– North New Brighton, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

My 22.02.11. And maybe it’s time to tell my story, which I’ve found hard to write down until now. In those immediate days after the quake my brain was physically unable to comprehend anything further ahead than ‘tomorrow’. My perception distilled to a cluster of synapses firing in my reptilian brain. Once we were in Dunedin, that capability stretched out to a couple of days. Each day I’d write a list of things to do. I’d carry that note book with me, to write ideas down as they occurred to me, because my head could hold nothing, nothing more than a few thoughts. At times I couldn’t breath, I felt as though there was a huge metal flask stuck embedded my chest. I’d cry randomly. One afternoon I just went to bed and slept for 3 hours. I went to the Dr on the Sunday night after the quake, just to check I was ok because I felt so bad. I’ve never been under such extraordinary stress. For it to manifest so physically was literally breathtaking, for me.

The 22nd February was my husband’s birthday. Our 4 year old daughter and I were supposed to meet him on High Street for lunch that day, but we cancelled at breakfast time as he realised a phone conference he had scheduled would run overtime. So I was home in North Beach with our girl when the quake struck. I was in the kitchen, I’d just made a cup of coffee, Iris was on her way to the bathroom.

The following is a transcription of what I frantically scrawled a couple of hours later while sheltering under a table with Iris, and at least one distressed teenager, at my friend Vic’s house while we waited for Steve to come home from the CBD. It’s a bit jumbled and panic’d; totally stream of consciousness:

“Terrible earthquake in CHCH. Iris was in the hall, I was in the kitchen, cupboards flew open. Within 10 mins water was up our drive, through the back garden. Sand volcanoes up the driveway. Water was up to the doorsill on the sleep-out when we left.

It was so violent – everything flew off the shelves and out of the cupboards. Definitely a west-east movement. Our walnut cabinet fell over, my laptop [MacBook], an inverted V, held it up. TV still on the wall, but only just. Grabbed Iris and got her out to the street to be with out neighbour [N]. Vic turned up like some kind of angel in bike gear. I grabbed our emergency stuff, got it in the car and got the car out over all the sand and water. Moved the guinea pigs to high ground. They were swimming in their cage. Iris saw Dan [the cat] when earthquake happened. She got thrown around and banged her head. The water was so frightening. I didn’t know if it was sea water. I tasted it. Thank god it wasn’t. With Vic holding Iris I ran around getting stuff out of the garage – the food bag, bedding, emergency box – and also a clean pair of jeans from the laundry as mine were soaked. Water was bubbling up through the ground on the drive and in the back garden. Water through the garage. I took photos and a bit of video. Am worried it’ll get into the house. If it can stay out of the house we’ll be alright. We’ll be alright anyway but I just want to get back there and see – to grab some clothes, the cat … Steve finally made it to Fisherman’s Rest about 3.40pm. Back wall fell off his building. Dad walked and ran home – building next to his collapsed [Caledonian Hall]. All so frightened.”

My memory of the event is in stop motion.

I kept my feet but couldn’t move. As the roaring and ground velocity increased, as everything lept and crashed, I watched the cupboards open, as if there were a poltergiest, and the contents shake itself out, like leemings pouring over a cliff. I remember looking at the table and contemplating it as the fridge started lurching towards me. But I had to get to Iris. I did as soon as I could, grabbed her, held her, told her we’d be ok, and got her into the kitchen by the door and under the table. I had to brush some debris away so she wouldn’t get hurt. ”It’s ok, it’s ok. We’re going to be ok, we’re going to be ok.” I sent a couple of texts, to Steve, Mum, Dad, my Sister … I tried Mum on the spare analogue phone; nothing. I was very frightened but was trying not to scare Iris. “Ok, I need to think, I need to think, what am I going to do?”. I saw my lap top, inverted and holding up the heavy cabinet that had fallen on it, and grabbed it. Tried to connect, forgetting the power was out. I had to know where the quake was centered in case there was a tsunami. It felt so big I thought it could have triggered one if it had been offshore. Then I heard the water, and I looked outside. It was terrifying.

I said to Iris, “Honey, we have to get out of here,” She was so scared, “Why Mummy, WHY!” I tasted the water to see if it was salty. If it was I knew I had to get the ladder from the garage and get on the roof with Iris. When I realised it wasn’t the sea (the relief!) I grabbed her, got boots on our feet and carried her out, fairy dress and gumboots, into the flooded drive. It was then I saw our neighbours and knew we weren’t dealing with a tsunami. I ran to them, handed over Iris and went back for some gear. I started heaving our emergency bags into the car. Potted plants and railway sleepers were floating around the driveway. I knew the chooks would be fine but raced to check the guinea pigs. They were swimming in their cage, I grabbed one, and yelled at the other as it swam away from me, realised I had nothing to put them in, and then decided to drag the cage to as high a point in the garden as I could. My girl was being cuddled while I collected these essentials together. I didn’t want her in the car until I knew I could get it out of the drive, in case the ground opened up under it. Water and liquefication were more than halfway up the wheels and I had to try to get it out or risk it getting stuck. Iris cheered, “Go Mummy!” as I revved the engine and sprayed liquefaction 2m up the garage door. The car roared down the drive in reverse through the muck, hillocks and hollows of asphalt and lifted slabs of concrete. The roads were devastated. Cars were everywhere. Mums trying to get to their kids at kindy and school. We tried to get to Vic’s sister in Parklands and only made it a block. Cars were stuck in potholes. The roads jammed with cars. We went instead to her place in Waimairi Beach via Marine Parade which was safe, and found an untouched haven. A bunker. We made a decision. We’d stick together, we’d stay put until Steve and Jase made it back. We’d look after Iris. Then we’d decide what to do next. So we waited.

Now, I can think ahead, I can plan little, just a little, not too far ahead because nothing is certain. Our land is messed up, we’re waiting with the rest of our city to find out where we stand, on our land, in our house – to find out what is our future here. We, like many others, are camping at home (fortunate and grateful to be in our home). Wearing gumboots outside because it’s still so messy. Being careful with water usage, careful with what goes down the drain. Avoiding using the oven. Using a chemical loo in the house. Bags always packed, ready to go. The car sits on the drive with a decent amount of petrol in the tank. Emergency gear in the boot. Bottled water, and a full gas bottle at the ready. Each night, making sure the jug is full of water, keys are in the door, torch and charged phones are by the bed. These are habits that may stay with me for a long time, some were carry-overs from September. It’s how I cope with this. It’s my way of having some control; to feel I am protecting my family. To be as ready as I can be, just in case.

And many nights as I get into bed, in the dark after I’ve turned off the light, as I lay my head on my pillow and close my eyes, I flash back to being wrenched from sleep, in that same bed, on the morning of September 4th 2010. And I hear the sea, and I think of Japan, and remember a reoccurring nightmare I used to have about a big wave.

Tomorrow we start again.

First published here: http://sarahlibrarina.tumblr.com/post/4716350053/remoting-it-6-my-22-2-11-eqnz – part of the series Remoting It http://sarahlibrarina.tumblr.com/remotingit]

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