– Governors Bay, Canterbury, New Zealand

9th January 2012
Today I was upset, almost feeling detached from reality when I rang EQC to discuss what I should do about further deterioration of the house in the recent quakes. I was told they would give me a new claim number. As it was read out CLM2012/……I was completely shocked, realising it was my third consecutive year of claim numbers for earthquakes. How was EQC going to cope with yet another round of claims? How was I going to cope with another period of dealing with EQC?

And then the insurers telling me, look, I’m so sorry we have not moved forward on your settlement for the house yet. But the truth is, firstly your claims manager is away until the 23rd and secondly our underwriters are telling us that according to their information, events have a high probability of occurring in February 2012 and as a result of this we are not looking to do a final decision on your house yet. Sorry about this, we feel for you but that’s just how it is.

I read Saturday 7th Perspective. “City’s Broken Heart Needs a Bypass,” by Dunedin City Councillor, Lee Vanders, and while I do not, as a Cantabrian, warm to his idea of shifting the commercial heart of Christchurch to Dunedin where there is more solid ground, I do identify strongly with some of the statements he makes and it leaves me pondering again our futures here.

“Earthquakes in other urban areas around the world have usually been one-off disasters. Christchurch is an unusually on-going disaster, which has had unprecedented psychological effects on people living there. The commonly described reaction during one of the many big quakes has been ‘terror’ but this is on-going, always anticipated, an epidemic of social shellshock terra infirma. When children become skilled at accurately estimating the Richter scale number of yet another quake, don’t we owe it to them to bring them up somewhere more secure?” I am still thinking about this statement and wondering what next for us. This article and the editorial in yesterday’s Press, Monday 9th, gives the editors opinions of the outcomes of the recent get together and statements from the local seismologists. This resonates with me and depresses me.

I am talking today with a neighbour and friend and she explains how much she has enjoyed her recent 3 day break, not far away but far enough for her and her wider family to be less affected by the shaking.

Another neighbour comes for a cup of tea. She talks of having nowhere now to retreat to. Usually home is the place she goes to feel safe, but she adds, “ but it’s not anymore, so where do you retreat to from here”? She talks of how different people have different reactions and that she can understand that, but when people infer you should “just get on with it” or “get over it” she feels angry. As she points out, the physiological reactions of the body are largely outside of our control. When your body is exuding adrenaline endless times, you finally end up with adrenal exhaustion.

Jan, the artist friend, talks about the harbour she looks out on from Diamond Harbour. She says of the harbour, “You are beautiful and duplicitous.” We discuss the worrying trend which is to feel normal when it shakes and anxious when it does not. The addiction to something so “not normal” is indeed disquieting. I wonder how many people can identify with this. Something I have noticed is my need to go back to the spot where I was when the big ones hit and to see and be with the people at that place again. We have shared something huge and it feels right to see them again, strangers before and now no longer as we have these bonds created by these shared experiences.

January 11th 7.30am and the harbour is swathed in a soft mist. We swim at full tide, 6 of us locals, in a flat sea. It is delicious and we are glad to be here, alive, and here in Governors Bay. Brief comments exchanged between two in the party about the nights shakes. “Yes, I woke, bit of a violent one I thought,” he says. I agree and realise I have had yet another early morning sleep disrupted. We’ve had 4 over 3.6, I see, since 4.48am.

But that’s living with earthquakes.

Early in the New Year, on behalf of our Christchurch nervous public, quake experts were called together by our Mayor, to front up. The main message that seemed to make impact was that the quakes around Canterbury, especially Christchurch, are likely to continue for decades, with the added proviso, but in decreasing numbers and magnitudes. A more urgent message though was that a small tsunami event from any major quake offshore is possible, a new issue to worry about. There was also the admission that the computer generated probability predictors have gone awry since the 23rd December. Geonet’s forecasts issued on December 16th suggesting that during the whole of 2012 there would be up to 5 magnitude 5’s and a one in seven chance of a magnitude 6 happening in the whole of 2012, no longer have any credibility. We have already had 8 quakes over 5 in magnitude and a 6 in the last 3 weeks, and we are only up to the middle of the first month of 2012, highlighting the fact that nobody really knows what is going on, including the scientists!

We are told there is another set of forecasts pending due, about the end of January. The writer comments that this next batch of forecasts could go askew just as quickly. We are tired of hearing statements like this. I am commenting on information from Press opinion
Monday 9th January 2012.

So, armed with this new information and the continued shaking, what next?
“On the positive side, we as a population are no longer complacent. Our land and the buildings that remain standing have shown their resilience to repeated hits from nature. We now know where it is safe to build and under what conditions and which areas are to be avoided. Surely as this opinion writer suggests (Press Tuesday 10th January 2012) this makes Christchurch a safer bet than some other untested cities”. Again, this is a comment I hear repeatedly; “Well, I would rather be in Christchurch than Wellington, or the West Coast. We are now familiar with the “enemy” and they as yet are not.”
2.00 am Saturday 21st January and I can’t sleep. I woke just before the 4.1 at just after 1.00 am. Somehow, it felt like it was coming so I was not surprised, very noisy and from Rolleston. A change from Pegasus Bay, back in the west again, and Lui is back on our bed. The poor animals.

22nd January 9.50pm.
We are changed forever by the environment in which we live. We are changed. Our environment is hugely changed. Our daily patterns and habits are changed. Soon, we will hardly remember how it was before – the time before we worried about how close something was to the edge of a shelf or bench; the time before we checked visually a building before we entered into it; before we took clothes or dressing gown with us to the shower in case we had to get out fast, before the bedside table had a charged torch and cell phone at the ready. We live with the very real threat of natural disaster. We are grateful for the lulls when peace and calm prevail, like a gap from pain during a long illness, but we remain alert and conscious of the strong possibility of another round of disruption, over which we have no control. We just try to get on with living our lives amongst it.

This story is an extract from an unpublished manuscript written by Rosie Belton between 4 September 2010-22 February 2012. Read more of Rosie Belton’s writing here

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