My son had crawled into bed with me as my kids often do, and we had relocated to the lounge because he’s a wiggly sleeper and I didn’t want to disturb my husband. So it was that I found myself in the early morning hours of September 4th sitting bolt upright next to my still sleeping son and knowing that there was an earthquake. It didn’t seem all that bad and for several seconds I thought about lying down again and sleeping through it.
Suddenly the shaking intensified and without thinking I grabbed my son and ran for the doorway. There was nothing conscious about my actions – purely by instinct I got in the doorway and wedged my son and myself in as well as I could while the floor rocked beneath us. I could hear my husband stumbling down the hall towards us. He had checked on our other two kids who were both still asleep and was coming to check on us. Together we stood in the doorway listening to the house rattle. I could hear what sounded like the entire contents of the kitchen crashing to the floor and I didn’t want to imagine what we’d see when it was all over.
I don’t know how my husband got to us because when I tried to walk I fell over. The floor was moving like waves on the sea and I couldn’t stay upright. The shaking seemed to last for minutes before I could get out of the doorway and down to the other kids to make sure they were alright. They were, blessedly, still asleep and neither of them remembers anything about it. I can only thank goodness for that because that’s one less set of bad memories they have to deal with. The son I had in my arms crawled back into bed in the lounge as soon as I put him down. I guess none of them had ever really felt a quake before so none of them knew just how big a deal that one was.
I don’t think I even really knew the enormity of what had happened. I automatically pulled my computer out to check on the size of what had happened and what we were advised to do next. It didn’t even occur to me that power would be down and it was disorientating not to have my normal avenues of communication. At the time our phones were all cordless, we had no cellphones and our only radio ran off power. We literally had no way to find out any information.
As we were stumbling around trying to find and light candles a large aftershock rolled through. I’d known, of course, that aftershocks existed but nothing prepared me for what they were really like. My heart stopped for a moment and I looked over at my husband. There was no discussion; we just knew were leaving the house. We live close to the coast and with no way to get information and no way of knowing which direction the quake came from we wanted to be away in case of a tsunami. We headed to my parents’ house (they were away overseas at the time) in the hope that they might either still have power or if not at least we knew they had a plug in phone we could borrow and bring home. In the end they didn’t have power either and after checking their house was okay we came home again complete with battery radio and plug in phone.
The rest of the morning passed in a dream. We called family and friends, listened to the radio and huddled under blankets on the couch in the cold early spring morning. Power came back on at around 9am and we spent the rest of the day glued to the TV, open mouthed in horror at what was happening in the city. The aftershocks rumbled through periodically, stunning me with how constant they are. I remember thinking that if we had to live with that for days I was going to go a bit crazy. I smile a little when I think how naive I was back then. At least it was a good wake up call. After that day we got together a much more comprehensive emergency kit than we already had and made sure we both have cellphones, both of which were sanity savers in February.