My brother rang me early on Saturday morning, and told me that there had been a massive earthquake in Christchurch. We’re a North Island family, and we don’t have family down south, but as it turned out, my beloved uncle was there on Friday night, staying on the eighth floor of a hotel. I was able to contact him by txt and confirm that he was okay, but after that, I stayed off the network.
I spoke to him by phone on Sunday morning. It was terrifying, he said. He woke to his bed rocking and shuddering, and only by clinging on tight did he manage to avoid being thrown out. Many of the other people staying in the hotel were tipped out of their beds. He packed up and got down stairs, and then in company with the other guests, assembled outside. It was bitterly cold. After a while, the hotel staff brought out sheets and blankets. There was no information: the hotel did not have a battery-operated radio. All of the guests were badly frightened. Eventually my uncle made it to the airport. The building was closed, so together with other travellers, he spent most of the day perched with his luggage on a traffic island. People helped each other out, sharing food and water, looking after luggage for each other, supporting each other. A nearby hotel made its bathrooms available for people to use. By mid-afternoon the airport re-opened, and late in the day, he got a flight to Auckland, and from there, home to Wellington. On Saturday, he coped, but on Sunday, in the safety of his home, he has been very, very shaken.
As the plane took off from Christchurch, the people on board clapped.
I’m sure people functioned on adrenalin on Saturday. There had been a disaster, by who knows what good fortune there had been no direct loss of life, and it was a matter of everyone doing what they could to check on their neighbours and families and friends, to look after people who were injured, to pull together food and water and shelter for the day. But by today, I’m guessing that the longterm nature of the damage has started to become apparent. My uncle and the other people on the flights out of Christchurch will have gone home to comfortable beds, clean water, power at the flick of a switch. Many people whose homes are in Christchurch don’t know when they will have access to such basic goods again. A problem for adults of course, but so much more of a problem for people with others to care for. Parents will be worried about food and shelter for their children, adult children will be worried about caring for elderly parents, caregivers will be concerned about the people they assist with daily living. Some people with disabilities may be in extra difficulty too, especially if their ability to live independently is predicated on functioning public services. Things will be all the more difficult because at this stage, there will be no end in sight.
My thoughts are with the people of Christchurch.
Some other thoughts: The old buildings in Christchurch were damaged, badly, but the new buildings, built to earthquake standards, survived. Not only are the building codes excellent, but they are administered by a corruption-free inspectorate. This weekend, we New Zealanders have good reason to take great pride in our corruption-free public servants.
As people in Christchurch are coping with the earthquake, people in Victoria, Australia, are coping with floods.
Dear friends of ours lost lost their mother and mother-in-law today. Our thoughts are with them too.