I was in Australia for the Sept and Feb quakes, Melbourne for the first one and Brisbane for the second. I haven’t been overseas in about 7 years prior to this and according to my friends I am not allowed to leave the country without giving them lots of notice :)
My first memory of the Sept quake is checking the time on my phone in the middle of the night and being surprised to have a text. Its from my flatmate telling me about the 7.1 quake. I quietly get up and throw on some clothes as I am sharing the room with a friend and find a chair in a hallway and call my flatmate. Its about an hour after the quake NZ time, and he is shaken but alright. The house is a mess but he can’t see clearly in the dark at the time (we are lucky and have no major damage in Sept due to our location)
I call my best friend who assures me its OK and not that bad, but I am not entirely convinced as the sun is not yet up. How can they know? I go back to our room and wake my friend up, her family is in CHCH. I loan her my work phone as I have international calling and she makes a couple of calls. We turn on the TV and watch the footage in horror, and we both cry for a bit.
I am up very early and find an internet cafe who are sympathetic when I tell them I am from CHCH. I end up going in every day while I am still there, and they always ask how things are. I check my emails and update my online status so people know I am OK and not in town. When the timeframes coincide I call work. My phone goes off many times during the next couple of days for work related calls. I am checking my work emails on it during the day. I have no idea what the cost of all that was, they paid it with no fanfare afterwards.
My holiday becomes torture as I cannot fly home even if I want to, as the airport is closed in CHCH, and I cannot afford to change flights. I try to enjoy what I can of the next 4 days, its a great shame because the event I am at is a special one that only happens in our part of the world once every 10 years and I have waited a long time to attend.
When I get home I find that the damage is localised and most of the city is undamaged. Its horrific for those who have damage, but it isn’t as bad as it could have been. Due to the luck of the timing no one is seriously injured or killed.
In Feb I was in Brisbane visiting my Dad and family who I had not seen for 7 years or so. We were a couple of hours drive from home on the way to Currumbin when my half brother announced he had just seen on Facebook via his iPhone that another massive quake had hit CHCH and that the Cathedral had come down. It was lunchtime NZ time and I didn’t know how really bad it was until many hours later when we made it home. We carried on with our day and I tried not to think about it too much. I had left my phone behind charging but called my best friend on Dads phone. She is the staunchest woman I know and she was shaken and in tears.
I knew then it was bad. And when we finally got home and saw the TV footage it was unbelievabley bad. This time the house was a real mess inside, and my poor flatmate was there cleaning it up again by himself.
The next day I spent time discussing options to fly home early, but instead flew into Wellington and worked there for a week, as my team had other things to worry about. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do, not just the amazing stress of all the work and urgency but not being able to be there, to be home, to be with my friends.
Everyone always says when they hear I was away for the two big ones “You are lucky” but its incredibly hard to not be there. Not really knowing what is going on is amazingly difficult to deal with. Obviously not as difficult as having to be there, but still not easy.