– Sumner and Lyttelton

This is a transcript of an interview with Paul Murray where he describes the 4 September 2010 earthquake .

I am 40 years old and I live in Sumner.
My main bedroom is like a vintage sitting room, full of antiques: it got an old piano, with 100 year old glass oil lamps on it, ticking clocks, book shelves, ornaments, glasses, old bottles, old radios, everything. So I could hear everything – tinkle, tinkle, rattle, rattle, – so I knew what was going on. ‘this is an earthquake, this is an earthquake.’ But then when it changed and went ‘shake shake-BANG- shake-shake- CRASH! I went ‘’This is serious, I gotta get up!’

And then, earlier in the year we had the tsunami warning, and we all got sent up the hill, this time we thought, well it was an earthquake, I don’t know what’s going on, but we gotta get out. We instantly packed the car, including the dog . My house is directly opposite the fire station, and the firemen were there at 4.30, doors open, lights on, ready to go. And so we said “Shall we panic, what’s going on, shall we go up the hill?” and he said “I don’t know about any tsunami warning, but it wouldn’t be a silly idea.” And we were up the hill in 10 minutes, to the Summit Road. There was a whole bunch of cars already there, all thinking the same thing. We turned the radio on till we heard there was no tsunami warning and then we came back down.

There were three of us in the flat and everyone had a different response. One of my flatmates immediately started making food, dehydrating bananas, packing all this dried food and cooking for three days straight – that was her response.

The days after were kind of funny, I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t go to my dance classes, but I also didn’t feel like doing anything. Things I normally do I didn’t want to do any of them: I didn’t feel like putting on music, I didn’t feel like doing any dance practice, I didn’t feel like doing circus stuff, I didn’t feel like gardening, I didn’t feel like exercising, just kind of sat around. And from what I’ve gathered that’s what a lot of people did through the aftershocks, just sitting around, not knowing what to do with themselves.

It was great to come over to Lyttelton to do some work. It was great being busy. Just the week before I started working with Jules from the Timebank doing a couple of paid days cause there was so much work to do. So I just started knowing some of the systems when Wham!

Jules rang up and said “Can you just come and do some voluntary hours, whatever, just come! We need help.” So I said “Yep, of course!’ and I turned up and I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. The first couple of days were absolutely mad. The main issues was dealing with chimneys, because even if they were not down yet they would come down with the aftershocks. Preventing more danger, thinking about water, because some people did have water at this point, some didn’t. So there was collecting and gathering water and storing water, and delivering it if need be. Then the Medical Centre wanted us to connect with all the elderly patients over 75 initially, and then the next day over 65, just to make sure they are fine, do they need anything, do they have water, do they need repairs doing – whatever.

So all those things were going on – there were phones ringing, there were messages being left, there were emails coming through, I had my cell phone going, I had the Timebank phone going, I had Jules’ cell phone in front of me while Jules organised chimneys and stuff. So we kind of divvied up jobs: she was doing mostly chimneys, I was doing the Medical Centre. So I was trying to find people to call the patients for the Medical Centre. We had about 200 names to contact. So anybody I could get I was given 10 names each.

But all the time I was answering the phones, so every job took a long time to do. I was writing down messages on all these scraps of paper, there were chimneys and people saying ‘Hi, I can help, what do you need? .” and I was saying “Great, put your name on that list.” and then someone else, and then someone else arrived saying “Yes, I can call patients.” so I gave them 10 names… and then finally after 3 days it all calmed down. But then we had the big aftershock on Wednesday and we had to contact all the patients again, because more damage was done.

I can’t really describe how I felt in this first week, but it is kind of like when you have water and sand in a jar and you give it a good shake, the big stuff falls first, but it takes a long time for that water to settle back down again. I felt like in a bit of a trance. It unsettled all sorts of things, I made all these life decisions, it changed my future plans and what I was doing with my life, all sorts of things opened up – like a crack in an earthquake.

I feel a bit more settled now, but quite hesitatingly so, it felt quite nice to have this suspended time where everything just stops, and you can reconstruct everything however you want it, literally, just like the city I guess.

Over the last few years I have been doing quite a bit of talking about sustainable living, be it organic gardening or having solar power or living off the land. So the earthquake was really an interesting test run, in how I fared when all the systems were down, how was I coping and how ready was I. I wasn’t at all. I wasn’t scared because I knew the systems were going to come back up, I knew the power and water would come back on. But it just reminded me again, “Yeah, that’s right, it’s really important to be ready and I am not.” And just a few days ago I went camping, and got totally snowed in and had to get rescued again. My car didn’t cope, I didn’t have enough clothing – same message again! -

So this is changing for me: I made a bit of a list of the things I should be getting: making sure I got a decent torch, good gumboots, a transistor radio, saving for a little stove so that I will be able to cook for a whole week if I need to, my old stove wasn’t really good enough.

This interview is one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton . We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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