– Tawa, Wellington, New Zealand

I feel a little fraudulent writing this, overlapping my rather trivial experiences with those who felt the full force in 2010 and 2011. But the November 2016 quake is under-represented here, so here’s my memory, for what it’s worth.

I knew something was brewing. Since moving to the Wellington region from the UK I’ve been fascinated by quakes (a 3.5 makes front page news in England!) and remember my first rather exciting experience of feeling the house shudder and creak from a small quake up in Kapiti somewhere. That got me interested in them and, much to my other half’s annoyance, I even started keeping a spreadsheet to record the local shakes. But then I noticed, in the weeks before Kaikoura, that the shallow quakes in the Wellington region had stopped. From 2-3 per week we had nearly 10 weeks without one…. And then I saw that we were due a supermoon and jumped to the conclusion that if nature needs a trigger the closest moon for 69 years might do it.

On the night of 13th November I watched the huge Moon rise and convinced myself that it looked almost sinister. Our youngest was 18months old and had problems sleeping through the night, so I had taken to bunking down on a matress next to his cot so that I could do that rather pathetic dad act of half-heartedly shushing him back to sleep until his grumpily stomped in and mum took over! My bad.

We got to bed later than normal. Not long before midnight. Not long before the Moon was directly overhead…

I was lying listening to the little guy breathing when I heard the rumble. That dreadful, powerful bass noise that’s not quite a heavy truck or gust of wind noise but makes you question your hearing for a moment. I must have listened for a few seconds before realising that it was the p-wave. It sounded as if it was coming down the hill we live on and I instinctively leapt up from the floor with uncharacteristic speed. Half way across the baby’s bedroom the rattling started. 70s window frames shaking, a gib wall vibrating. The air was full of energy and unexpected sounds. And by the door I stopped. Frozen. Our large hall mirror was swinging wildly along the wall and, like an idiot, I just stood there and held it still. Why? Because it was a wedding present given to my deceased parents and it has some stupid sentimental value. So I held on to the door frame with my left hand, braced against the wall and held the mirror. While yelling “Earthquake!”

From our bedroom my other half yelled “Yes I know it’s a bloody earthquake!”. I didn’t realise it then but the 3 and 5 year olds had a few minutes before decided to bed hop in to the bed with her. So she rode out the shake in a bed full of kids, huddling under the duvet. On a bedframe that months before I’d promised myself I’d tighten up but had never got round to doing…

And I left the baby in the cot. I believed he was safe. He was asleep. He had wooden bars around him. I’d squared that in my confused mind at some point. The chipped, gilt mirror that I’d spent my teenage years straightening my school tie in front of was my prime focus. It’s the little things like that that come back sometimes.

The shaking was deep and slow. Like riding the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry in an autumn gale. The house swayed and creaked alarmingly. We have six kids and at some point I yelled to the three teenagers downstairs but heard no reply. And then as the house dipped down again the quake suddenly stepped up a notch. A sudden violent acceleration that momentarily threw me off balance. The same frequency but the wallowing motion became alarmingly deep. Those were the moments of fear. Of helplessness. I thought the house was going to fold up. I braced to run and grab the baby, not knowing what to do after that if the building was about to collapse.

And just as suddenly as it started the quake passed.

Only one little box had fallen over. My quake prep had done it’s job and the furniture stayed upright. The ceiling’s munted in the front room, split down a weak joint. And there are cracks in a lot of places that need attention. But we rode it out.

We let the baby sleep but the rest of us gathered on the sofa and talked it through. I nipped on a bottle of vodka. My partner was shaking with anxiety and fear, and nearly a year later she’s still troubled with fears of a repeat experience. Her senses are hightened to bumps and shakes. She’s weaning herself off the geonet monitoring but feels even the small ones when she’s in bed. She can’t sleep properly. So I don’t because I’m now on alert to give her support when the next half decent shake happens.

The kids show a range of reactions to the quakes now too but I encourage learning and rehearsing what to do in a quake rather than dwelling on the what ifs. I like practical solutions to problems. Having worked in forestry for a number of years I’ve had my fair share of hairy moments so I can’t say that I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress because, well, I don’t feel it. But I do feel a far greater need to protect my family and a massive responsibility for ensuring that we all know what to do when the next high intensity shake comes. I’ve changed my route to and from work now, avoiding the CBD if I can and find myself planning escapes from tsunamis if I’m on the station in Wellington. I don’t ever want to make a dumb split second decision in another shake and hold a mirror rather than a child. We were lucky and dodged a bullet. And we have to learn from it, not ignore it.

My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and property in the 2010 and 2011 shakes. I can only now appreciate the horrors that you’ve all been through and although my story is one of momentary fear in a northern suburb of Wellington I know that the 2016 event shook many people mentally far more than it did physically.

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