three chairs


the big one of 4 September

Posted on September 5, 2010 at 6:57 AM

I don’t remember waking. According to Jackie I was shaking her awake saying “earthquake.” The next thing I remember was being up, and heading for Josh’s room … which, looking back must only have been 20 seconds later. That’s when the room exploded and stuff started falling around us. Jackie fended off her dresser drawers … luckily because she could just as easily have been under them because it was hard to get any bearings or remain standing.


30 seconds.


Somehow we scrambled over the fallen dresser drawers to find Josh, very calm, and curled into a ball – like they’d been told to do at school – and riding it out.


45 seconds.


And from my perspective, that was it. About 45 seconds.


That early in the morning, I really had no idea how long it lasted. It could have been a couple of minutes, it could have been as little as 30 seconds.


When I first looked at the time on my cell phone, it was 445, so I figured just after 430.


Of course, being prepared – NOT - we scrambled to make sense of it all, and through the debris find candles. The screen light from our mobile phones was invaluable.


With no power we couldn’t really tell how bad the house was. We just knew there was stuff everywhere.


Then, of course, you start to think, what if that’s not the big one? Worse to come?

We slowly began to realise that Josh’s room, for whatever reason, was untouched. The picture of him in the green t-shirt had fallen, but that thing would have fallen if I’d sneezed close to it. While Chris’s TV and dresser had fallen nearly on top of him, our dressers were upended on the floor, a Lego plane on top of Josh’s bookcase remained parked and ready for take-off.




So for a while we kind of huddled together in Josh’s room. It became mission control. From there we reconned the house, and slowly we ventured outside to see the neighbours doing the same.


The houses across the road had power. Our side of the road, and (we found out later) most of the rest of Christchurch was in darkness.


We began speculating. Probably a 7. 8? Who knows? What’s a big one these days?


People have been saying it was terrifying. I’m not trying to be staunch when I say I never felt afraid. I am more afraid now, 24 hours later, as we continue to get rocked by sizeable aftershocks. It may have been the brevity of it; it may have been the early, mind-scrambling hour. But at the time I didn’t feel afraid. It seemed to be over. We were all okay. The house was still standing. How bad could it be?


Relatively speaking, it wasn’t bad at all. Looking at the News later – we got power, and therefore TV and internet, about 8 hours later – it’s clear we got off lightly.

Buildings down town are in ruins; roads have been uprooted; hospitals are overflowing (although mostly with stupidly minor-injury victims); Kaiapoi is flooded knee deep; houses in various parts of the city are dangerously broken; bridges and railway lines are warped and closed.


There’s a crack across the road in front of our house, oozing some brown sludge. What we thought, and feared, was that it was sewerage. What we think now is that it is liquefaction. At the time, I thought the crack was significant. After seeing the news, compared to other parts of the city it's pretty pathetic.


Liquefaction. Who knew there was such a thing? Well, the experts, of course. Nobody else.


The sludge coming through the road, and our yard, and through the crack in our garage floor doesn’t smell like what you’d think sewerage smells like. It’s not poo, it’s silt.


By evening we’d got enough order in the house to resume our comfortable life. But in the back of our minds are the reports that it’s likely we will get another earthquake/aftershock nearly as big as the first one. All day, the earth has been threatening it. It’s the aftershocks that are frightening. Without exception, every aftershock threatens to be the big one. With every aftershock, we look pleadingly at each other, and wait. So far, there have been many (over 20 apparently) aftershocks over 5 on the Richter Scale. And many more less than that.


With darkness comes a whole new set of fears. The same fears of the impending return of chaos, as well as the concomitant power loss and the vulnerability that brings. It’s one thing to be in an earthquake. It’s a whole other thing to be in an earthquake in the dark!


We went to bed about 11. We taped the cupboards in the kitchen shut. At least, if another earthquake came in the next 8 hours, we could try and keep all the glass contained.


Of course, it wasn’t contained the night before, and not a single thing broke. My “office” is on the other side of the kitchen counter and was in chaos. In the kitchen, glass shelves, with crystal wine glasses, other glass things, wine bottles, and cups and plates, seems relatively unmoved.


Go figure.


We taped them closed anyway. We need to feel a little bit in control of our fate.

We put our new plasma TV – also unmoved in the chaos – on the floor, in case the earthquake came back to finish it off.


And went to bed.


I see now on Twitter there were 3.8 and 4.4 aftershocks at 430 am this morning. That’s how it was all night. Waking every little while, feeling the house shake.

“That’s a big one” Jackie said sleepily at 430.


So now its 24 hours later. 26 actually. As I’ve typed this, I’ve felt several good shakes. Apparently this could go on for days, even weeks.


I had two very cool things planned today. I don’t think either will happen. O well. Shit happens right?


So I’m not sure what today will be like. We still don’t have water. No shower today. No dishes washed.


Oh, and no toilet facilities. That’s the most interesting thing we totally take for granted.



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