As was normal for a Tuesday, I dropped my eldest daughter – Gaby (4yo), at Ready Steady Play preschool and then drove to my parents house where me and my youngest daughter – Emersyn (8mo), would spend the afternoon. I stopped and got some lunch, then we continued to my parents house. Inside I put Emersyn on the floor in the middle of the lounge and promised her I’d make her some lunch as soon as I’d checked the flowers my Mum had received for her birthday just the day beforehand. They smelt lovely. I walked back toward Emersyn and the kitchen and the shaking started.
It started out in the usual manner – but then got worse and worse and worse – I knew it was a bad one. I dived on top of Emersyn, and tried to block out the noise of things falling down around us, and the fact it was near impossible to maintain my balance, even on my hands and knees. Besides the noise, the one thing I remember is Emersyn looking at me as if to say ‘what the hell are you doing Mum????’... When the shaking stopped, I turned around and was greeted by all the DVD’s all over the floor, chairs fallen over, items from the china cabinet were on the floor, there was glass all over the kitchen floor…
I stood up and began hyperventilating – repeating over and over “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD”, I swooped Emersyn up, grabbed my keys and ran for my car.. I’m ashamed to say it, but my first instinct was to drive the two minutes to my Mum’s work – to check that she was okay, but also because … I just needed my Mum … 27 years old, and I needed my Mum like I was 5 years old. At the corner I noticed a huge brick fence had fallen down, and that was the first indicator that the quake was worse than September’s had been.
I managed to drive to Mum’s work – crying, hyperventilating… having to pull over once to try to pull myself together enough to concentrate on driving safely. A lovely man stopped by the car. We each asked if the other was okay.. and nodded in the way that Cantabrians do.. A shake that says “I’m alive, what more can I ask for?”... I got to Mum’s work and as soon as I had Emersyn out of the car I ran around to the front of the building – as soon as Mum & me saw each other, we charged toward each other.. Hugging each other, tears streaming… Not really knowing what we should do, or what we could do… When I had had my much needed Mum hug, I left to pick up Gaby from preschool. There were numerous diversions, but I eventually got there…
I expected the kids to all be blithering messes, but I was greeted instead by my daughter and all her little friends laughing and playing games – acting like it was just a fun adventure… it was the adults who were crying and trying awfully hard to hold it together.. When I had Gaby safely in my arms I breathed a sigh of relief.. We went out to the car, and in true Gaby fashion, she was only upset that she had to go home early! Another sigh of relief was had when I checked my cell phone and found a text from my Dad. He was safe. All of us Christchurch Oakden’s were safe & counted for. I managed to get a text through to my sister in Queenstown to tell her we were all okay. She was 2 days away from her due date at the time – and none of us wanted the stress of what was happening in Christchurch, to affect her or the baby….
Back at my parents Mum was home.. out on the lawn talking to her boss. There was a huge puddle of liquifaction in their front yard – and water all over the drive way. I hadn’t noticed that when I left. Dad arrived home and told us about the state of the roads… then casually told us he’d left the CTV building 20 minutes before the earthquake. He’d been crossing through Latimer Square when the quake happened.. he’d turned around to see a huge plume of dust where the CTV building had stood, mere minutes beforehand.
Stories began to come through of buildings that had collapsed, and it was with that we realised Christchurch hadn’t been quite so lucky with this quake. All we had to rely on was the AM radio – it was hard to listen to the reports coming through, the rising death toll, the buildings that no longer stood, the damage to residential areas…. I had friends from out of town texting me about what they were seeing on TV – and while part of me wished I could be watching, another part of me knew that seeing the footage would be over-the-top upsetting.
I had no idea what state my house was in. I live in Avonside (recently red zoned) and I kept hearing how badly hit it had been, I had images of my house being a pile of rubble, of my neighbours houses being a pile of rubble.. of the whole area being unrecognisable… Late afternoon Dad and I got in the car and made the trip to Avonside.. Marshland Road (down by the palms) was full of holes and liquifaction, then as we went down beside Shirley Boys High there was more liquefaction, more holes, cars stuck in the liquefaction and in holes – and a surprising amount of shoes and jandles in the liquifaction. We eventually needed to park and walk, because the traffic was way too heavy, and we didn’t know how close we could even get to my house.
We walked along River Road and had to make our way around an enormous gaping hole in the road – a road I’d driven along hundreds of times, and it was ruined. The river bank had come off in places, the bridge over to Avonside Drive was in a bad state. The whole area was in a bad state. Luckily my house (and seemingly my street as a whole) was looking okay – there was liquefaction, cracked pavements, and the odd hole in the road, but it wasn’t as bad as other streets we’d gone down. I got necessities from home, and then we made the trek back to my parents house, luckily traffic had settled a little, but it was still a slow trip home.
The constant aftershocks were scary – you didn’t know if there was going to be a bigger shake coming – and no matter how close you came to finally calming your nerves, as soon as there was another aftershock the nerves were shot again. I remember getting in bed that night and there was an aftershock – and I broke down into tears… I was terrified, I was in shock – I couldn’t believe what had happened to Christchurch. Everything was so unknown… it was horrible.
Mostly, I was in shock about the fact my Dad had been in the CTV building. He had had a doctors appointment – all I could think was what would have happened if he’d taken an appointment 15 minutes later, or if the doctor had been running really behind… what if he’d been walking in front of the CTV building as it came down? I KNEW he was home, safe and sound – but it didn’t really stop the ‘what ifs’. It turned out that my Dad’s doctor had lost his life… The fact that my Dad was either his last or second last patient shook me up. I never knew the man, but I felt a connection to him because of Dad. Years ago my Dad had worked in the building – and my sister and brother-in-law had both attended a fitness college in the CTV building…. There were so many connections to CTV. Upon talking to an ex boyfriend, I found out that he’d lost a lot of friends in the CTV building – and to this day just hearing of the CTV building causes me to shake, and brings it ALL back.
It took ages for power and water to be returned to my house, so myself and the girls lived with my parents for that time, and looking back it was a blessing in disguise…. I don’t think I could have handled those first couple of months after the quake, on my own… Being a single parent, you NEED to be the adult, you NEED to be the one who is calm and reassuring, and who leads the way – and in that situation, it was near impossible. It’s hard to be the parent/adult – when you want to be the kid & be looked after yourself. My parents were amazing putting up with us, over what was such a hard time.. but family is family, and family is there for each other through the hard times.
If anything, the earthquake caused me to take count and to focus on what was actually important in life. Family. Friends. Health. If you have those things, you’re doing good. I guess it sounds cliche, but you really begin to appreciate the small things… Your 4yo saying something funny, your 8mo reaching a new milestone, having a laugh with your parents, enjoying a nice sunny day. It also reiterated for me how important community is – there were so many times after the earthquake that I was in awe over how generous and giving people could be… Because we had only been able to get home once, and only had bare necessities, I didn’t have many clothes at all for the girls – just what was in Gaby’s preschool bag & Emersyn’s nappy bag. I received lots of clothes for the girls, from people I didn’t even know…. and the Student Army went to the extent of BUYING new clothes for my girls.
One of the most memorable moments for me, was when there was the national minute of silence – EVERYONE on Mum & Dad’s street went outside and stood in their front yard… it was the biggest sense of community I had ever felt. Everyone standing as one – no one had said “lets all go outside for the minutes silence” – it just happened that way… Looking around the street you could feel what everyone was thinking, and really did feel like one – because we’d all been through the same thing… Afterward people lingered, crossed the road to talk, went to the footpath and spoke to their neighbours…. It was a very touching experience.
A year on people are planning what they’re going to do to commemorate ‘February 22nd’, I know people who are going down to the Avon River to throw flowers in, my daughters primary school has invited all the parents along for a minutes silence at 12.51… I’m not sure what I am going to do yet, I would like to go to the river – as it is mere meters from my house, but I also want to commemorate the day with my daughter – who has been so strong through all of this. Stronger than me perhaps.
We (my family) however have something else to commemorate a couple of days later – on February 24th 2011 at 00.00, my beautiful niece Bronté Ameka was born… and February 24th 2012 is her first birthday. I tend to think of Bronny as our ‘earthquake baby’ – as the little gift that made those days bearable – our little bright spot during what was such a dark time. Ironically, Bronté’s older brother passed away on February 22nd in 2004 – so two of the most tragically monumental experiences of my families life happened on February 22nd… Since 2004 that date has been a day of reflection and commemoration. But now we have February 24th – and the hope and new beginning it represents, to happily look toward.