'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

This Time Last Year

We were lucky. We were staying in a solid concrete block motel on Riccarton Road.
I was texting my sister in Hawkes Bay at the moment the 22.2.2011 earthquake hit. I thought it was an aftershock of the type that they had been getting quite often since the September one. I fell over, got up, fell over again. I opened the sliding door and watched the builders on the two-story building opposite being swung around as they held on to the scaffolding. I smiled through my adrenaline because they were whooping and cheering. It was rather surreal. The cars in the carpark were jerking back and forth about a metre or more. I remember thinking how weird that was, since they all had their brakes on. There was a lot of noise. The large plant pots outside the door fell over and, for something to do, I tried to put them upright, but had to have a few goes because I was shaking and my arms felt weak. (Another quake about 3 minutes later threw them over on their side again.)
I went around our little unit. The power was off. Things like salt and mugs were knocked over but nothing was broken. Water had slopped out of the loo and was all over the floor, so I got a towel and mopped it up. I thought 'Help, the poor things! If that's the kind of size of aftershock they've been experiencing ever since September...!'

The motel owner knocked on the door and asked if I was ok. I said yes. Then I said 'That was a pretty big aftershock! Have you been getting lots like that?' She shook her head and looked very serious and said 'Not like that. Not like that!'.

I texted family and friends to reassure them I was ok. My son first. There was nothing on the internet yet, he said. Then about a minute later he said people were tweeting about it. He said the cathedral had been damaged, but I had no idea of the devastation in town of course. We'd find out more through the car radio news once K. came back.

K was luckily out of the central city. When another big aftershock struck he was on a motorway overbridge. The lamp standards were swaying, and he had a vision of earthquake news items showing cars being thrown off overpasses. It took him about 3 hours to do a 30 minute trip. We were both glad when he got back.

Above: Motel stayers listening to the news on our rental car radio.
Below: Air force plane flying over the city assessing damage.

Little shocks were coming every ten minutes or so. It was hard to think of anything else. I'd always been told that the first was the biggest, but suddenly that seemed turned on its head. I was really scared there would be another one bigger still. I felt extremely unsafe. (Actually the first was the biggest, but the February aftershock was shallower and closer to the centre of the city). We were booked to fly back to Auckland at about 4 pm the next day. Foremost in my mind was if the airport runways were damaged, and would we be able to get out. There was nothing to do of course, but wait and see. I was beginning my academic year with a residential course that began on the Thursday.

We had cheese, bread and marmalade for tea. We watched a movie on my laptop to try and take our mind off the shakes. Power came on again about 8 pm. Hooray! we could make a cup of tea. I didn't sleep well, despite being very tired. In my dreams I kept expecting the ceiling to drop on the bed. I imagined the slab was being systematically loosened with each tremor. We still didn't realise quite how lucky we were. Some people were to be without electricity for weeks, and sewer connections for the next 4 months. Liquefaction was a purely academic phenomenon I remembered from a distinct geography degree. Wellington was where the big one was going to be - not Christchurch; that genteel English town.

Next morning I tried to finish my powerpoint presentation. It was exceedingly hard to concentrate, but I got it done. The ground continued to shake. The airport, which had been closed overnight, was pumping out flights all morning. It looked as though we'd be able to leave.
I had had a prescription for Maxalt faxed to a pharmacy just off our route to the airport, so we left about midday, in plenty of time to pick it up (if the pharmacy was open) and also to drop back the rental car.
The first signs that this had been a major event were the cracks in the roads on the west side of Hagley Park:

Brick walls had fallen over:

And suddenly there were signs we couldn't ignore, everywhere. Silt all over some roads, and blocking drains, yet other street looked perfectly normal and untouched.

We took the small detour to this pharmacy. What a shock to see it. Somewhere in there was the prescription for my migraine tablets... Suddenly I seemed to properly realise what had happened. It hit me hard and I started feeling shaky and sick. I hoped no-one was hurt.

We had to drop off the hired car and I needed the loo, but the car company's toilet was out of action. After some scouting I managed to find a working one in a business up the road. For the first time I wondered how the sewerage system had held up in the city, if it was damaged so far out. It turned out, not well at all.

The airport was full of people. Many were sitting on the floor, but everything was very calm and efficient. The main sign of the 'quake was the cafe that was silent and closed off with tape, and all the half-eaten meals were eerily still sitting on the tables. There were a couple of aftershocks while we waited for our flight, which, because of all the extra flights that had been put on in the morning, was only about 30 minutes late.

It was good to get off the shaky 'ol ground. Although right up until the second the wheels actually left the ground, I kept wondering what would happen to the plane if we were taxiing at speed and there had been another major aftershock.

I felt guilty to be leaving Christchurch. As if my staying and sharing the fear and destruction would somehow help the Cantabrians...

When I arrived in Auckland I was still wobbly for another four or so days, as if I had been on board a ship and had to get my 'land legs' back again.

I've checked the Quake meter every day, and send my thoughts to people down in Christchurch when there's been anything over a 3.5. I know what they are like.
It's a terribly unsettling time, and will be for a while yet.


  1. I've followed all Fiona's posts from Christchurch since the first quake but I still found your first hand blow by blow account quite harrowing.

  2. Fiona's blog is so good to remind us that it continues...
    Geeb, of course, you were one that I texted very early on, weren't you.