Achey Quakey Heart
Posted on Saturday 26 February 2011 at 02:51
Don't really know where to start this one. Usually it would be with an attempt at wit, an apology for not having done it for a while, and so on and so forth, but after the last few days it all seems a little trite.
First off, following Tuesday's 'quake here in Christchurch, you'll (hopefully) be pleased to hear that both I, T and little H are all fine and dandy. Pretty amazing really, in that I had agreed to go with T to H's 6 month assessment at the doctors, to check he was hitting his milestones and his early birth hadn't affected him. It was the first time I had done so. The quake hit just as we were halfway through. We were in a big room, and it was moving so much I just threw myself over H, tried to grab T at the same time, and then just stayed there till it stopped.
Unlike the September quake, it seemed shorter but a little more violent and irregular. That one in September seemed like being rocked from side to side, compared to this one just shaking us all over the place. We knew it was a decent one, but didn't feel that it would be too bad. After getting over the shock, we decided to split - me to go into the city and check up on my colleagues, and T to go home and check the house.
It was only after getting in the car and turning on the radio that things started to click into place that this was something so much worse than September. Traffic started building, I was driving through foot deep water, past cars stuck in silt, past roads split in two, and then heard about a number of building collapses. My heart sank, and I tried calling T but the phones were jammed and then my phone started beeping as the battery wore out. Unexpectedly I got a call - my neighbour, on his way back to Chch after a trip to Kaikoura, saying was I OK as his wife had been to ours and it was a mess. I told him she was OK, and asked about the house but he didn't know any more. The phone went dead. Shit! Traffic continued to get worse as everyone was doing the same as me. I skipped the idea of getting to the city after I heard that the Cathedral spire had collapsed into the square. My office is directly opposite so I started thinking about my work colleagues and if they had got out OK. Thank goodness I was with T and knew she was OK! I was then thinking about our friends kev & Vicky, and their 2 kids, who'd only the day before landed in Chch to start a 3 week holiday. They were due to be in the city at the time of the quake. I could only hope they were OK.
Thoughts ran through my head about what I would find when I eventually made it home. Traffic was now gridlocked and I took to the back streets to finally get home one and a half hours after I'd started, for what is usually a 20 minute journey.
I arrived to find that T had made it back just before me, and we surveyed the house with a feeling of relief - it was still standing - and shock as it was surrounded with large piles of silt and looked to be flooded with water. There was no power, and mud everywhere. Kev & Vicky were there too - they had had a lucky escape from a cafe that has since collapsed, and chose to walk the 6kms back to our house. After securing the house and grabbing what we could, we left to go to our inlaws who had power, water and a phone, and got to contacting friends and family.
We spent the evening in shock, watching the TV reports starting to reveal the true extent of what had become of our beautiful city. Scared, helpless, with aftershocks still regularly rattling the windows, it was eerie to think that only 7kms away, people were trapped, dying, or already dead, yet here we all were - a family together, with food in our bellies and a roof over our head. You could have thought that we were watching events on the other side of the world. So strange.
The following day - Wednesday. Phone connections had improved to the point where we could call family in the UK and let them know we were OK. Internet was up and running, and facebook became a godsend in keeping everyone so far away - and local - updated with what was going on. We went back to the house to have a good look. It seemed that the old cracks from the first quake had got worse, and we had some new ones to admire. The silt was throughout the front and back garden, and over a foot deep in places. The front and read doors needed to be encouraged to open as they were stuck hard in their frames. Any builder will tell you, this is not a good sign. Inside, the kitchen, dining room and bedrooms were a mess but nothing that couldn't be sorted out. Glass had broken, cupboards had emptied, and T got busy clearing this up.
I headed to the neighbours and borrowed his wheel barrow, and got stuck in to this lot.
After 7 hours of shovelling and barrowing, I was only about a fifth through it. This stuff looks like a pile of sand but it is sticky, fluid and fould smelling. It is apparently a realatively unique result of the Chch topography. As Chch is build on an ancient riverbed laid down by the Waimakariri river over millions of years, underneath it is not rock, but billions of tons of sand, shingle and stone. There is a water table in this that is relatively close to the surface. When a quake hits, the silty sand in the ground under the water table liquifies in the water around it, and acts like a liquid - the pressure from the buildings and roads above forcing it to come jetting out of the ground like a mini geyser. Once the shaking stops, the sand behaves like sand again, allowing the water to flow away and leaving us with tons and tons of the stuff to clear away. The hydraulic pressure this stuff exerts in huge - it bursts up through tarmac and concrete, it allows deeply driven piles to move in one, two or even all three planes, and generally is a bloody destructive force. As my mate said to me over the phone the other day 'NZ, it's like living inside a geography lesson!'.
The front yard (above) now has some new crap to go with the old chimney - the pile of bricks in the corner - which was a victim of the first quake.
That evening we went back to our in-laws, and watched the news - stunned at just how bad our city had been hit. Some people had been saved, others confirmed dead. Stories of heroics, luck, and tragedy unfolded. After a while we turned it off, feeling helpless.
Thursday we went back home, and carried on where we'd left off. Only this time it seemed that everyone had felt the same as we had the night before, and we had people coming to help out from all over. My neghbour and 2 of his friends came with barrows and shovels. A mate came down from Rangiora with a shovel and a tray of baking from his wife! Toni's old shcool friend and her other half spent the morning with us. My sparky mate Harry came and donated an hour of his time, even though it was his birthday! One guy just pulled up in his ute, jumped out and got stuck in - thanks Mike! This meant that by the end of the day it was all shovelled, barrowed, and now in a big pile by the side of the road. We all had a few well earned beers.
I spoke to my boss in the evening, and heard that all in our office had got out and survived, despite the building next to us collapsing. It went without saying that we were unlikely to be back in the city for a while and so work has been put on hold till Monday.
Friday was an odd one. I was shattered, both physically and mentally. We went back to our house again but ended up cuddling on the sofa for hours, just T, me and our boy, having little urge to do anything other than all be together.
And that brings us to today. Life goes on - and we may no longer be the top spot on the BBC1 news - but rescuers continue to search, volunteers continue to work hard at making someones life better, neighbours are neighbourly. Shops are open, petrol stations are trading, support is coming, and in some way, shape, or form, I am positive that Chch will make it through. It will never be the same. It may not even be similar. But it will be Christchurch, and it will be we who live here who will make it our own again. We will mourn the loss of so many lives, we will celebrate the victories - however small - as we have them, and we will look back on this event with sadness in our hearts. However it will also be with the knowledge that this will only bring an already closely knit city even closer together, as it is us - the people who live here - that make it what it is.
Thank you to all those who have offered words of support and offers of assistance. Both T and I appreciate these so much, and even if you are 12000 miles away, know that your call or email is as much help emotionally, as a man with a shovel would be physically.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones, we are thinking of you.