Saturday, April 2, 2011

Six weeks on

I wanted to write something here that I could print out and keep for later, read in years to come and remember what it was like post-quake. Six weeks on and some days it feels like yesterday and others like a lifetime ago. Time to put thoughts to paper blog.

Not a day goes by I don't think of those who have lost loved ones. We were lucky to not lose anyone close to us, but like most people, we know someone who did. I learnt yesterday an old friend (and her baby) were on the 5th floor of the CTV building and were rescued from burning rubble. In a city of 300,000 people there is an immediacy to everything - we are all affected in some way, we all know someone who knows someone, we've all walked those streets that are covered in rubble now. This is our city, our disaster - it's sometimes very hard to see outside the events of 22/2. We talk about it with friends and family..over and over, downloading our thoughts and feelings, sharing information and experiences. Those who aren't here don't get it (and how could they?...most of the time we don't understand how this could have happened here) - it's frustrating sometimes that life can be so unchanged elsewhere. And then yet, despite the stress and worries and the inconveniences, we are one of the lucky ones. DH has a job that isn't based in the central city, our family is safe, our house is not beyond repair. We all have our own experiences...this is mine.

What's changed for us since 22/2...

I don't want to leave the house. In here, with everything tidied away and our damage inside pretty minor, it's easy to escape, easy to pretend that everything is like it was before. In my little hideaway at home it's safe - I know I am 2 minutes from my girls and DH at school and my little one is with me. Out there...everything is unpredictable.

In fact I was trying to think of a word to sum up life now and that is it - unpredictable.

After shocks continue - pretty much every day. Certainly less than before but when there is a day of quiet earth it is met with unease and fear rather than relief. The little ones let out some pressure, better to have a bunch of 3's and 4's than build up to something bigger. We all have our internal seismographs now - most people can predict the magnitude fairly close. 900 after shocks since 22/2 - almost 6,000 since September 4. There is a stunning visual here. The unpredictability of after shocks - when, how wrecks havoc on your nerves. The ones in the middle of the night are the worst - everything is louder, and they seem more frightening in the dark. We don't know how long they will continue. Adrenaline all the time. It's exhausting.

Then there is the traffic. ChCh traffic has never been very bad, we are not a huge city and with the main arterial roads ringing the central city, travelling across town has never taken more than about 40minutes. Everything is different now.
Going out in the car takes a mental energy I don't always have - what way do I need to go now, will any of the roads I have to go down be closed? and if they are open how bad will they be? Potholes are the new design feature of a fair portion of the roads on our side of the town, or worse, liquefaction/silt "heaps" under the ashphalt which makes for little mounds (that are quite hard to see when driving). The main roads around the city have been down to one lane in each direction - traffic backs up everywhere. And we're not used to driving in conditions like that - people are idiots. Road conditions are unpredictable, and in some places, just dangerous.

Even if I did want to go out...where would I go? The beaches and rivers have raw sewerage in them, the swimming pools are all closed (though I did hear of one on the other side of town that is open). Shopping in a multi storey mall complex is not something I would do now unless absolutely necessary. Parking buildings? The mall I usually go to is closed anyway - massive concrete walls collapsed and they are lucky not to have any fatalities given some of the injuries that occurred there. Movie theatres hold little appeal. Lucky our local library is open but the main central library is inside the cordon. There is no guarantee that anything is open - even shops where there are green stickers aren't necessarily open. Even something simple like going for a walk might present issues if bridges are closed, if footpaths are still broken or missing. We used to walk down to our local supermarket - it also had a post office and pharmacy, ATM, bank, hairdresser and cafe. The whole complex is closed for at least a year. I fear what its loss will do to our neighbourhood. Everything requires more thought and planning now. The nearest supermarket to us now is right on the cordon - in the background you can see the Hotel Grand Chancellor leaning over at a sickening angle, it's windows on odd angles, the face of it crumpled, on the edge of the carpark is the destroyed Smith City car parking building. Going "out" puts it all in your face again.

At home we do our best to take each day as it comes. Five of us sleep in two rooms, the girls too scared to sleep alone. There is a fear-driven need to know where everyone is - all the time. M follows me about the house as I do chores, always in the same room as me. Dh asks me detailed questions now every time I leave the house - where am I going exactly. I used to say 'yoga' but now I give him the street address, the phone number.

Getaway packs and survival kits have been restocked - now they are not some hypothetical thing for some hypothetical event. If we have another quake I know the power will be off, I know we will have no water, no toilet. At night I line up a row of sneakers outside the bedroom door in case we have to get out of the house and there is broken glass. We have water containers always full, the car always has petrol. What used to be something that happens to other people looms over us - there is a constant worry that there is more in store for us. Are we prepared?

In the paper today is a list of buildings they are going to demolish. Some are iconic ChCh buildings, some are heritage. Where my naturopath worked from when I last saw her, the restaurant where we went on my birthday this year, the building next to where I used to work....all are going. Over a hundred buildings in total. It was a heartbreaking read. And yes, they are just bricks and wood - but they are the face of our city. Our memories, our future plans, places we took for granted as always being there, tangible evidence of our city's history. It's hard to imagine what kind of city centre might grow from the ruins.

Decisions are made, roads are repaired, services are restored. Every day it feels like a tiny step towards a new normal here - a new normal that might one day include safe drinking water from our taps, and a functioning sewerage system. A city where there aren't portaloos on the street corners, or army officers patrolling the cordon.

I want to move on - to have things fixed and working and to try and get on with life. It's difficult - things take so long, there are so many issues, so many affected people, so many "urgent" priorities. We will be dealing with this for years. The thought is overwhelming.

In my home I can concentrate on other things but even in our own neighbourhood there are daily reminders of the quake - broken glass still on footpaths, buildings in piles of rubble, broken footpaths. It is in your face every day. It makes it hard to keep those "what if" thoughts at bay when you have to look it every single day.

Photos from our neighbourhood:

Local shops - broken glass and shop fronts still on the footpath 5.5 weeks after
chch quake5

Footpath on the major walking route to school
chch quake2

Local church hall - look close, that is a gaping hole on the front
chch quake3

Local bike shop - he'd only just reopened after damage from the September quake. We bought our kids bikes from there.
chch quake6

Each time we venture out further from home, to a new area we see more damage, more "ohmygod" moments. One day they will let the public into the cordoned area - we will see for ourselves how bad it really is in there. I am dreading it , but at the same time I think it will be good to see with my own eyes , to have that closure.

I wonder what I will be writing about this in six months time.

In Japan they are facing worse. It seems hard to comprehend when the issues here are extensive enough. The Red Cross is accepting donations to help with relief and aid in Japan. If you can, please consider supporting this appeal.


  1. *hugs* I cannot even imagine. Thinking of you. <3

  2. At a distance it is so hard to imagine how people are getting on with their lives, it's great to read your observations and experiences -a mental picture makes it all the more real for those of us who haven't seen it. The newspapers have completely different stories, usally about iconic buildings or local businesses etc., but the experiences of a young family trying to have a normal life again are something I can really relate to. Thanks for writing about this.

  3. Wonderfully written. :) It sums it up for us too. It's that unpredictability that is the hardest to deal with. When you get another aftershock, but stay on alert to find out just how long it will last for and how big it is. That adrenelin rush has a lot to answer for!
    I think by the time we get to go into the central city, a lot of the damaged buildings will be gone. We will be left wondering exactly what building was it that was in that gaping hole?

  4. Hugs and more hugs... thinking so much of you

  5. thanks for this. I really appreciate it. We need those 'on the ground' stories to remind us what life is like. Please don't step telling your story.

  6. Hello. Thanks for posting your experiences after the quake. I'm concerned that the quake has really affected people emotionally. I guess Kiwis, like Aussies, like to feel tough, in control, and on top of everything. It might be hard to admit the impact of the quake, or it might be possible to exagerate its influence. I hope you're all fine, and able to relax, in spite of ongoing after shocks. It's a big challenge, take care over there.

  7. Oh hon. *hugs* There really is nothing more that can be said. How you guys are surviving down there is nothing short of heroic.

    Once again, if you need anything at all, drop me a line and I'll put it in the post.

  8. Here in the UK I count our blessings every day. Thinking of you and wishing I could do more than just keep you all in my thoughts.

  9. Gosh, I don't really know what to say (write). Like Bells said, this is so necessary, to read about what is going on and how it affects day to day life. I wish you all lots of strength to deal with the changes and challenges over the next weeks, months and years.