The Earthquake

Before I get carried away with telling you everything you could possibly want to know from me about the earthquake that happened yesterday, let me first say that I am alive and fine.

The earthquake struck at around 1 or 2 PM on a very grey day.  I believe it was centred around Lyttelton, measuring at about 6.3 on the Richter scale.  Now, if you had been watching TV, you would probably know more than me at this stage, because our power had been out and we had only been listening on the radio.

As misfortune would have it, I was in the city centre with my mum when it happened, walking across one of Christchurch’s many busy streets, if only I could remember what it was called.  We were making our way back to the car, which mum had parked along the street.  With aftershocks you would normally hear a low rumbling noise moments before the jolt, but not this time.  It felt very much like a second earthquake in its own right.  The massive quake came out of a sudden — no warnings — just like there was an explosion somewhere deep underground.  Some pedestrians were tossed about, and they couldn’t pick themselves up because the ground wouldn’t stop wobbling for another 15 or so seconds.  That wasn’t half the scare, because there was a monstrous noise in the air — you know — probably of brick buildings being split into  halves, or roads cracking.  Also there were people screaming, car alarms going haywire, and bricks starting to tumble from atop the taller buildings, you name it.

I also  recall seeing a tram cable breaking, and felling a man like a tree, but I believe he was fine.  He picked himself up all right.  Then the shaking stopped, but the noise didn’t seem to cease with it.  People were terrified.  I wasn’t actually terrified as much as I was confounded by the rapidity of  the events that followed.  I tried to get my mum on her feet.  She’s a fairly big lady but we managed to get to the car all right.  She fumbled for the keys in her handbag and we got in safe, eventually.

We got back on the road and there were people everywhere on the streets.  They’d run out of their buildings, screaming, and many literally in tears.  You could see bits and pieces falling off the buildings.  Pretty much every building I saw was damaged to some degree.  I felt safer in the car but also quite disoriented, like I didn’t know where I was or what exactly was happening.  Some guy came rushing to the car and asked if we were all right.  Mum said yes.  So he left and attended to the others.  A good samaritan.

Traffic soon accumulated and the police (or whatever they were, the guys in the yellow and orange coats) started to arrive; you could see them hurrying along on the pavement.  Sirens were starting to wail from police cars, or fire trucks, or possibly ambulances — I don’t know or can’t remember the order in which they appeared.

A terribly strong aftershock followed, and this time, the  buildings that were already decrepit were really tumbling down all around us.  Sitting in the car it felt like the tires had popped or that someone had bumped into your rear.  We met up with some sort of a police cordon, and the policemen there directed us into Manchester Street.  At least, I think it was Manchester Street, and like anywhere else in the city centre, the street was utterly devastated.  You could begin to see a lot of dust floating in the air, and people gathering and running in panic all the same.  There was a car on the side of the road.  It was completely flattened by the debris which had fallen on top of it, and a bloodied human arm was dangling out of the window.

The man was probably dead.

I didn’t know what to think, but mum kept on the road.  It was like being in a war-zone after some series of heavy bombardment.  Silt was bubbling out of the cracked roads.  I think it’s called liquefaction or something. We were going at a terribly slow pace, but soon we somehow found our way out of the city centre.  I can’t describe it.  Everything felt unreal, as if you were in a movie, or like you were just having a really bad dream and for some reason you could just never wake up from it.

People were generally unruly.  They were honking, trying to get in front of everyone else in the road, their true, selfish nature finally laid bare.  We just went with the flow, and we must have been on the road for an hour before we got home.  Of course, home didn’t look quite like home when we got there.  September 2010 was happening all over again.

All the time I tried calling Dad on his cell but just couldn’t get through to him.  It came back with this “network error”.  But I managed to get a txt message through, though he never received nor replied to it.  He wouldn’t come home for another one or two hours.  Mum was worried sick.

Power came back this morning.  Nobody slept last night.

We were told on the radio to collect rainwater since we didn’t have any fresh water stored.  Apparently, tap-water is highly contaminated, and we didn’t have the power with which to boil it.

Aftershocks continue to be felt every ten or so minutes. To those already so broken and traumatised, every shake is bound to prove harder to bear than the ones before it.

My heart goes out to the hundreds of people still trapped in the rubble, and to everyone else in Christchurch.  We all have lost someone or something in the past 24 hours, so keep safe.