My wife, Lenette, our son Josh, and I live in Christchurch, New Zealand which has recently been affected by a series of devastating earthquakes.
We are fortunate to visit your beautiful valley most years to visit with Lenettes parents, John and Betty Moore, who share their time between Radium and Parson. We have always felt a bond with the folk we have met and the spirit of your community. We were therefore flattered when The Pioneer (a weekly read for us online!) was interested in our experience of the recent quakes and asked if we would share our experiences.
As you may be aware, on September 4th of last year, our city experienced a massive earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale in the early hours of the morning. Whilst many parts of New Zealand were known to be exposed to fault lines, Christchurch was not generally acknowledged as having one and so when we were jolted awake, we had only a vague idea of what we were experiencing. Our son sleeps on a different floor from us and we ran to his room. Navigating the stairs was in itself a mission and we were knocked from side to side. Josh was screaming in his bed and we quickly gathered him up and went to a spare bedroom where we thought we could all shelter under a bed. However, the house was swaying so much that we were unable to open the door which had been closed it was firmly jammed by the swaying of the house.
Then, on Tuesday of last week, the unbelievable happened: we had a second major earthquake that was far more devastating than the first. Although it was smaller by way of Richter scale measure at 6.3, it was only five kilometres deep and was close to the city centre. That minute of earthquake will never leave any of us.
For me, I was at the office and it was just a normal moment. I was heading into town for a lunch and as I picked up my car keys a regular aftershock hit. Since the September quake we have had over 4,500 aftershocks, some significant, some not, but all felt. I thought it would just be a shake but of course it wasnt.
As the rattling continued, it seemed to intensify. The pictures on my office wall came down and ornaments fell and smashed. At this point I dove under my desk but even on hands and knees, I thought it seemed to get worse. I panicked at this point as I really thought our office building was about to collapse. Under my desk, I decided that I would rather run to try and get outside than get buried. As I ran out I screamed for everyone to get out of the office. Having reached the doors, two of us realized that not everyone was coming out and so we went back inside and moved everyone else out.
Once we were clear of the building, we started to try to make contact with family and we were all in the same boat: with no cell phone coverage, frustration turned to fear. We were in the car park listening from our cars to whatever radio stations were still on air. Some stations had evacuated and so there was no noise; others had little information but then the news started to come in and we realized how bad it was. We all drifted off, wishing each other well with no knowledge of what we might face.
The roads, of course, were jam-packed and a journey that should take 20 minutes from my office to home took two-and-a-quarter hours. I made contact with Lenette and knew that she and Josh were OK.
We are in an area that is not meant to get earthquakes; yet we have been hit with two majors within 6 months and the total repair bill is expected to be $12 14 billion. The earth continues to move in the short time we have written these words we have had another 9 aftershocks: one was enough to get us up out of our seats ready to exit. We sleep lightly; we sleep in our clothes; passports and cash are by the door for a quick exit.
We park our vehicles in different parts of the street to ensure the best escape point. We had showers on Tuesday morning and that was the last time. We go to the toilet in the garden and although we have to spend time apart we always let each other know where we are.
Two Sundays past, Josh went to a scout camp for the day. While he was there, Lenette and I took the opportunity to go to town. As part of that trip we went to Christchurch Cathedral in the morning: it was the church we were married in, and we stood in the area where 22 people now lay dead under a pile of rubble. We then went to a sale in town and for coffee in buildings that two days later were destroyed.
I work from home and was sitting down to have lunch. The house started to shake violently. Contents from our kitchen cupboards and pantry were thrown and smashed, paintings fell off walls and the noise was incredibly intense. I raced to shelter in a doorway and tried to control our dog, who is not fond of earthquakes I must say. The earthquake lasted 30-40 seconds. I had to hang on to the door frame to keep myself from falling over while trying to hang on to a very scared dog as our house was full of broken glass. I watched our belongings being tossed around and things breaking all around me.
Joshs school is just around the corner, so dog in tow I ran to get there and found him standing safely outside. As I came out of the house neighbours were coming out of theirs. A quick check was done to ensure we were all OK and that the people who were in shock were cared for.
Rubble lined the streets and aftershocks of 4.5-4.7 were coming one after another. A text from Matt came in he was OK! But then we lost contact. Approaching the schools I met up with other concerned parents rushing to regroup their family. Joshua was very brave as we walked with our dog home, staying away from weakened structures.
Our priority was to ensure neighbours were safe. No one wanted to stay in their homes as the shaking was very violent. So cups of tea were made and groups of neighbours joined together to wait out what might come next. There was no water and no power. I braved the house to collect warm clothes, food and water that we had stored. We sat in a field with our neighbours and waited out the aftershocks for close to five hours behind our house.
Matt arrived about two hours after our initial contact. Having our family together is a feeling that cannot be described. It started to get cold and dark and the aftershocks were slowing somewhat, so we braved the inside to assess the damage. More cracks in walls, floors and ceilings; contents broken and strewn everywhere; but structurally it seemed fine. Power was restored to our home. We turned on the TV and watched in horror at the scenes that flicked across our screen. Our beloved city had become a war zone.
The cleanup of our house began and we created a safe room to bunk down in. The night was difficult. Aftershock after aftershock assailed us through the night as violent reminders of what we just experienced. Still no word about one friend she is now registered as missing. My friend is still missing.
I was going to get my lunch from outside my classroom and the earthquake happened. I couldnt get in the doorway because there was too much shaking. When the earthquake stopped I ran in to my classroom and hid under my desk. I was scared and so were my friends and students were crying. Then another earthquake hit; we stayed under our desks. When that earthquake stopped we walked down to the main field with the whole school. Then parents started to come. Then my mom came and picked me up. We walked home and stayed outside as the house was too scary to go inside.