Experiencing Earthquakes in Christchurch December 2011

FIRST PERSON | It was the day before Christmas Eve and my husband and I were at one of the big suburban malls. We had a list of things to do but decided to get some lunch first. We stopped in at a restaurant we both like and placed our order. Being lunchtime, only the ground floor was in use and we perched on high chairs around a wooden table. A few businessmen were seated nearby and others chatted at the bar. The outside area was relatively full and the atmosphere was positive and cheerful.

Our meal had just been brought when the shaking started. It was gentle at first but accelerated to a strong rocking. I jumped up, unsure of whether I should try and squeeze under the table or run outside. My husband sat stoically where he was. Thoughts were buzzing through my head and my heart pounded as the shaking slowly subsided. Not again! Haven’t we been through enough? That was a big one!

The young waitresses gathered in a knot, hugging each other and crying. I walked out into the outside dining area, my appetite gone. People were streaming from the mall and security hurried them along. Car alarms shrieked and people’s faces reflected shock and disbelief. How could this happen so close to Christmas? Aftershocks continued to shake the area, each one causing fresh anxiety.

I asked for my meal to be wrapped up and we joined the crowds evacuating the mall and headed toward home. From prior experience, I knew that businesses and malls would be shut down while engineers assessed the damage. The traffic was bad but not as bad as in the prior quakes.

Once home, I switched the TV on and watched the story unfold as images came in. More rock had sheared off the cliffs and massive dust clouds encompassed some of the coastal areas. Fresh liquefaction had occurred and the eastern suburbs were once again flooded and covered with silt. 26,000 homes were without power and some waste water systems sustained fresh damage. It was heart-rending when the city was looking forward to celebrating Christmas.

I knew from past experience that we would be going through the whole cycle again: large, frequent aftershocks that would gradually subside in the coming weeks: disturbed nights as the house rattled and shook, and heightened anxiety that made me jump at every noise and movement.

A week on, they city has shown great resilience but people are tired. Along with family and friends, I truly hope that we have now seen the worst and that 2012 will bring hope and healing to people who have suffered so much.

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