Thursday, February 23, 2012

One year on....

Yesterday was the anniversary of a devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand at 12.51pm, Tuesday the 22nd of February 2011.

It's been a day of tears and remembrance.

When the quake struck, I was dying to go to the bathroom - I was on the third story of our work building in Victoria Street - loading in ads for a client. I had about ten to go and I was about to finish the one I was working on, hit the toilet and then go out and get food. Next thing, I'm getting the shit shaken out of me, and somehow I am on the floor, fingers trying to dig into the carpet to hold on. I can hear everyone yelling and the noise of things flying and breaking around us.

This plant actually broke over my legs, I had a crazy bruise for weeks afterwards.

This was my desk, everything on it landed on top of me, including a heavy metal file thing, that bruised my arm like crazy. I was driving home and couldn't figure out why my arm was aching.

When it stopped, I was too scared to turn around as I thought surely the front of the building had collapsed. I couldn't understand how I was still on the floor. The Account Manager came up behind me and started patting my shoulders asking if I was okay. I had to catch my breath before I could respond. As I got myself under control, I realised we were all in shock. And, I still needed to pee. I found my cellphone on the floor, and stood up. I got a call from my mum, and one from Andrew. They were okay. Andrew told me to get home and he would come as soon as he could. I knew it was bad, but I didn't realise how bad. We weren't sure what to do so wandered around making sure each other was okay and had our bags, phones and keys ready to go. I tried to call our Wellington office, thinking it must of been the Alpine fault. I couldn't get through.

As I went to put the landline phone back it rang, giving me a huge fright - and I answered, not in my usual chirpy manner but in a scared little kid voice 'Hullo??' 'Oh hullo,' said one of our directors... 'Is Bernard there?' 'Yes,' I replied, 'but we've just had a massive earthquake'. 'Oh, okay' he responded.

I found out later that he had been trying to organise a conference call and wasn't really listening to me - and there were a few people on the line - they then realised it was serious as they could hear the aftershocks rattling our building, and Bernard told them one of the girls had a few cuts on her legs as she was in the kitchen and all our glassware had smashed. (Never have cupboards that don't have doors!).

We decided it was time to get the hell out of there - but I still had to pee. I asked one of the girls to open the bathroom door, I couldn't get my fat body through as the mirror had fallen behind it making it barely passable for a skinny person. She did that, and as I went to go in, another wicked aftershock hit and I fell over again. Rather than risk it, I decided to just hold on and go when I got home. However, getting home turned out to be a bit harder than expected.

Walking to my car, I saw everyone out on the street. Some were covered in blood, some were in shock - everyone was sort of milling about, unsure about where to go and what to do. I seemed to be the only one moving - and when I got to my car, the car park was still full. There was a lady leaning against it, so I asked if she was okay. She told me she'd come up for the day from Timaru with her husband, and they had taken her parents to the casino for lunch. She told me to drive safely and she hoped everything was okay at home.

 On my way to the car - building damage.

I'm not sure what I was thinking walking so close to this....

Once in the mighty Mu (Daisy is her name), I tried to head my usual way home only to be turned back. Buildings were down, said the lady in the safety vest - you'll need to go down the one way system. Traffic was bumper to bumper, and there were no lights working. People were starting to walk. I had the radio on More FM, and I was listening to Stitchy, telling us to look after ourselves and get home as soon as we could. He was trying to stay on air, but then he said that he had been told to leave the building as it was too dangerous to stay. The radio went off air, so I searched until I found talkback.

That's when I found out that people had died.

I burst into tears. Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, realising that while I knew my mum and future husband were okay, I had no idea about my friends and the rest of my family. I had the window down, but all I could taste was dust.

 I lost it when I saw this garage - I couldn't understand it

This is liquefaction in action, you can see here, the silt coming up from underneath us.

As I got closer to home the traffic started thinning out a bit, but the closer I got the more worried I was about my dogs and the house. It appeared every brick building was in pieces, and then this was at the end of my street....

By that stage I was beside myself. Driving over the cracks in the roads, being on a bridge when an aftershock hits - super scary experience, but seeing a car in a hole down the end of your street? Insane!

When I got home I realised I couldn't get up the driveway. We live on a back section and our neighbours in fronts chimney had smashed all over the driveway. I parked and bolted up the drive and into the house and ran to the bathroom. Best pee ever. Then I walked back into my lounge and realised what a mess I'd come home to. The power was off, and so was the water.

Our fridge tried to get over to the stove.

I grabbed the dogs leads, and went outside and gave them huge pats and cuddles. Due to the damage in the kitchen I decided that going outside with them and talking to the neighbours would be a better option that sitting inside with no power or water and being alone. My neighbour in front appeared to be in shock, so I told him to hang on to the dogs while I went and got us some chairs and beers - of course, couldn't get into the kitchen to get beers, but did manage to grab chairs. When I came back out Dee was snuggling up to him and Reese was calmly lying at his feet. Animals make great stress / pat therapy.

We waited outside - it was very King of the Hill style, we had the dogs, deckchairs and some booze. My other neighbour tuned up and she bought out her radio. We sat listening in shock. And then we smelt something burning. We found out later that the CTV building had collapsed and was on fire. At the end of my street is one of the main ways to get further into the eastern suburbs. Traffic was bumper to bumper. I managed to get onto facebook a couple of times to post status updates...

'There's dust and silt everywhere a o'

'I'm ok, andrew too mum text me but no response from her traffic jammed dogs ok house trashed but not damaged'

'I can do status updates but not see replies. Still shaking neighbors gave me a coke but other neighbors chimney is all over my drive'

Andrew finally got home, and blocked off the kitchen so we could leave the dogs in the house. I went for a short walk around the block and the shops on Linwood Avenue looked like this. I hoped like hell they got out of that block of shops, especially the people who worked in the fish and chip shop on the end.

We spent half the night in the lounge lying on the couches, listening to the radio in the dark.Our cellphones ran out of juice and the laptop went flat. We had no idea what had happened in the central city and still didn't know if all of our friends were okay.

'Still no power/water in my hood. We're on our wAy to qt's house with our dogs, thanks guys. Ps all wedding whitebait is being eaten as it's defrosting. Stink.'

Our best friends Q&T had picked up their dogs and headed off to the coast - so they offered us their house. The drive out to our seemed to take ages. Once there it was a relief to have a shower, and check my bruises...


The portal to hell in my leg.

Phones charged, messages started coming through.. I could finally see on the TV what had happened to my beautiful city - on facebook I was sharing photos of the missing - some of them had died. And I finally heard that my friends were all okay - including the ones that worked at the Christchurch Press - that partially collapsed during the quake.

It was an incredibly surreal experience. I learnt a lot about myself - that in a crisis, I can keep my head and focus on what I need to do, and I am good at helping others to try and be calm. I am a lot stronger than I think. That empathy for others is not a weakness but a strength, that there is nothing wrong with doing what you need to do and if tears are streaming down your face, so fucking what. 

I feel incredibly blessed that my friends and family made it through this horrible experience. I am sure some of them saw some horrifying things. 

I stood in Hagley Park yesterday, with my workmates, and the people of Christchurch. I listened as the names of the deceased were read. Tears streamed down my cheeks - I recognised the names of the ones I had shared on my facebook page when they were only missing - and those tears kept coming during our two minutes of silence.

We will never forget.

For more reading about that day as seen through others eyes you can read these blogs:

ThriftyGifty - my beautiful friend Alyna

Knotty - My friend Ian - his wife Sarah (my friend) worked in the Press building and I was terrified she was injured or gone.


thifty said...

good on you for writing it down, know its not the easiest thing, has taken me a year to do it! xx

Miss Directions said...

Thank you for sharing your experience xx