Sunday, March 13, 2011

Feb 22 A dark day

Twenty days on and I am kind of struck dumb at the enormity of writing about this second quake….

12.51pm and I was at the front door texting about to mount my cruising cycle to get to my university class scheduled for 1pm. The earth shook as it had done for the past five months but this time its epicentre was five km below Lyttelton; way too close for comfort.

6.3 on the Richter for just under a minute and things at 35 Matai St West got a good shake up. A bust got busted, the heavy tool box and tools got perilously close to the classic car in the garage and doors and cupboards swung open. The precious pet’s ears went down and his tail became clamped between his legs.

Annoyed with this unscheduled delay and unaware of the aftermath of this recent shake, I ushered the dog back inside and carried on swiftly to my 1pm class. As I neared the campus I could see the throngs of students flowing out onto the nearby streets. Still dazed, I stopped on the side of the road and asked the ridiculously obvious question to one of the displaced students; “is the university closed?”

Another aftershock shook me, my bike, the already growing traffic jam and the multitude of evacuated students roadside. Still unbelieving, I rode all the way to my classroom against the tide of humans to see firsthand what had become of my scheduled class. Two creative writing students remained in the car park outside and advised me of what had happened to those on time in the class. No one was hurt but they had all dispersed.

Now fully conversant with our new reality, I headed back towards home, fretting and cycling in unison. Anxious to return to work to check on them as they were closer to the shake but aware of the rule to stay at home and for all family members to strive to get there, I stayed put. The dog had escaped the shaking house and was trembling together with the neighbour outside her house as I approached. She was talking to her mother in Wellington on the phone to assuage her terror.

I went inside and began to right things and then decided against it. I checked on the other neighbour and slowly they began to pour into our home which had been mercilessly left unaffected by power and water outages. Word got around slowly and our home began to fill with neighbours, their kin, strangers, their dogs and I did what I do best….cook.

We had 18 for dinner as we crowded around the television watching the events unfold. The children made it home without too much bother being on the right side of town at the time and the husband finally made it about four hours later riding a BMX bike he found in the workshop as opposed to being trapped in the growing gridlock. He had also brought home our heavily pregnant niece who had been caught in her car for hours. Water was boiled (for drinking) and for whatever else might occur that day!

We wearily got to bed around 10.30pm that night, drained and dazed but otherwise unaffected.

The day after we ventured into town on URGENT official business….retrieving a truck spring from the factory for a Crane company. As the area had been cordoned we had to don a yellow flashing light in the Crane company’s Ute and make our way through town through a chink in the cordon off Bealey Ave. The army personnel were already doing their job fending off intruders. What we saw was incredible…we passed what used to be the shops on High Street corner to see it and many other buildings flattened, the roads bumpy and silt covered. Our crane company executive swore and cursed his way through the mayhem as we finally made it to our factory.

Our car park resembled a beach and what little bitumen we saw rose angrily up out of the sand. Inside looked pretty much the same. Liquefaction covered the entire 16,000 square feet with trickling water flowing between the two factories. We gave the crane man his springs and sent him on his way. Upon further surveillance, the toilets and most drains had been blocked, racks had been tipped up and the floor was strewn with stock from above. The steel rack remained in place as did most of the spring stock and machinery.

It took us three days and the help of about twenty mates to dig out the factory. Friends and family crawled out of the aftermath bearing spades and shovels and dug for all they were worth. At times the job seemed overwhelming but there was nothing else you could do but dig.

The day we finally struck vinyl was fantastic. The team had reduced to the nuclear family plus boyfriend who worked harder and longer than most of the immediate blood relations. Already in celebration about welcoming staff back and opening the doors for business 5 days post earthquake, we threw our shovels in the back of the Ute and headed for the nearest fish and chip shop.

Monday, and the eight returning staff entered reluctantly into the workshop on high alert for further shakes. Their eyes gleamed and flickered as they regaled their tales.

Meanwhile back at the home front, children were once again banned from school much to their horror/entertainment. The hard yards had been achieved (inheritance had been potentially sidelined) and the family spring making shop was open for business. After a cursory attempt at assisting the community with baking and offers of help they then made teenage plans to comfort each other in peer groups off site. Dunedin and Twizel were chosen destinations.
My attempt at saving the community/world involved cooking fifty lunches with a fellow world saver at her home and delivering them and emergency kits across town to quake ravaged New Brighton and Sumner as well as assisting a neighbour who had been red stickered, with food and rubbish removal.

This earthquake although indiscriminate in its devastation hit predominantly in the east of the city. The west although scattered with red stickers escaped relatively unscathed. Three weeks on and it is hard to comprehend the level of need across town on a summers day as you move around this side of town. People are mowing their lawns again, running around the park, drinking coffee and visiting cafes.

Meanwhile in the central city, eastern suburbs, seaside and portside they are still without water and adequate sewer facilities. Chemical toilets have just been delivered in the last few days and a small pocket of homes are still without power. More than twenty percent of our city have fled and over 7000 of our children are enrolled off site.

To top that off northern Japan has just experienced the largest recorded earthquake in 140 years of monitoring with the ensuing tsunami killing an estimated 10,000 people and leaving millions without power and water.

Recovery of our fair city and the world is taking a toll on our local and global economy already injured with a recession. Our monarchy in the shape of Prince William is due to arrive to join us in our memorial service for the dead this Friday, March 18 as our benevolent PM John Key has gifted another day of productivity from our region.

Trying to move forward under the new normal is interesting and fascinating. The meek have fled and those remaining are excited about the rebuild, however arduous, frustrating and time consuming it may be. Opportunity abounds as new city plans are mooted, new careers considered and new homes are found or built.

March 20 predictions by Ken Ring the “Moon Man” aggravates our resident anxiety with predictions of another quake. Fingers and toes crossed…..

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