I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, and felt like blogging about my experiences in the recent earthquakes.
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My experience of the Christchurch earthquake on the 4th of September 2010.
I’m writing this not just for the people who are asking me about it, but also for myself as a memory aid and because I think it will help me feel a bit better about it to blog! Apologies for the lengthiness!
I was woken up by the cat scratching frantically at the wall (it would be nice to think he knew of the earthquake with some animal sense, but honestly I think he just wanted me to wake up and put more biscuits in his food bowl)!
Next moment, the house started to shake. I woke up at once and leapt out of bed, thinking to huddle down beside it. I took a look at the window less than 2 feet away, and decided to head the other direction instead! I don’t even remember getting across the bed to the hallway, but I ended up standing there in the hallway next to the kitchen door, my husband standing across from me in another doorway. It felt like the earthquake really got into its swing at this point. My husband said, in a relatively calm voice “It’s a big ‘un”. I heard crashing and shattering glass from the kitchen, so I pulled the door shut. It swung open again, so I stood there holding it to with one hand, holding myself in the doorway with the other as the house got flung about. This probably lasted for a minute or two before the shaking slowed and then stopped.
“The power’s out”, I heard.
“There’s a torch. I’ll get the torch”, I found some shoes, fumbled about on the laundry shelf for where I knew we kept the torch by the back door. It wasn’t there. I found it fallen on the washing machine, switched it on.
I look back into the bedroom. My bedside lamp is on my pillow, my lava lamp on the floor, no sign of the cat. “Franky! Franky!” I start to call. I check he isn’t in the bedroom, peering briefly into the wardrobe to check he’s not in there. Back in the hallway, I see that my book shelf has fallen over, and is lying on a heavy stack of text books. Horrified, I lift the shelf and pull away the larger books, checking that the cat isn’t buried under it. He isn’t. Into the spare room, my pet rat waffles her nose curiously at me through the bars. I glance at the china cabinet, see the doors are securely shut meaning no glass on the floor. On to the next room.
My husband is asking if we have another torch. “There’s one in the kitchen” I say. I jump the pile of books in the hall to search the lounge. I hear my husband rummaging about and moving towards the kitchen. I realise that I’d just told him the wrong thing, the other torch is in the bedroom and I’d been thinking bedroom, but I said kitchen. Tried to call to him to correct myself, but the words just wouldn’t come out right. Flash my torch about the lounge, the shelf with the DVDs is down, most of my potplants are in piles of dirt on the floor. No sign of the cat.
I go to the bedroom to find the other torch. There it is, on the chest of drawers, a headlamp. I reach for the strap, and call out “here it is”. I realise I’ve grabbed the strap of the camera bag instead. Dropping the camera bag, I try again! I pass the second torch to my husband, and go back to the lounge, picking up the DVD shelf and checking under that for the cat. He’s not there either. I call, but he doesn’t respond.
“We should get across the road, check they’re ok”. The in-laws live in the house opposite.
I find my trousers and a jacket, pull them on and out we go.
There’s another torch flashing about in the driveway of the house behind us.
“Are you ok?”, a voice with a German accent asks.
“Yes, that was a big one ja?”
It’s the partner of the woman who lives behind us. We’ve waved to him on occasion, but never actually met before.
“Hi, I’m [name]” he says smiling, and we shake hands and introduce ourselves.
On the road, all the houses about are still standing.
We approach the in-law’s and hear voices, but I don’t see any torchlight. I bang on the door.
“Hello! Are you ok? We’ve got torches if you need them!”
“Hello, just a minute”, there’s fumbling at the door locks and they emerge holding LED keyring lights. They’re fine.
“Don’t come in, the kitchen’s full of broken glass!”
Peering round the door, I see (and smell) smashed pickled onion jars on the floor.
“WOW! Look at the stars!” the Mother in Law says as we walk down the driveway. The sky is clear, with a crescent moon above and a fantastic starscape, the likes of which we have never seen from the city, past the loom of the streetlights.
We make our way down the driveway to check the neighbours. The lady from the house on the right comes out in her PJs.
“We’re ok. I don’t know about the kids! They’re at my Mother’s tonight! I can’t ring them. Our fish tank is all over the floor! All over the electrics!”
We go in to help with the fish, her husband is already mopping up water. The fish tank is intact, the fish are fine, but a lot of the tank water has spilled. There’s not much more that needs doing.
Back to the street again. The mother in law has their cat in a carry cage. The man who lives on the other side of us appears from his house with a gas lantern and assures us that he is ok, as is his neighbour on his other side. The Father-in-law presses some candles and a lighter into my hands. I go back home to search for our cat.
Back inside, it’s a bizarre feeling searching the house by torch light. I check every room, then I open the front door and look about the garden. I then peer under the house, through a hole where a grill used to be. A pair of eyes stares back at me! He’s sitting about a foot from the hole, not moving an inch except his eyes. “Franky! It’s ok, good puss!” I say. “Come here!” He shows no inclination of moving. I put my hand through the hole to reassure him. He sniffs it.
The ground rocks suddenly, and I spring to the other side of the garden, away from the house. The aftershock is small and subsides in a few seconds.
I realise the cat is probably safest where he is, leave by the front gate and meet up with the in-laws again in front of their house.
“Here, can you look after these for me”, a box of tissues is pressed into my hands for me to hold.
My Mother-in-law suggests we go and check on someone else, and I suddenly realise that I can’t stand up much longer. Feeling nauseous I say “I need to sit down”, and plop myself down on the footpath. The Mother-in-law started worrying, and got me a sleeping bag to drape over my shoulders, even though I was already wearing a jacket. I take it gratefully. It’s a freezing cold morning! I am told to sit in the car where it’s warmer. I curl up on the back seat, using the kiddy chair next to me as a pillow and try to sleep. An aftershock a couple of minutes later wakes me up again, and I get out and walk back to the end of the driveway (absentmindedly leaving the tissues behind).
The man next door has a small radio with earbuds. He tells us that the earthquake was 7.4 and that all the radio stations are still playing songs! I ask where it was centered, worried that it could have been near another town or city, and knowing that it was very unlikely to have been nearer than Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps. He doesn’t know. I can hear the music faintly as he waits for another announcement.
Waiting for morning
“What’s the time?”
“Anyone know what time sunrise is at the moment?”
“7:30-ish I would guess! I don’t know! It’s always up when I get up!”
The neighbour is trying to call her Mother on her cell phone. I realise that I should probably get my cell phone in case anyone tries to call me.
Back at my house again, I shut the front gate and front door that I’d left wide open before, I pick up my cell phone. In the hall I find the candles and lighter I’d been handed before, I’d put them down and forgotten about them when searching for the cat. I go into the lounge and stand there thinking. I know I should grab some other things, perhaps my fingerless gloves to keep me warm. Where are they? I have no idea. Then I notice them on the floor, just where the beam of my torchlight happened to fall! Taking them I leave, shutting the kitchen door (to keep the cat away from the glass on the floor in case he dared come back inside) and the back door, which I had also neglected to close before.
I weigh up sending a message to my parents in the North Island, what if they’re asleep? But then, what if they’re not asleep and are worried. I send “We just had an earthquake or 5!”
My husband has his cell phone too, and tells me that my cousin thinks she broke her ankle.
“Heh, typical”, my cousins are rather accident prone.
I send a text to my Grandad, asking if they are ok. I also try to phone him from my husband’s cell phone, but no answer. However, I seem to recall his phones all being cordless so they won’t be working if he has no power.
We decide to sit in the in-laws garage until daylight. I say garage, but it’s never been used to store a car. It has a few old chairs and some carpet and is quite comfortable. I unscrew the front from my torch and reassemble it in its alternate configuration, using the front as a base so I can stand it up like a candle. I put this down and we all sit around talking until daylight. My husband wants to go home and go back to bed. Nobody else is keen on going back into their houses.
Daylight arrives some time around 7, and we decide to go back to bed. We discover the cat curled asleep up under the blankets, having finally emerged from beneath the house! There have been constant mild aftershocks all this time. I don’t get to sleep, but my husband is snoring after a few minutes. I do manage to feel a little rested, despite not falling asleep. My stomach begins to complain. I feel incredibly hungry, but also nauseous still. I decide to get up and grab some bread for breakfast. Still no power, my cell phone tells me the time is about 9am.
Looking at the broken glass all over the floor, I don’t feel inspired to enter the kitchen at all. I hear a loud radio from next door and go outside. I peer around their gate, and see that they’ve got their car sitting in the drive with the doors open and that’s where the radio is. I can’t see the neighbours, so I retreat to my back step where I sit in the lovely warm sunshine and listen to the news.
A minute later the neighbour comes out and tells us that they have a lot of bottled water in case we need any, and that they’ve set up their BBQ. Would we like to come over for toast? I gratefully accept, pass the invitation on to my husband (he was still catching up on sleep), and go next door.
I meet the neighbour’s sister, and her partner the man I met earlier, and we all stand around the BBQ eating hot toast! The sun is lovely, and after half an hour I’m feeling warm enough to take off my gloves and jacket!
3ZB, the talkback radio station has got Paul Holmes in and they’re dedicating all their air time to talking about the earthquake. Oh, and playing commercials every 5 minutes.
There’s a commercial for a store in Chch “Open today and every day!” I wonder if I could put in a case for false advertising! Another advert tells us about some kind of microwave breakfast product, not what we want to hear when we are without power!
We listen to the news. It’s now been decided the quake was 7.1 Richter, down from the 7.4 they’d said previously. The epicenter was near Darfield, only 30km away! The centre of town is a mess with the facades of many buildings all over the ground. The mayor was considering declaring a state of emergency, although it hadn’t been declared yet. My husband comes out, accepts some toast. He’s a Civil Defense volunteer, and he decides to take a walk around the neighbourhood and access the damage.
Not long after that, they announce on the radio that an official State of Emergency has been declared! They don’t actually tell us what that means though. How useful. They tell us that most of the city is without power, some of it without water, and that everyone with water should be boiling it.
I’ve never been in an official State of Emergency before!
We hear that the nearby town of Kaiapoi is a mess, with no water at all, although there was one woman who still had water and she’d put up a sign on her front gate saying “Come here for water” or some such.
We also hear about looting in shops, people fighting for bottled water, and that armed police had been called to some petrol stations to stop looting.
After a while my husband comes back. “It’s a mess out there! Chimneys down all along Hills Rd. Petrie St still has power! A wall down at the shops on the corner of Hills Rd. I’ve been told not to, but I’m going to open up the Civil Defense sector post.” I decided to stay where I was.
All this time, we are feeling regular aftershocks. Mild tremors only, a tad scary, but mostly they are just making me feel motion sick. The neighbour’s sister says she’s been timing them and they’ve been quite regularly every 2 minutes.
“Ha! Like contractions!” someone says.
I get a text from my parents “Are you ok”. I reply, “We’re fine, haven’t heard from Grandad, [cousin] broke her ankle”
I heard the phone in our house ringing. We have a ringer box in the kitchen, powered from the phone line, but all our phones are cordless handsets. We had no way to answer it.
After sitting in the sun for at least an hour, I decide to go home and start to access the damage and clean up a bit.
Checking the damage
Our glass-fronted cabinet was intact in the kitchen, but the door hadn’t been slid across fully, so two glasses had flown out and smashed on the floor. Two more were smashed inside the cabinet. Sod’s law – our only set of 6 complete glasses is reduced to 2, and one of those has a chip in the base. The sets that had previously had a glass broken all survived!
I started a list of damaged things, and took photos to support insurance claims. Incredibly the only other items damaged were 1 ornamental chimera that had been hurled off a bookshelf in the lounge and my PC headset. Not even worth putting an insurance claim in for, as it’s well below the excess! Hoorah! I repaired the headset with sellotape. There’s also a small dent in the hall wall where the bookshelf hit. I stacked all my books down the hallway, DVDs are stacked in the lounge and the two shelves that fell over lying along the floor in the hallway. No point putting them back up with all these aftershocks.
The cleanup was strange. I kept being distracted by seeing other things, then coming back to what I’d been doing before. I swept up the broken glass and wrapped it in newspaper in the driveway, then went inside to get some sellotape to seal this spiky parcel with. Picked up the sellotape, put it down elsewhere, did something else, remembered I’d been cleaning up the glass, couldn’t find the sellotape, got the other roll of sellotape, found the first roll again, went outside to where I’d put the glass on the driveway, talked to the neighbour…eventually I got there. The neighbour pointed out that there is a horizontal crack in our chimney, just above the roof line. It is intact though, and we’re hoping that it will stay that way during the remaining aftershocks. The landlord was getting a heat pump installed shortly and the fireplace taken out, so I imagine the chimney will be shortened and capped at some point. Fingers crossed it stays up until then.
The laptop was underneath a bookshelf and a stack of DVDs in the lounge. A DVD case had got itself pushed in under the laptop lid somehow. I opened it up, and turned it on to see how it fared. The corner of the monitor had opened slightly, but it went back together with a click. Amazingly it seems to be perfectly fine. The next job was picking up my cacti collection. I took them out to the back step and repotted them. I must remember to get some more cactus mix!
I was surprised to discover that somebody had actually walked around that morning delivering newspapers to us! They’d obviously been printed before the earthquake happened.
Some more texts arrive. Friends wanting to know how I am. Parents letting me know that my Grandad is fine. I try to reply, but get back “Text not sent”.
The in-laws had gone off to Civil Defense as well. I decided to sit in the garden and read for a while. Not much else to do. No power, couldn’t vacuum or anything like that. I decided to take it easy for a while. Before I’d read a page, the burglar alarm next door went off. Ah-ha! Power was back (no burglars)! I went on the internet and started to reply to E-Mails “Yes I’m ok, we just got power back just now”.
Later in the day
I started looking at news sites and their footage. The extent of the damage to the inner city, and many buildings around the place was gradually dawning on me. At first, seeing the images on tv (where I’m used to seeing nothing but far distant places), I had to keep reminding myself that this is my city. These are places I know.
Seeing a photo of a street sign saying Manchester Street sticking vertically from a pile of rubble was a shock.
I was just beginning to realise how amazing it is that nobody was killed (although I hear now that one person did have a fatal heart attack, and that two people are in critical condition after having chimneys/glass fall on them). I heard about a woman who was pulled from her bed by her feet, just a second before the wall collapsed onto her bed. Her friend just happened to have been staying the night, she was usually alone in the house. Another story of a boy who rolled out of bed because he was afraid the roof would fall on him. Just as he rolled, the wall fell out, and he ended up rolling with the wall out of the second story! He suffered only from bruises and scrapes!
My husband got back at about 2 or 3. He told me about the frustrating time they’d had at the Civil Defense sector post. They’d opened up at Marihau High School, and there had been a few people coming along to get food, water and shelter. They kept being told by the people higher up to close up and send the staff elsewhere, in two of the cases being told to move to a post on the other side of the CBD (which was cordoned off and full of collapsed building fronts). They decided to stay put for several more hours (against what they were told to do), before eventually closing and moving to Linwood. It sounded extremely unorganised. The Salvation Army had brought a lot of milk, and there was some spare which my husband brought home. We had been almost out, so it was much appreciated!
I phoned some of my relatives that I hadn’t heard from. My cousin had apparently broken her shin bone in a spiral fracture, just from trying to walk across a violently moving floor between her bed and her doorway. My Uncle had the good sense to take her to a smaller emergency clinic, rather than the A&E department at the hospital in the CBD. They were among the first there, so didn’t have to wait too long. Half an hour later, and they would have had to wait hours.
We stayed at home the rest of the day. There were a couple of reasonable sized aftershocks in the afternoon, big enough to send us seeking cover. The rest, we were ignoring. I had marinated some chicken kebabs the night before, so I was glad the power was back and I could cook them! We went to the in-laws for supper. They told us the church minister had phoned to see how they were, and that the church was very badly damaged (where we were married). My mother-in-law made some scones, but her oven door had shattered, so I took them over to our house to cook them. I couldn’t eat anything after dinner though. My stomach was still feeling extremely unsettled! I was very tired. I still can’t recall what time I’d gone to bed the night before, but I don’t think I’d had much more than 5 hours sleep, if that. I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep on Saturday night! I kept waking in the night. I slept very lightly, as I was very alert to the fact that I may have to leap out of bed at any second for a large aftershock. We’d been told that there may be aftershocks up to 6 magnitude. The aftershocks actually settled down a lot after nightfall, but they started up again at 5am.
Jolted awake for the third time on Sunday morning, I decided to get up and read, and catch up on sleep later. My husband had been having trouble sleeping, with me leaping out of the bed every time it moved!
I’d put the breadmaker on the night before (I put it under the kitchen table, just in case), so at 8:30 we went over to the in-laws with a loaf of fresh bread! I’d forgotten it was Father’s Day!
I felt like a zombie for most of the day. The weather was much colder, and I wore my jacket the whole day. Oddly, I was feeling very cold, yet my face was flushed the entire day. Something to do with the tiredness and anxiety I was feeling? Who knows? I wanted more sleep, but didn’t feel I could relax and get to sleep in the bed. I took my sleeping bag, a pillow and a book and had a snooze under my desk! However, being on the floor, I could feel every single aftershock, but at least I felt safe.
Later in the morning we went to the supermarket. It was great to discover that we couldn’t feel the aftershocks while driving! We’d heard that the mall had structural damage, but the supermarket was open. It was scary being in there! The checkout queue was very very long! We stocked up on fruit and veg, bought some soft drinks and juice (they’d sold out of bottled water, and soft drinks were actually cheaper anyway!), milk, eggs, bread.
Then we went for a bit of a drive. It was good to get out of the house. We visited my husband’s sister. We also went to my parent’s rental properties to ask them what damage they’d had (as my parents are currently in the North Island). Both seem to have survived intact, although one is in Bexley where the streets were flooded with water and sewerage, and sand/silt has been forcing itself out of the ground everywhere it can! The river banks seem to be less solid than they were, as the water in the streets went away and came back with the tide. Originally the water was 2 feet deep, but it was much lower when we went to look.
Some scenes from Bexley, showing the silt, flooding and other damage
We saw lots of houses with broken, fallen or removed chimneys. One that had crushed the car below it. A couple that had fallen into the houses rather than outwards. A few houses with patches of different coloured tiles where they’d obviously had to replace them, more with tarpaulins spread over holes. Our local fish and chip shop is destroyed. It’s strange to see rows of shops in total mayhem, surrounded by houses that look virtually untouched!
Our local chip shop, some missing chimneys, and a row of shops on Barbadoes St
I spent a lot of the day practising breathing and relaxation techniques!
Thankfully, last night I was able to sleep quite well! We had some minor aftershocks, but I was actually more awakened by some cats fighting in the front yard. Not our cat, so that was good!
Yesterday we’d been warned about galeforce winds and rain. The wind started in the middle of the night, but it wasn’t too strong at all. A warm nor’west wind! It’s still blowing slightly. I expect it will swing round to the south and bring rain later today.
The bus service has been stopped. The CBD is still closed, except to business owners going to assess the damage. We have tap water, although we have to boil it for 3 minutes on the chance that nasty things have got into the water supply. We’re told to conserve water, so we haven’t done any dishes, washing, we’re flushing the toilet as little as possible, and I’m longing for a hot shower (although even if we did have plenty of good water, I wouldn’t fancy being in the shower during an aftershock).
I still haven’t seen the CBD with my own eyes. All my friends and family are fine (except for my cousin’s broken leg). I imagine it will be a while before life feels like its back to normal!
As I proof-read this, we just had another after shock, strong enough to send me under my desk, but it didn’t shift anything and subsided after a few seconds!
The last 24 hours on the seismograph as of 12:50pm today. Read left to right, top to bottom. Top left is 24 hours ago, bottom right is now.
Image from geonet.org.nz. I acknowledge the New Zealand GeoNet project and its sponsors EQC, GNS Science and LINZ, for providing data/images used in this blog.
Some large aftershocks in the night last night! 11:24pm – 5.2, 11:38 – 4, 11:40 – 5.4, 11:54 – 4.2, 0:21am – 4.7, 3:24am – 5.4
After leaping out of bed a couple of times, I decided to sleep under my desk again! It wasn’t a very good plan. Lying on the floor, I could feel every tiny vibration! I actually thought I could feel a constant faint rumbling/vibration the whole time! Didn’t sleep particularly well. Felt like the vibrations were settling down at about 5am and finally got to sleep, while listening to Enya! Things have settled down this morning again, thankfully!
Just a couple of shocks last night, 4.6 at midnight, 4.5 at 4am…and then at 7:49 we were hit with the biggest one yet! Apparently it was 5.1, but only 6kms deep and the epicenter was very close. No doubt that it’s been the worst aftershock yet!
I’ve piled a bunch of bedding on the floor beside the bed and camped out here last night with my laptop, phone, torch and book. I have a very sore back from sleeping on the floor two nights running!
Last 24 hours:
Note, the “scale” has been dropped from 10,000 to 6,000 in today’s image. I think that means the quakes are shown two thirds as big again as they were in the previous two images I posted.