The Christchurch Earthquake, September 4, 2010

The Christchurch Earthquake, September 4, 2010

A Story by The Night Fox

September 4th, 2011.

One year since the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch. One year since our lives changed forever, of which repercussions, like aftershocks, are still being felt today.

Everyone has their story. The earthquake became a common topic of conversation; asking how places held up, telling anecdotes about the quakes and aftershocks or discussing the latest developments. I left school and worked as a temp soon after the February quake, so have heard a lot of stories from a large cross section of Christchurch.

So much has changed in the past year, for everyone. Lives have been taken, houses and businesses destroyed, whole suburbs condemned and families, friendships and social groups ripped apart.

After September, most of us thought that was it. We had aftershocks; some pretty big. People were stressed and freaked out, but able to move on. We thought we'd dodged a bullet; there wasn't a single death directly from that quake; there were only two severe injuries, though one person was reported to have died from a heart attack brought on by the quake.

Aftershocks became a part of everyday life after that day. Worrying at first; we soon got used to them. The bigger ones kept people from getting too complacent; some stuck in your mind more than others. The Boxing Day aftershock scared some people. Me? I just went back to sleep. I remember one shock, maybe a 5.5? Middle of the day, I was at school. Sitting in Math class, the top floor of one of the older blocks. No one took it too seriously; hell, it was fun.

All of this was dwarfed by the February 22nd aftershock.

I'll never forget that day as long as I live.

As I've described it many times, February 22nd was when “s**t got fucked up”.

The morning started as any other: getting up at what I considered far too early, getting ready for school. Nothing special. In the garage I rested a few textbooks on the car, not wanting to carry them around all day. I hoped there wouldn't be an aftershock, otherwise they'd fall off.

It was just a regular day, up until lunch time.

Standing in the quad, as per usual. In the middle of one of my long and pointless rants, as per usual. I believe the bell had just rung, signaling for students to head for their next class, though everyone knew that bell really meant you had another five or ten minutes to stand around doing nothing.

The aftershock hit. People screamed, some out of fear, some out of excitement. Personally I was excited; I'd gotten to the point of enjoying aftershocks, and the prospect of school being closed if the shock was big enough.

I saw the office building shaking. If you've never experienced an earthquake, you cannot comprehend how freaky it is to see a massive concrete building swaying effortlessly. Still, as awe inspiring as it was, I still didn't take it too seriously. It was just a big aftershock, nothing to worry about.

Seconds later the fire bell went off, and everyone shuffled toward the fields. They did the usual drill: took the roll, checked everyone was there. But that was it. At first they tried to keep us with our form classes, in our neat rows. No one abided by that; had to check in with friends. Everyone was texting furiously, making sure their loved ones were safe. When I checked my phone I had a new message, received a minute or two before the shock itself. It was from a friend of mine, “Are you at school? Can you come to town?” I didn't reply; more important people to text.

There had been no announcement from the school as to what would happen, no one knew what was going on. We tried asking teachers, but they didn't know either.

They tried keeping us in our divisions next. The divisions at Burnside High are like houses; and there primarily for organizational reasons. North, South, West and Senior. In fire drills we had to line up with our form class, grouped together with the rest of our division. Why they were so insistent that we didn't go over to the other divisions I don't know, but they didn't have a whole lot of control.

Everyone had reacted differently. I saw one girl sitting on the grass, crying. Not a girl I knew, but she was being comforted by a friend of mine who usually came across as an insensitive prick. A bunch of other people had started up a game of touch. Some had even put together a makeshift campsite out of bags and umbrellas. I just wanted a cigarette and a session.

Still no word from teachers or deans, still no replies to my texts.

A friend of mine's father was a teacher at Burnside, and eventually we found him.

“Town's been hit. Lyttelton's been hit. I can't get in contact with your mother. They're saying there'll be deaths from this one.” was essentially all he could tell us. They lived in the port of Lyttelton, my friend's mother would have been at home.

Word quickly spread that town had been destroyed, that the shock had been 6.3 and centered in Lyttelton. Town was ruined, and I'd had a text just minutes before asking if I could go into town. I started texting again, trying to find out if my friend was alright. She wasn't exactly a great friend, but when something like this happens, you worry about everyone you know.

After a while word also spread that you were only allowed to leave the school if your parents had arrived to pick you up. This was just out of the question for a lot of people; myself included. The streets would be gridlocked and I lived on the other side of town; not a chance in hell anyone would be able to come pick me up. I was driving a scooter back then, that would get me home.

Myself and three others just decided to leave; I had some weed and we all wanted a session. Walking out we were stopped by a teacher; informing us again that we had to have a parent pick us up. We explained that our parents were at the gate waiting for us, and she let us go. I doubt that she believed us, but there were just too many students to stop from leaving.

We smoked the weed and lots of cigarettes, though I was too worried to get properly stoned. We walked to the dairy down the road, finding it open but with no electricity. On the walk there we saw the road cracked and warped, power lines downed and power poles askew. Aftershocks continued to rock the city.

The drive home was horrifying. The streets were completely gridlocked; it took me over an hour to get home, and I was on a scooter, able to weave in and out of cars and drive over sidewalks. I made the mistake of taking main roads, Deans' Ave, Moorhouse Ave and Brougham St in particular. Hagley Ave had already been closed off, men in army fatigues had put up barriers and weren't allowing anyone through. I saw an army van speeding out from there, almost hitting one of the men. There were a lot of sirens; police, ambulance and fire brigade. Most struggled to get through; no one could move their cars.

I got my first glimpse of real liquefaction crossing from Moorhouse Ave to Brougham Street. The side streets between the two were largely devoid of traffic, and it was easy to see why. Whole streets were flooded with a grey, brown goo that had welled up seemingly out of nowhere.

My house a complete shambles. There was little damage as such, it was all superficial, but cleaning up the mess took days. That first night was the worst. We had no power, no water. Aftershock's rattled the city every few minutes, making sleep next to impossible.

The next few days were in some respects worse than the initial quake. Word began to spread of the situation, the deaths, the damage, and the repercussions. Some people went out to help others, some just got to work picking up the pieces of their own shattered lives.

Weeks or months after the quake, I saw on the news a story about a man who'd risked his life rushing into a building to save a complete stranger. He was hailed as a hero. I'm not going to try and claim he isn't, that sort of thing takes tremendous courage. But despite that, for every story or heroism you see on the news, there are dozens more unknown. My father, a doctor, was working flat out for days following the quake. Think about all the people working in infrastructure; working constantly from day one to get power, water, sewage running.

In those minutes and hours immediately following the quake, it was complete pandemonium. Just as no one knew what was going on at school, with no one really in charge, the entire city was much the same. In times of great panic or catastrophic disaster, people freak. We look to authority figures, and if there are none, we create them. Think about how it must have been for the police; though many would have been alone or disconnected from their superiors and headquarters, they were forced to act, to try and keep people from getting themselves killed.

The military, having to maintain a cordon around the central city. They weren't doing anything directly honorable; they weren't playing the hero, they were just doing their job. Some people even hated their presence; being stopped from looking around the city, go to their houses, look for their pets. But seriously, would you like to stand at attention all day, have nothing but a plywood shack for shelter at best, and stay within range of falling buildings or debris? They didn't want to be there; they were doing their duty.

A lot of people did good. In the days following it, radio stations were giving information about people offering supplies of food, water, shelter, and basic necessities. Oftentimes these people were just your average Joe's, struggling themselves but willing to give all they could. Some could offer more than others, but the very fact that these people were willing to help complete strangers for no gain is a salute to the human race.

Some people took it upon themselves to help with little more than the passing on of information. Following the September quake, I spent a lot of time online, posting updates to Facebook regarding news I'd heard on TV, radio, internet, for people who couldn't reach those sources. I'm not exactly a saint for it, but that sort of thing did help let others know what was going on.

The University Student Army, students voluntarily giving up their time to shovel silt, help clean up streets. It's not particularly fun or skilled work, but it had to be done. Within days of the quake, I knew dozens of students from Burnside looking to help out; either down at the school or joining the student army around the city. I knew a bunch of girls who, if nothing else, baked cookies for the soldiers on the cordon.

In my mind I have images, things I saw that have stuck in my mind, and will no doubt remain for the rest of my life. The girl sitting on the grass crying. The look of fear on an Asian man's face, sitting in his car in gridlocked traffic as yet another powerful aftershock rippled through the street. A church on the corner of Brougham and Colombo, reduced to nothing more than rubble, while meters away stands a billboard stating “Sydenham is open for business”. A cop screaming at a group of people to get on the other side of the road, away from the unstable ruins of the church.

Nothing will ever be the same. The first earthquake freaked everyone out, destroyed a lot of property and capital, but we coped. We began to rebuild. No one had any idea that it would go on to cause such momentous changes.

How ironic is it that despite the scale of the event, the massive impact it had on us all, the Earth just keeps spinning. Within days and weeks the international community began to lose interest, though it was top news all over New Zealand for weeks. Almost mockingly, the days following the quake were incredibly sunny and warm. The planet didn't care. Hell, I took advantage of it. No power, little communication, I relaxed outside with a book.

Don't pity us, don't worry about us. Like I said to a friend in Germany over Facebook, “We'll be OK, we're tough m***********s.” Christchurch will rebuild. We'll survive. It's just scary that a year after the first earthquake, things are further from being back to normal than anyone could have anticipated.

We go through our lives looking trying to gain some degree of control over our situation. Doesn't matter how significant or small, everyone wants to feel in control. What we often don't realize is how effortlessly the planet can rip that feeling of balance away.

© 2011 The Night Fox

Author's Note

The Night Fox
This could be a whole lot better; there's still a lot to say and quite a bit of proofreading to be done, but I'll probably update it at some point.

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Very good read. I know what it's like going through earthquakes, living in California (USA). I went through a major earthquake back in 1994 (a 6.8, 57 died, millions of dollars in damage, read my expert on Writers Cafe), and it hit the day before my birthday. I can still remember the days we didn't have electricty or water, the collapsed freeways, and the National Guard being stationed at the intersection hear our house for three weeks. I am making sure my family has emergency supplies in case one happens again.

Posted 7 Years Ago

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Added on September 4, 2011
Last Updated on September 4, 2011
Tags: christchurch, earthquake, aftershock, september 4


The Night Fox
The Night Fox

Christchurch, New Zealand

What's there to say? I've been writing since I was a kid, anything from novels to poetry to fan fictions. Some of my stuff is good, a lot isn't. I don't write for fame or money, I doubt many writers.. more..

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