A fateful week in Christchurch
This account was written shortly after the Christchurch Earthquake of February 22nd, 2011
12:50 pm, 22 Feb – Business as usual, a typical Tuesday..
12:51 pm – 6.3, 5kms deep
I was talking with a work colleague when the shaking started. There was no lead in, no warning. Unwanted violence from out of the blue. I looked over to my work colleague, I could see it in his eyes that after experiencing five months worth of aftershocks he and I both knew this was far from normal.
I dived under my desk, as the suspended ceiling above it collapsed. An aluminium frame had dropped on the diagonal with ceiling panels, and the suspended light fitting hanging only by it’s cord was swinging where I had been standing just seconds before. The violence was intensely stronger than the 7.1 of Sept 4, and when the shaking stopped I extricated myself from the mess that had fallen over my desk to see all my work colleagues, faces white with shock, emerge all physically unharmed.
12:56pm – 4.9, 5km deep
1:05 pm – 5.7, 6km deep
A work colleague and I left the work carpark immediately to the sounds of alarms, sirens and crying. On the way out I saw a meeting of emergency personal already in vests mobilising to enter the city, already a lot of people were attempting to leave and these people were about to make their way in. I knew something terrible had happened by the stunned looks on everyones faces with the disbelief that this had happened again – but worse.
On the way home there were buildings that had fallen down, chimneys fallen through roofs, water mains had burst causing flooding and in places the road had lifted or sunk. One part of the road on the way out of the city had risen half a foot. There was the smell of fear and raw sewage in the air.
I called Kiri and let her know what had happened, and to let family know I was ok. I managed to get the call out before the network failed.
My work colleague dropped me at the corner and he went to find his wife and children who were all in different places within the city.
1:21pm – 4.5, 5km deep
1:26 pm – My street was a mess, there had been massive energy waves which had buckled and split the road. I sprinted up my now uneven driveway and fumbled the key into the door and opened to the mess awaiting me inside.
I took stock of what had happened, nothing damaged thank goodness, just a bit of mess to clean up. I found my very scared cat under the bed in the spare bedroom and then took a look outside….this was when things got interesting.
Liquifaction – This was bubbling up outside like nothing I had ever seen before, and it kept on coming. Worse was yet to come when I noticed that water was gushing up from under the house and flooding the yard with silt. The water had built up so quickly it had flooded my laundry and garage. It kept coming and I realised if I didn’t do something quickly my house was going to flood too.
I ran to the gate and turned off the water mains, and then round the corner to the Creche next door and got them to turn their water off too to see if this would help. On the way back I checked in on the elderly neighour who lived over the fence to see if he was ok – he was.
I ran back up the drive and assisted a neighbour with her wall divider as she couldn’t lift it by herself.
Back inside I had a look out and the water had kept on coming, there was nothing else for it but to get knee deep in it so I took my shoes and socks off, grabbed a spade and barefoot, there I was outside digging channels to divert the water away from my lounge.
I looked down part way through to find I was standing in raw sewage and the flooding and my handy spade work had uncovered an ants nest struggling for survival.
There were live ants crawling up my leg. Knee deep in sh*t all afternoon, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
The aftershocks kept coming. These came without warning with huge booms – they were not gentle rolling shakes, they came with extreme violence.
1:46pm – 4.5, 5km deep
2:50pm – 5.9, 5km deep
3:48pm – 4.5, 5km deep
4:04pm – 5.0, 12km deep
I finished the channels and then waited…
I had saved the lounge, the water had stopped flowing, I was dirty and covered in goodness knows what, with no water and no power, but I was alive and uninjured.
I used old bottles of water stored from the 7.1 Earthquake in Sept last year to wash myself off, and I went back outside to see who I could help around the neighbourhood, and was left wondering if this was all actually happening.
Power came back on just before dusk Tuesday night, I was never more relieved to hear the fridge shudder into life and buzz away happily, I remember checking all power appliances carefully to make sure there was no risk of fire.
I was not prepared to see the images on TV that evening of the carnage within the city, MY city. Tears flowed as it hit me just how bad this was. The rest of the world had known for many hours what I was only just finding out. I realised life here was never going to be the same again, and this was not a bad nightmare, it was real and 2.5km’s from where I live people were trapped in buildings injured, dying and with many dead.
I eventually went to bed.
Feb 23rd 2011 – Wednesday. There was no sleeping to be had during the night, every half hour at least there was a 4 or 5 magnitude aftershock. I used Wednesday to clean up the house, and I slept. I started a bit of cleanup outside but I knew without tarps, newspapers or a wheelbarrow I wasn’t going to achieve much. I went for a look around the neighbourhood. The formerly flat road in places was now like the surface of the moon. Some places the road had sunk a meter, like it had just been melted away.
Feb 24th 2011 – Thursday. I went door knocking. I borrowed a wheelbarrow from a neighbour in the next block and I kept knocking on at least 3 doors with no answer as people had vacated Christchurch. One house had newspaper but they could not access the spare room it was in as a cabinet had fallen across the door, sealing everything inside. I managed to get a lot of newspaper from an elderly gentleman who was attempting to shovel the liquifaction from his pathway to his house. I offered to help but he had people arriving to assist and he declined so I got back to the job at hand.
Beating a path to the door to get access to the wash house, and then the sight that greeted me when I finally got there.
I had to take dirt and silt through the house as the garage was blocked. Load after load, after load.
In the afternoon as my back and arms were killing me, as I was dumping the dirt on the road for what seemed like the thousanth time, a car pulled up and a guy handed me a cold can of Sprite lemonade. A groundswell of emotion hit me and I almost burst into tears on the spot at the sheer kindness. His car was loaded with cans. It was his way of making a positive difference during a time where we were all trying to process everything we were experiencing. A car behind it also yelled out some positive affirmation for me as it went passed. I must have looked deflated and knackered. This was enough to recharge me to continue with what was necessary.
As I came back up the drive way my neighbour Kavita informed me that the water to the outside taps was now back, it had low pressure, and not enough to run the taps inside but it was something positive – we now no longer had to source water off the property. I knocked on the neighbours doors to advise that water was back, a particular neighbours friend who was visiting offered to help shovel the dirt with me.
I graciously accepted and as we were shoveling he advised me his name was Brad and was in the Australian Airforce. He was over here on his own accord as he just wanted to help and he had piggy backed a flight from Australia with the Australian Search and Rescue team – he even had his own shovel.
He helped for two hours and with some more help from another neighbour at the end my back yard ended up looking completely different….I went to bed that night exhausted but satisfied at the progress that had been made.
Feb 25th 2011 – Friday. The day Kiri came home. After travelling since the early morning. Kiri, who I hadn’t seen for the better part of 7 weeks came bursting through the door just before 8pm with food, water, emergency supplies (which included comfort food – hmmm chocolate), and lots of morale boosting cuddles.
Feb 26th 2011 – Saturday. The landlords arrived and assisted with shovelling the rest of the dirt out to the road from behind the garage, and Kiri and I got stuck into taking everything out of the garage and sorting out what was damaged and what could be saved.
I contacted a work colleague that evening who had water and Kiri and I went round and had a shower each. This was the first shower I had had since Monday night the 21st of Feb and it was….AMAZING!!!!
Feb 27th 2011 – Sunday. Earthquake? – What Earthquake? Pipes have been repaired as we now have mild water pressure to the taps inside and can flush the toilet.
Feb 28th 2011 – Monday.
The two separate piles of dirt outside on the street from mine and the 5 other townhouses I share my driveway with. In the distance you can see rubble on the ground and if you look carefully you can make out the bumps where the energy released has warped the road.
The dust now that we have had a couple of nice sunny days is unreal. All we need is there to be tumble weeds shipped in to make for an authentic Old West experience.
The picture below is of St Martins a suburb just 2 minutes drive up the street. The photo does not do it justice but this road is now like the moon, it used to be flat and it is wet due to burst pipes. To the left behind the Westpac bank is the St Martins New World supermarket. This has had extensive damage and will be closed. Hundreds of employees will lose their jobs. You can also see how close the Port hills are to where I live. Most of the EQ’s have been under the Lyttleton side of the hills.
Mar 1st 2011 – Tuesday. It is now a week since the 6.3 Earthquake changed Christchurch and our lives forever. At 12:51pm Kiri and I held hands and sat in silence for two minutes in respect of those that lost their lives, and remembering all that has happened in the last week. Has it been a week? It feels like it’s only been two days.
In context to where Christchurch sits in history, the New Zealand census has been cancelled this month. It has only happened twice before – During the Great Depression of the 1930’s and during WWII. The cost of rebuilding Christchurch City is now going to cost more than the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in 2005.
Tomorrow and beyond
Who knows what the future holds for Christchurch and even if there are going to be more big quakes. These are strange days. My work is within the cordon of the CBD and will be out of bounds for at least two months. I have offered to work up in Wellington office from next week for two months until the cordon is lifted or until we get relocated to a surrounding surburb temporarily.
At least for now, I am still getting paid. Kiri and I consider ourselves lucky. Many do not have water or power, they are displaced out of their homes, and have loved ones who have died or been seriously injured. A lot of people will never lose their physical or mental scars.
There is hope and love in spades here and I am in awe of how we have picked ourselves up and continue to do everything to help each other, our friends, our neighbours, and complete strangers. Tomorrow morning at 5am I am heading out with friends to deliver coffee and food to those working on the cordons in the city. Kiri today has been busy baking cookies, mini muffins and scones which we will be handing out in the early hours.
Look how far this city has come in a week. We at this stage will not be leaving Christchurch, This is our home and Kiri and I are here to create a new future for the new Christchurch which will emerge.
Lastly a big thank you to all of you that phoned, emailed, text messaged, asked after us and held us in your thoughts, it has truly made a world of difference.
Much love to all,
Scott and Kiri