– Shirley Road, Richmond, Canterbury, New Zealand

It starts like a regular aftershock then escalates to nigthmare proportions. I had only just begun to feel OK about going into the central city again. Oh no! This can’t be happening now!

When the February earthquake struck I was standing in the High St/Cashel St Mall in the centre of Christchurch about to go into a business. God was sure looking after me as although I had been into the Link Centre many times before, I had trouble identifying the entranceway, and had just stepped back into the open area of the mall, ie not under the verandas when it hit. A couple of weeks later the TV news showed a shot of the inside of the building I was about to enter. The whole inside was rubble. As it was – being outside was terrifying and horrific. Windows blowing out, masonry falling, the awful noise of buildings and glass rattling, water/sand coming up our of the pavement, people running screaming/crying/bleeding and then clouds of dust. I initially thought to shelter alongside a concrete outdoor seating base but was getting shoved backwards and forwards on my hands and knees along the pavement, and feeling really vulnerable as people lurched past and parts of buildings were crashing down, so ended up sprawled across the seat holding onto the wooden slats on top to keep still. When the worst shaking passes, people stand shocked, clutching strangers for comfort/support, a man runs through the mall shouting that the cathedral is down.

I didn’t know how I would be able to get back home out of the city, my car was drivable, not the one behind me – flat. I reason that I will have some small protection being inside my car from flying debris so decide to drive as far as I can, to get out from between the tall buildings. I drive back the way I have come, along Cashel St, avoiding stunned people just standing in the middle of the roadway, past a pile of smoking rubble that I don’t recognise as the CTV building. Peices of paper drift down out of the sky, falling all around the car, weeks later I realise these come from the collapsed buildings.

It took 1.5 hours to get home with lots of detours, a 5-10 min journey normally. Seeing buildings collapsing etc along the way and not being able to get hold of Brent as the cell phones were out – Horrible. A friend in Australia gets a text through, having already heard about the quake, but I can’t get hold of family only a few kilmometers away.

At home there was lots more damage than last time. Liquefaction, all around house and in garage and down drive, some areas up to shin deep. The driveway was buckled so badly we later have to tear up over a 1/3 of the drives tarseal to be able to safely access it. Water from the liquefaction formed a lake – over gumboot height at the end of our and our neighbours driveways.

Being on a slight rise we were out of major harms way, not so fortunate several neighbours across the road where the water and silt run through the inside of their houses. Brent, who was at home when the shake hit, has been kept busy trying to make channels though the silt in our driveway to allow the build-up of water to drain away as it threatens to flow though out immediate neighbours house. Brent’s sees the water rising on the street but by the time he gets inside to get his car keys the water has already risen enough to flow into the left hand side of his car which was parked on the roadside. When I get home we have to dig a path through the silt in our yard to gain access to our house. The house has dropped at one side but is habitable. No phone, power, sewage or water. All those we know and love accounted for which is all that really matters.

We weren’t able to use the car much as roads were blocked/unusable and needed to be left open for emergency vehicles. So we got our push bikes out and found that a good way to get about to check on our rental properties and to fetch fuel for the generator that my brother got to us so we could run the fridge freezer for a few hours a day. Some supermarkets were open nearish to us with reasonable supplies. Had to queue at a gas bottle refill place for 4 hours to refill our gas bottle at one stage. We felt very conscious of need to be constantly prepared just in case we are trapped at house in near future.

Getting rid of the liquefaction sand was a huge effort – shoveling and barrowing it to the gate. Once the lake had gone at the end of the drive we put the sand in huge piles on the roadside and the council constantly worked their way around picking it up so it didn’t block the storm water system any worse than it was already. God is so good – looking at a seemingly insurmountable job in front of us Brent asks God for help – Some of the local Crusaders rugby team and supporters turned up almost immediately, out of the blue, while we were doing the worst of the drive and they were a huge help.

The next job was when Brent & I, and our front neighbor, set out to remove the mountains that had appeared in the tarseal of our driveway to allow safe access to our houses and to allow water to run away from our houses when it rains. Under the tarseal mountains were huge mounds of liquefaction sand – just when we thought we had cleared the silt from the driveway! God certainly is watching out for us as just after we started on the worst hump nearest the street entry, a council worker loading the silt onto trucks to be taken away, chugged up the driveway in his big digger and said he wasn’t meant to do this, but he had a few minutes while he waited for a new truck to arrive and he would drag off the top tarseal and a bit of the sand for us. What a huge difference that made – we’d still be there moving it. Then about an hour later a group of 6 youngish people turned up, from Inland Revenue – of all places -, and helped us with the other humps and also removed about 20 barrows of silt from the back of our property as well.

Clearing our garden of liquefaction was a bit like modern archeology as you could see nothing and kept discovering ornaments and rocks etc as you went along.

A week later most of our home group, came round to help us lift and move the spa pool which has been lifted by the liquefaction and the motor etc pumped full of silt, and to help lay down 3 tonne of shingle on our sandy areas in the drive where we had to tear up the tarseal the week before. This made a huge difference to our outlook, not so much sand being traipsed in and blown about in the immediate yard and no cars tracking great lumps of it in and out of the drive and garages. The following day a friend helped Brent remove our interior laundry door and cut a hunk off it so we can close it and did a similar thing to the pantry doors to enable access. The floors/walls in this area have moved somewhat, but at least the place is weathertight and lockable from the outside.

Life will never be the way it was before, but slowly we are settling into a new “normal” and we are grateful that overall God is in control.

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