2011 hasn’t been the best of years so far. Natural disasters seem to be far too plentiful with extreme winter storms hitting North America, floods affecting the Philippines, South Africa, Rio de Janerio and Australia and earthquakes here in New Zealand.
On 22 February, I was sitting at my desk chatting to online work colleagues when another major earthquake struck. The house groaned and rocked, items I’d rather stupidly placed on the shelf above my desk tipped over and fell and I sat at my desk typing ‘Barnacle, earthquake!’ in the chat window. When the house hadn’t stopped shaking by the time I finished typing that, I took appropriate action and scooted my chair back into the door frame to wait the rocking out. It didn’t last as long as the 7.1 quake of September 2010, but the feel of this one was totally different. It is one thing to be woken up during the night with your family with you and knowing they are safe. To have them away from home is something totally different and much more terrifying.When the rocking stopped, I still had power and internet but my initial assumption that all was well was unfortunately wrong. Turning on the television I watched the ‘breaking news’ announcements that the earthquake had been centered in Lyttelton and that the damage caused by it was extensive. The earthquake had been 6.3 on the Richter scale but unfortunately it was shallower than the 7.1 quake of last year and did much more damage. One reporter related how he had been in his car at the time and cars beside him were rising up higher than his window before falling down again due to the way the ground was rolling.
The phone network went down and it was impossible to contact people out and about on their mobile phones. For three hours I was unable to get in touch with my brother who was in Christchurch inspecting damaged buildings from the previous quake. Thankfully, I finally got a text from him saying he was safe and unharmed. I was very fortunate that I had no family members or friends seriously hurt in the quake. Others have not been so lucky and are still waiting to find out about missing loved ones. I simply can’t imagine how agonizing that is and my heart goes out to them.
The international response to New Zealand’s first ever National State of Emergency has been fantastic and so very much appreciated. Urban Search and Rescue teams (USAR) flew in from Australia, Japan, Taiwan, USA, UK, and Singapore to help search for people trapped in buildings and are doing an amazing job in what can only be described as appalling and difficult conditions. People all around the world have shown their support for Christchurch by wearing the Canterbury colours of red and black. Facebook and Twitter came into its own with people posting photos (such as the amazing photos by Brian Neller on his Facebook page ), and official organizations using that form of communication to send information out to residents of the stricken area. Google set up a Person Finder which allowed people to enter in details of people that they couldn’t get in touch with and gave a lot of people peace of mind when others entered in that those mates had been seen safe since the quake.This tragedy hasn’t just affected New Zealanders. Christchurch is a tourist destination and many overseas visitors and students were sadly caught up in the quake. As I’m writing this, the exact number of people lost to the quake is still unknown. An estimated 1000 heritage buildings are to be demolished as they are posing a danger to life due to their structural damage and the ongoing aftershocks. Friends have lost their homes and businesses and Christchurch will never again be the city that I grew up knowing.
Having said that, people in Canterbury are hardy folk with an excellent sense of humour. We are already seeing Facebook pages celebrating their resilient nature such as the informative Rise Up Christchurch, the humourous You know you're from Christchurch when..., and the delicious Christchurch Baking Army.
Christchurch will be rebuilt. It will take time and it won’t be the Christchurch I knew so well, but it can’t help but be awesome given the people who live there.
Kia Kaha Christchurch!