Earthquake - February 2011 - Merryn

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EARTHQUAKE

It was an idyllic February Christchurch morning, I walked out onto the verandah from our bedroom feeling good about this last family day I had planned, before returning to France. The native Tui bird was singing in the bush that surrounds our home, I felt sure it had returned especially to herald my day.
My husband Tim, who was still recovering from recent surgery was still in quite a bit of pain so had settled down stairs on the sofa with his laptop, a position he could manage without complaining.
Six years ago we completely demolished our former New Zealand home as it was in a fairly rough state & rebuilt a new 3 story one in the same weatherboard bungalow style. We designed the house ourselves & our neighbour, a builder lovingly built it paying attention to every exacting detail .At the time I complained bitterly about all the engineering costs but our builder assured us it should be build to earthquake standards. Something neither of us had ever considered, as Christchurch never has earthquakes.
However there had been the earthquake in September which destroyed a lot of Christchurch properties but as it struck at 4am no one thankfully was killed. My brother Andy was out partying at the time and the quake struck as he was walking home, he was hit by falling rubble after a brief hospital visit he was sent home with cracked ribs & an aching body. On Boxing Day we had another big shake but no fatalities, our beautiful home was unaffected both times. I felt disturbed about these quakes but I didn't feel any fear for myself, our home or my family.
I had spent most of our time this visit finishing off design features in the living room, bedrooms & the library. I had relished being able to have the time & a little extra finance to indulge with these additions.
As I drove across the causeway beside the sea to visit my cousin Marilyn for an early coffee & catch up I pondered on what a paradise I was born in, no traffic jams, no terrorism, no wars, we don't even allow nuclear power of any kind, no nuclear power ship can enter our ports. Where ever I have been in the world I always knew I could come back to the safe haven & familiarity of our beautiful beach side home, our close knit family & the comfort of our home town.
I think one of the reason's I was drawn to fund raising for UNICEF in the UK was I believed I came from a country of privilege & should do something to give back to the global community.
My cousin & I covered all the family 'oldies' gossip, Aunty Inez at 88 & now needing care in a nursing home, Uncle Bob 85 still amazing living a full active life & my dear Mum 80. Marilyn keeps her eyes on them all as most of our generation live in other cities or countries.
I left Marilyn's heading back towards the beach where we live, Mum has a small home on the flat just near the hill where our house is perched, she shares the house with my 50 year old bachelor brother. This was the day I had committed to help her clean out all the boxes & junk from her garden room & her garage.
My brother Michael had given up his usual trip to the stamp shop in town to assist us with lifting things & Mum had prepared a special lunch with all my favourites.
Michael had popped to the loomed had gone to retrieve something from the bedroom I was just helping myself to salad when at the same time I heard the roar then wham! I fell to the ground, I heard Mum say "Its okay its an earthquake, Mike quick get out here now" all the plates had fallen out of the cupboard & the wardrobe in Mums bedroom had crashed over. Once outside I tried to call Tim back up at our house, I couldn't get through. I was immediately concerned because of his health issue.
We 3 agreed we were all okay & I would rush up to our house to check on Tim. We hugged & I jumped in the car.
Turning from Mum's street out onto the road another quake hit, the car felt like it was pulling & a giant crack opened up in the road in front of me, at the same time Shag rock, a local land mark a few metres out from the beach disintegrated into the sea, I just kept driving thinking how bad must it be up on our hill. As I turned the corner on the opposite side of the road the cliff had come down there were large rocks & dust spewing onto the road a grey van was completely squashed, I can remember thinking well whoever was driving it must be dead now as the entire van was crushed, I just kept driving, a row of cars was speeding towards me, they all seemed to be driven by young anxious women, it was only afterwards I realised they were rushing to the local school.
I turned up the hill road to our place, the road had split open with a hole as big & deep as my car, I managed to get around it the cars parked on the side of the road had been completed covered by falling rocks, as I turned the last steep corner a man was running out with blood pouring down his face but he was with 2 other's, so I figured they would take care of him. I was focused to get to Tim. I stopped at the top of our communal drive, its very steep & you need to be in a low gear to drive down. I was fearful of getting out of the car but a section of fence was blocking my way having fallen off a neighbouring house, I leapt out & threw it to one side as quickly as I could my legs were like jelly, it was then I saw the power pole, it had fallen at a very awkward angle & I wasn't sure if the car could squeeze under it. I got under okay, things were smashed everywhere, across the valley houses had fallen down, tile roofs look liked they had been blasted off & there was a haze of red smoke. A stone pillar had crashed over where we would usually park our car.
I rushed down our steps, I remember the succulent plants that had been in terracotta plants were standing only in their soil, the shattered pots had almost disintegrated. I felt like I was alive in a video game & the succulents were some sort of alien.
The house was still standing, "Tim, Tim" I screamed as one of the neighbours approached me in total shock "you better turn off you gas bottles" he said.
I continued towards the house calling, then he emerged pale, shaken & in shock but alive "thank you God".
"Don't go inside" Tim told me "its pretty bad" he's not one for overstating I knew it must be a disaster.
We cautiously began to enter the house & another aftershock struck, more crashing inside.
Every piece of crockery in the kitchen was smashed all the mirrors & painting had come off the walls & most were broken. The chandelier glass drops from the top stairwell had shot down like bullets & embedded in the wooden floor, I shivered as I imagined that could have been my head.
The entire contents of the library had fallen inwards the large flat screen TV, the stereo all fallen & broken. The heavy iron framed piano (which takes 4 men to move) had skidded across the floor.
The walls were all cracked & the stairwell appeared twisted like a big hand had wrung it around.
Then our thoughts turned to the rest of our family.
Looking out the window we could see the entire front of the neighbouring hill had fallen down the red haze had been the dust from clay. It had fallen on the local RSA club.
Although our power & water were off our phone land line was working & I called Mum what a relief she answered so I updated her & said I would stay put with Tim who was in a lot of pain. He had thrown himself under a cane sofa to avoid being hit & further injured his wound.
I established by text that my brother's were okay, but one nephew wasn't accountable. I text our daughter who was in France with her husband to say we were alive, she wouldn't be up yet but in case she read something on face book or what ever I wanted to reassure her. Eventually the nephew was accounted for.
We went to the houses on either side of ours & both were badly damaged, both tenants were English chaps in NZ on a temporary working holidays, so we invited them to be with us. We had a gas barbecue & plenty of food & our house seemed structurally sound compared with both of theirs.
Our daughter Emily called & asked us if we had seen the news, well no power we had only seen our own realm. "It looks like from what we are watching on SKY that the entire town has come down the Cathedral has fallen and everything appears to be rubble" I couldn't get my head around what she was saying as I could understand the cliffs & the hill shaking & falling but the city, surely not.
I reassured her as much as I could, then went & found a transistor radio, after navigating a local news channel it hit all 4 of us, the devastation of Christchurch, the central business district had fallen many people dead & many missing. Our guests mobiles began to buzz as the UK woke up to the news on breakfast television.
We hooked into the wine & beer once the sun went down & while one of the neighbouring chaps went off somewhere, the other one, Tim & I made up beds quite close to the back door. Sleep was impossible aftershocks hit every hour at least our nerves were frayed not helped by our copious alcohol intake.
The next morning I embarked my way down the hill to Mum's house. The devastation was immense, what were once beautiful multi million dollar homes were hanging on the cliffs like sad almost dead beasts with their mouths permanently dropped open. The asphalt on the road had split open & it was like driving down a puzzle road. If I misjudged I was in real trouble.
I collected Mum & we drove the few streets up from her house to the care home my 88 year old Aunty lived in. A boulder as big as a house had fallen on the owners house attached to the care home the owner's body was underneath waiting recovery.
We found the weary but stoic nurses caring for the 30 or so patients with no power, water or sewage most of the staff had now been there 50 hours without relief, all deeply grieved by the loss of their friend & boss. Many of the residents have dementia my Aunty included; surprisingly they weren't as distressed as some of others around them. We couldn't offer to take Aunty as nether Mum nor I had any power or water. We were informed there was no where to relocate them in Christchurch & civil defence was organising an alternative care home in another city.

Christchurch known as The Garden city with a population of 376,000 had just lost 181 people in this devastating blow from the earth. Further deaths would follow from heart attacks & suicides all relating from the after effects of the earthquake .Christchurch has been 'quaking' since September last year & is still having fatal aftershocks now in June. There is no let up.
10,000 houses have to be demolished, every home in Christchurch has suffered some damage.
Over 1000 buildings in the centre of the city have gone or will need to be demolished.
One of my closest friends who had been the receptionist at the local TV station, her desk was at the front door she felt the shake & walked immediately outside, as she turned the entire 5 story building came down behind her with 16 of her friends & work mates all being killed.
Our favourite local restaurateur lost his 30 year old business in the September Quake, his home in the Boxing Day quake & his son on Feb 22nd.These are just 2 of thousands of similar stories.

Liquefaction oozed up from below, a strange phenomena exclusive I think to earthquakes, it happened under most of the suburban properties built lie lowing or beside the river disturbing the houses foundations & now the mud has become dust. It is like a war zone fine dust blowing everywhere filling every available orifice of your body, coating the cars, & the kids. & the pets.
With most of the sewage systems broken all the effluent is being directed to the beaches & the city & our beach suburb have that sickly over baring fragrance of pooh.

My great grandfather William Rennie immigrated from Aberdeen in Scotland to Christchurch in 1876 & was a senior partner in Rennie & Pearce a well respected building & construction company. They built what was to become many of our famous historic buildings. Sadly great grandfather used bricks, the product of his day in Scotland. I am sure his heart would break to see that all those buildings are now destroyed.

We have no Protestant or Catholic Cathedral. Very few historic churches or buildings left standing, currently no swimming pools very few cinemas. The shopping malls that are open people are frightened to visit.
50,000 people have relocated, many want to stay & rebuild, many have no choice.

My life now has new meaning, I have a true taste of a little of what those poor people feel & suffer in the disasters that UNICEF support .As selfishly upset and shocked as I was at the loss of most of our material possessions and personal history, I have learnt how unimportant & irrelevant all those possessions are.
It is not buildings Churches, land marks that make a community & give us our security, it's the love & spirit of the people.
The ones who will stay & the new who come, will re build Christchurch, our children & our grandchildren will live in the most modern, safe city in the world, it will be filled with the spirit of those who paved the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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