Of families and earthquakes

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.

Cross posted

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6 responses to “Of families and earthquakes

  1. Thanks for this update; good wishes to you and yours. I’m not surprised by the clapping.

  2. I’m glad your uncle is relatively okay. I’m going to be thinking of your friends, also.

  3. Thanks for this post. I have a cousin in Christchurch, so I’ve been reading about it obsessively. He and his family are fine, but every piece of glass and china in the house has been smashed. I agree, the people of NZ should be rightly proud of their preparedness and building codes – they worked when it mattered, and Christchurch isn’t supposed to be as susceptible to earthquakes as other parts, so I can imagine there would have been temptations.

  4. Like just about everyone else in New Zealand, I have many good friends in Christchurch and am extremely thankful that they are all unscathed. The 16 year old son of friends in Fendalton Rd had a bookshelf fall across his bed, but fortunately he was well bundled up unde a pile of duvets and was not hurt. Though very shaken.
    As for your comment about building codes .. this would have to be one of the most compelling arguments for the necessity of some forms of government regulation in our lives. I can’t imagine the free market would furnish us with excellent building codes.

  5. I have been so impressed by civil defence emergency response in Christchurch. Fast and thorough. Very reassuring to those of us in other earthquake prone areas of New Zealand. Well done us!
    The rebuilding of the city’s infrastructure is going to be a nightmare – can you imagine how many streets will need to be dug up to check and rebuild broken sewerage and water reticulation?
    How do you fancy the thought of getting back to the habit of keeping an Earthquake Kit about the house, Deborah? And after doing routine staff earthquake drill and training while working for the Environment Ministry some years back, like other consultants who worked round numerous government departments I always made a small portable emergency kit to take round on my various work assignments – warm clothing, drink and muesli bars, painkillers and bandages, and above all, excellent walking shoes, were its main components.
    When they told us the broken window glass on the BNZ corner (Willis Street and Lambton Quay) was expected to be more than two metres deep, you could see the light dawn on peoples’ faces!

  6. The other simple things to do are: keep a torch beside your bed, and make sure there are no heavy objects close to your (and your childrens’) beds that could fall on them. This include heavy pictures.
    I was in Moore Wilsons yesterday, and they have sold out of emergency kits (these are quite comprehensive kits in 10 litre plastic pails).