I wish I could describe better how I am feeling, but I’m not sure I even know how I am feeling. Maybe it’s that my feet are not on the ground. My lungs feel so stretched and overfilled with air from hyperventilating for nearly a week that I just feel like my entire body is made of lace that is floating and not able to get a hold on the ground. I woke up in the tightest little ball today that hurt all over when I tried to straighten out and stand up out of bed. At 12:24 we had been woken from a deep sleep by rumbling and concrete knocking. It was only our neighbour coming in down the driveway past our bedroom window. But from a deep sleep to that point of sitting up we had to calm each other down so that we could eventually go back to sleep, worried about heart attacks from the racing within our chests. Normal life experience does not make you react like this.
My husband and I were also deep asleep when at 2am on Boxing Day in December 2010 we were woken by the earth rumbling beneath us in our tent in Christchurch. It was a big aftershock and one that did further damage to the buildings in Christchurch. We drove into the city in search of breakfast and were diverted when we saw bricks and mortar lying in the road in front of us. The epicentre had been right under us while we sat in the car watching shop window glass move like water, hoping for it to stop. Shaken and upset, we were happy to be leaving on our pre-booked flight the next day. So lucky we could fly to our home in Auckland.
In 2007, my husband and I were in our first floor (US second floor) flat in Niigataken, Japan when the rumbling began. We’d felt many in Japan, but they usually stop within seconds. This one did not stop. In fact, the entire flat began to twist out of shape, creak and dump things off the shelves. We crouched down in the genkan (small entryway where you take off your shoes) and grabbed our “earthquake bags” that we kept there with water, snacks, a torch and a few other items. We were making plans about at what point we would run outside. Japan is so built up that they tell you it is far safer inside than outside and never to run outside. All of this was running through my head, as we rode out the waves. A bigger one came and we really thought this was it. The flat was like a fairground ride. Our minds were having a hard time making sense of what our eyes were seeing as the straight lines of the rooms twisted bizarrely*. Unlike all the smaller tremours we’d felt in Tokyo, Osaka, and Los Angeles, these were the ones that began our real fears. These were the ones that helped us to understand our mortality and we’ve never been the same since.
Long after we’d left Japan and returned to the relative safety of Auckland we’d still jump and look at each other in fear whenever a big truck would rumble past or waves would show up in a glass of water on the table because someone had accidentally kicked it. Slowly we began to calm down and only occasionally would we have these episodes. But, the experience in the tent in Christchurch brought it all back. We felt terrible for the people of Christchurch who have been living with this since September 2010. By the time we visited in December people were still shaken but perhaps beginning to accept that the worst may possibly be over. People were focussed on getting their properties repaired. The people seemed optimistic, even, and perhaps a little stronger after each small aftershock** that life was still good and things were going to get better and better. People seem to be resiliant in this way.
But then, of course, the worst had happened and the world is looking on helplessly and with heavy hearts.
I wanted to tell my earthquake stories, not because any of this is about me because it’s absolutely not, nor to trivialise anything that has happened to Cantabrians, but to let others know what it is like to have experienced any of this and the lasting effects. The main event is horrifying and terrible and uncomprehensible. But for survivors, the psychological damage will last a long time. After a life-threatening event, I think the survival instinct in you says that you have had your close call, and now you can go on and live your life to the full. That is the only way your mind can begin to move on. In this instance, it did not work that way and it will be very hard for Cantabrians to move on.
People will need to tell their stories and they deserve to be heard as each time the story is told, even though there is no sense to be made of it, the act of going through the events can remind the person that they are now just telling the story and no longer living it. People need love, patience and understanding. I don’t think there is a logical end point at which people should be expected to be ‘over it’. And people need financial support to rebuild their homes and lives. If you can, please give something to one of the organisations listed at the end of this post.
*We were very lucky. Most of the damage was a few kilometres further north where many of my students and their families lived. Not all of them were lucky.
**There have been over 5,500 since September 2010.
Air New Zealand has said today that they will extend the $50 to/from Christchurch domestic fares to include all flights within New Zealand until midnight on the 27th of February. The also have some compassionate international fares.
They have put on a number of extra flights into and out of Christchurch equivalent in capacity to 19 additional 737 flights today.
Check the Air New Zealand website for more details.
This list of information is meant to update those outside of New Zealand as to what has been going on since the earthquake hit Canterbury at 12.50 yesterday, 22 February, New Zealand time. I will say that I do not have first-hand knowledge from any one source but that I realise the ongoing news coverage may give us, here in New Zealand, more detailed information before it hits the internet or news reports in other countries. Therefore I hope this information can help someone out there who is looking for details.
To clarify for those who do not know the geography of New Zealand, the earthquake occurred in the South Island. Canterbury is the name of the wider area, akin to a county in some other countries. The epicenter was in a small town/ area of Christchurch known as Lyttleton which is just a few kilometers southeast of the city. The September earthquake was centred at Darfield, which is west of the city. Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Hamilton are located in the North Island which were not affected, so if you know anyone in those areas, there is no need to worry.
There have been many aftershocks since the main event yesterday including half a dozen or so over magnitude 5 and some over 6. This is making already unstable buildings in the CBD (Central business district) very dangerous and the city has been cordoned off. Those outside of the city are being asked to stay at home and not try to come into the city even if they are missing someone there. Those at home are also being asked to check on their neighbours and band together for support. All schools and business are closed although if someone feels their business could add something to the effort, they can open if they see fit. This would be things such as a Dairy (corner shop) which could provide needed supplies.
It is a category 3 disaster and will remain on that level for 5 days before reassessment. Although it was not unexpected that there would be a large aftershock from the September 2010 earthquake, the timing and location of this earthquake could not have been worse. The epicenter was near Lyttleton at a shallow depth of 5 kilometres. It happened at a time when the CBD was full of businesspeople, tourists, students and people having lunch in the restaurants and cafes. Many structures were already weakened from the first earthquake in September and the trend of aftershocks that have been happening since then.
6 schools will be used for water distribution but there is a worry that there will not be enough water to go round for very long.
Search and Rescue
All efforts are currently focused on rescue of the living. There are 6 major sites of collapse that have been identified although it is believed that there will be many more smaller sites. 55 people have been confirmed dead and just over 20 unidentified. Around 300 people are reported as missing. It is possible that some are OK, but communications are difficult and so simply may not be able to get in touch.
The airport was closed until a few hours ago and now is very busy with flights of people wanting to exit the city. Special fares have been offered to those directly affected. Fares seem to be $50 domestic and possibly some international flights at $400.
Survivors have remarked on how well organized and helpful everyone has been. The Red cross and the Salvation Army are running shelters and there have been individuals who have arrived on the scene with random offerings such as a man cooking sausages who came up from Dunedin. New Zealand search and rescue people have arrived very quickly on the scene and Australian teams have arrived in the past couple of hours. Offers have also come in from The U.K., the U.S., Japan and Taiwan.
There was a large group of Australians in Christchurch for a urology conference and all participants are OK and either in local shelters or have been airlifted to Wellington. There was a Canadian couple who miraculously escaped from Christchurch Cathedral. There was also another report of a group of foreigners who were airlifted to Wellington.
If you are in new Zealand and worried about people in Christchurch you can ring
0800 REDCROSS (0800 733 276).
For those outside of the country, you can ring +64 7 850 2199.
The Prime Minister and financial experts have noted that the cost of this earthquake will run into the billions in a country that has already been trying to keep its head above water in the economic downturn. Many people will be homeless and rescue efforts also come at a cost. Any donations received would be greatly appreciated. Donations can be sent via internet banking.
Donations to bank account number 01-1839-0188939-00
National Bank Appeal
Donations to bank account number 06-0869-0548507-00
Westpac (bank) and the Salvation Army
Donations to bank account number 03-0207-0617331-00
Donations to bank account number 12-3205-0146808-00
BNZ (bank) Red cross Canterbury Earthquake Appeal
Donations to bank account number 02-0500-0982004-000
Pike River Disaster Relief Trust chairman and Greymouth mayor Tony Kokshoorn has stated that they are no longer receiving donations and would encourage people to instead send donations to the Canterbury Earthquake Appeals.
If anyone has other questions, please ask in the comments or send me a tweet on @Shantiwallah and I will try to find out as much as possible. The best source of information is the Twitter hashtag #eqnz .
Note: In a nice turn of events, this post has been picked up and republished on Matador Change. The payment has been donated to the Red Cross relief efforts.