February 22, 2012

February 22, 2011

A year ago Christchurch, New Zealand had a devastating 6.3 "aftershock" that caused damage to the city, its people, and the country as a whole. Luke and I were living in Christchurch when it happened. When the earthquake hit just after lunch I clutched the desk and watched as the buildings outside swayed left to right. It's hard to say what you think in only moments of sheer terror, but it's safe to say I was concerned. Our office wasted no time heading down the four flights of stairs to the ground floor and out into the street. Up until that point I'd felt a lot of small tremors living in the city. It had been over 5 months since the initial 7.1 earthquake that past September, but this one was different. I immediately called Luke of course thinking the worst and was glad to know that out in the western suburbs all was fine. Not where I was. I looked to my left down towards Cathedral Square as a second large tremor shook those of us that weren't already frightened. I watched as the Square went up into a cloud of dust that I would later find out was the collapse of the Cathedral spire.

I walked towards home in a little bit of a daze. I spoke to a colleague on my walk home and we commented on how we hoped no one was hurt. It was easy to see how much damage had been caused as I walked over newly created speed bumps, jumped over pools of silt, and saw people sitting on the curb in front of their severely damaged buildings. I spoke to Luke just as my phone ran out of credit and his battery was about to die. You're never ready for a crisis and we proved that to be right. He told me traffic was terrible and to just stay in an open and public place until he got closer to the city and we could inspect our house together. So I did what any normal person does after a catastrophe, I sat in the park and read my book.

When Luke finally made it home 3 hours later (its usually a 20 minute ride) we went to our house to find zero damage had occurred. Except for some food that fell out of the fridge and a potted plan that tipped over then back onto its base again spilling no soil, there was no damage. We sat outside with all of our roommates, too stirred to be inside for the small tremors that followed all day. We had no power and no water. We were so incredibly lucky. We regained power at 10 o'clock that night. Although we still had no sewerage, we had cold water running from the taps. We were advised to boil everything for 3 minutes before using it. We did this for a few weeks.

It's much easier to talk about all of this now a year on and on a different land mass, but this event, if not changing my life, at least changed the way I look at life. It's all too easy to forget what we went through and what many people are still going through every day there. When I turn on my faucet I can put a glass under it and drink it. When I use the toilet, I can flush it. When I go to bed I can expect to sleep through the night without being woken up by some angry tectonic plate. But I will never forget what happened and what I experienced. When I turned on the news that night we got our power back I looked at a horrific sight. We spoke for days about how usually you watch the news and see some disaster happening somewhere in the world, but when you turn the tv off you are safe. Well, when we turned the tv off we were still watching the disaster. I cried a lot. I had horrible nightmares about my family. I had one so realistic at one point that in the morning I actually had to call my parents to make sure they were ok. When I finally did go back to work I was struck by how terrible the disaster truly was. The city that only days before was bustling, was completely shut down and deserted. It stayed that way.

This is the first time I have put what happened fully into words. I thought it was appropriate that a year on I should pay tribute to the city then and now, and to the people who lost their lives. I will forever feel a connection with Canterbury and it's people and I look forward to seeing the new Christchurch back to its bustling streets and sitting in Dux De Lux or the Twisted Hop upon my return.

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