathedral in Christchurch and the city itself is called "The Garden City," with a lot of recovery work to be done.

"It's a city of some 350,000 on the east coast of the south island," Graham explained. "It's a major tourist gateway, a lot of international flights in and out."

Being able to stay in touch with his family via Skype - actually seeing them regularly - has helped ease his mind, but he still worries about them halfway around the world.

"What is very heartwarming, as a New Zealander living away from the country, is seeing the international response," Graham said of assistance pouring in, noting that a rescue and recovery team from Los Angeles was among those providing aid.

He isn't planning a trip back home in the near future, but will keep tabs on the recovery effort from afar.

"New Zealanders are an incredibly resilient bunch," he said. "Although it's a tragedy, a lot of good will come out of it ... there's a real sense of community and, like any tragedy, everyone comes together and looks after one another."