Christhurch Earthquake

ChristhchuchEarthquake.jpgRead Jo’s account here

I was in the cinema when it hit. Apparently it only lasted about 20s but every so often since I get an incredibly vivid recollection of how I felt and what I thought at the time and it seems that I had minutes worth of thoughts. Initially it just felt like another big aftershock but it built and when it felt like the whole cinema was a bucking bronco it flashed across my mind that the whole building was coming down. This cinema is in a modern shopping mall and I could only imagine what quantities of concrete were spanning the cinema ceiling. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than it stopped.

There was a moment of silence and complete calm then someone started screaming. Luckily no one else did as I think that would have just set everyone off. One fella very calmly told everyone “stay calm, don’t panic. Just be aware as we leave that things may be lose so be careful”. I was glad he said this. It’s important to appreciate that everything you previously thought of as safe may not be under these sorts of circumstances.

Inside the theatre there was very little sign of damage as there was nothing to knock over other than the dustbin but as we emerged the level of damage was slowly revealed. In the main bit of the cinema all the signs were over, then into the shopping mall and it just looked like a massive bomb had gone off then getting outside and I could see a building down and there was a great deal of panic. Lots of school kids around and there was such a contrast. Some schoolgirls were freaking out running around clearly with no idea what to do. Luckily calmer friends were helping. You could see some younger lads were almost high on adrenalin. Several people had been badly cut but in all cases someone was looking after them. People were in cars U-turning and driving a little too fast for the circumstance.

I walked home as that was the only way I was going to meet Jo and the rest of our housemates. In the midst of it you don’t really know just how bad it is. I didn’t dwell on where all my friends were as there was nothing I could do right then. As I walked home there was water coming up everywhere. I’d heard about the liquifaction from the last quake but hadn’t appreciated that this is something that happens after the shake. The normal 15 or so minute walk home took the best part of 2 hours as more and more water and silt came up. Luckily someone warned me about crossing any water or silt – massive sink holes can appear so you need to be very careful. There were lots of cases of cars getting caught in these sink holes and afterwards saw pictures of cars that had gone in nose first and were halfway up the car.

Again, things that were previously safe suddenly have implications. The aftershocks kept rolling in. When I’d seen reports of aftershock previously on the news I just hadn’t appreciated just what it was like. These are big shakes and if it hadn’t been for the bigger one before they would be major news in themselves. They are almost scarier because you know everything has been destabilised already. The rest of that day there were shakes almost  continuously with big ones perhaps every hour.

I attempted to keep my feet as clean as possible. The water was probably mixed with sewerage. I knew there’d be no water to clean my feet and that in these sorts of circumstances keeping clean could be critical. I tried various routes to get home before I finally got within sight of our house and just had to cross the road. Decided it was safer to stay on the silt rather than go through the water and got across reasonably easily with just one leg going up to my knee in silt.

Back at home Jo was sat in the house. She’d been in our bedroom at the time and had to unscrew a window to get out as our door jammed. She’d tidied up the mess so it didn’t seem so bad. About 90 minutes later Andrew and Ali came back. Andrew had been right in town opposite one of the buildings that had come down. He was in a modern building with earthquake isolation – this meant it really shook. Finally our last housemate got home. He’d been in the QEII centre and was telling us how this guy we know was about to dive in the 50m pool when it happened. He managed to record the pool on his phone showing the one foot waves going across it.

In the days running up to this I’d been doing a lot of reading and research around the current economic crises in the world and about oil and how much is left. I’d planned an entry entitled “Scary” to give an outline of some of what I’d read. This event really hit home a lot of what I’d been reading. It illustrates when something like this hits how the value of things can change overnight. Admittedly in this case it was only temporary but in those early hours / days of this disaster suddenly your expensive car was pretty valueless without petrol. The person with a mountain bike was pretty rich and the people with an artesian well in their backyard had genuine wealth. Seeing how people panicked about getting petrol – everywhere sold out and in the grand scheme of things the area devastated by the quake was relatively small – if you headed west from our home for a few miles it hardly looked like anything had happened. It illustrated just how reliant we are on oil and makes the prospect of a sudden loss of that incredibly scarce resource pretty scary.

This is a topic for a future post. As is my review of the new Evo running shoes I’ve got. All these sort of things are just put in to perspective by something like this. We were lucky, not just because we got out unscathed but also that the people we live with have parents nearby with large homes that were unaffected.

The kindness of people just comes out in these circumstances. As I walked home everyone I met asked if I was OK and I asked the same of them. I walked with a teenage lad who was mature beyond his years, he was asking at every house if they were OK and could he help at all. Knowing your neighbours and being friendly with them becomes so important as these are the first people that are on hand to help and offer support.

We stayed the night in our house. The five of us talked in to the darkness and cooked by candlelight on a gas stove. It was so nice and we felt perhaps not having a TV and having limited light is not such a bad thing. It brings people together. The next day we decamped to Ali’s parents farm. We had a few days away from the aftershocks. The local swim squad were so kind and gave us a lane to train in and set us a session. Again it was nice the five of us mucking in to make the most of it. Ali’s parents didn’t bat an eyelid and we felt like it was our own home. It was strange to suddenly feel so removed from it all – now we had TV we could see the extent of it but we were now away from the city and could get out and ride  and enjoy a simple existence in the countryside.

After a few days we moved back and are now with Andrew’s parents in Christchurch. Again they’ve made us so welcome. Back feeling the aftershocks but in the west of the city where there’s far less damage. We went back to the house to clear it up and put it in a state that it could be left. It may be months before it’s habitable round there.

Luckily I am still able to get up to Taupo. It seems pretty irrelevant now to be racing but getting away from Christchurch for a bit will be very nice and those friends that are racing are all keen to get up there. Andrew had ridden his bike in to work on the tuesday morning so his race bike is stuck in the cordon and he can’t get it. The Cervelo distributor here is organising a bike for him to race. How good it that !

Tomorrow I have a road trip up to Taupo. Once there I may feel more inclined to think about the race and post some pre  race thoughts up here. Till then…

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