The low rumble barely registered in her subconscious. The small shakes of the bed were enough to pull her from her sleep.
“Great,” she mumbled. “Gijs is having another asthma attack.”
With a sudden jolt, the bed jumped across the floor and banged into the wall. The teddy bears and dolls tumbled through the air.
Her eyes flew open, able to see clearly in the darkened room. The roar filled the ears and the walls moved sideways. Beside her, her husband snorted.
“My god, he’s still asleep!” She swung her arm out as hard as she could on the bucking bed and hit him in his stomach.
“What… What is—”
“It’s an earthquake!” she screamed. “Get Christabel. I’ll get Anthony.”
With the heart racing in her chest, she sprang out from under the covers, only to be tossed into the walls. Her husband disappeared into her daughter’s room; the door slammed behind him. Meanwhile, she braced herself in the doorway of her son’s room.
“Grab my hand!” She reached in as far as she could toward her screaming son. The floor continued to buck and roll. “Reach for my hand!”
His small fingers brushed against hers and she yanked him toward her. She crouched down with her feet pressed against one side of the door frame, her hand outstretched for support. Her back pressed against the other side, her nine-year-old son cradled against her chest.
A lull in the waves came and her daughter’s door flew open. Her husband braced himself just in time, her daughter in his arms.
Adrenaline pumped as the children continued to scream. From one roll and into the next, for fifteen minutes the world shook and it felt like it would never end.
On September 4, 2010, at 4:35am, a 7.1 earthquake struck Canterbury, New Zealand. While the initial quake lasted for only 40 seconds, the wave of aftershocks lasted for over 30 minutes. It wasn’t until nearly 45 minutes later that the quake strengths had diminished to a point that residents felt safe enough to come out of their hiding spots, and even then it was for a short duration of time.
The epicentre of that initial quake was only 38 km (23.6 miles) from the centre of Christchurch, but struck at a depth of 11 km (6.8 miles). It was a fault system that geologists knew nothing about — until it let go.
Although it was still night, and the power was now out, there was no way any of them were going back to sleep. The torches were buried under a pile of books that cascaded across the floor in the lounge. The only light available was the LED on the cellphone.
She made her way into the back corner of the kitchen. “Wow… No glass on the ground. Nothing fell off the counters.”
She pulled down the battery operated LED candles and set them up in the hall where her husband sat with her children. Staring at the changing red and blue lights, they were finally able to close their eyes.
Her husband lifted their daughter to the large queen-sized bed. She tucked her son in next to the sleeping girl, then climbed in next to him and held her children close. Meanwhile, her husband held her hand and never once let go.
While many of the buildings suffered severe damage as a result of the quake on September 4, by some miracle there were no fatalities. However, the same can’t be said for the major aftershock that struck the city on February 22, 2011.
“Just one more read through to ensure it’s ready to send,” she said to herself as she scanned the email. Every word needed to be right. She didn’t want the client to fire back another slew of questions.
Her son’s barking cough distracted her. “Ooo… Banana…” He hit the buttons on the N64 controller, determined to beat up the latest string of bad guys. He coughed again before resuming his battle with the Beavers. At least the N64 was keeping the sick child out of her hair for a while.
The blinds began to sway, banging against the windows.
“Great,” she muttered. “Another aftershock. When will we—”
The windows rattled and the house groaned. The walls rippled and the chair jumped. Her son screamed and ran for the hall doorway, meanwhile, she bolted under the table and clung to the leg support as the table bucked across the floor. She screamed as the books cascaded out of the bookshelf and tumbled around her. From around the corner, her son’s shrills were barely audible among the thunderous roar of the Earth.
The lull in the wave came and she reached up to the laptop, unplugged it and pulled it under the table with her. Then she called out to her son. “Anthony, are you okay?”
“I think so.”
She couldn’t see him, but she could imagine that his knuckles were white as he clung to the door frame.
An aftershock forced them to scream again. Her heart pounded in her chest.
She looked at the mess in the kitchen. “Well, there’s something. With all the dishes smashed into pieces, I don’t need to clean them.”
Slowly, she crawled out from under the table and went to her son, holding him close. “It’s over, bud. Now we have work to do. Grab the camera and start taking photos for the insurance. Remember to take photos of everything. Meanwhile, I’ll get the switches and the gas. When we’re done securing the house, we’ll head to the school and get your sister.”
He just nodded and grabbed the camera from the pile on the floor, then started taking his snapshots.
When they arrived at the school thirty minutes later, her daughter and the neighbour’s daughter run up to her and clung to her sides like their lives depended on it.
On February 22, 2011, at 12:51pm, a 6.3 magnitude quake hit. The epicentre was only 10 km (6 miles) from the centre of Christchurch and at a depth of 5 km (3.1 miles). While the quake was not as strong as the September quake, the surface effect forces were far greater. The simultaneous vertical and horizontal ground movement was near impossible for buildings to survive. An already quake-crippled city was decimated.
185 people from more than 20 different countries died that day. Over half of the deaths occurred in the 6-story Canterbury Television (CTV) building, which not only collapsed, but caught fire in the quake. Elsewhere in the city, masonry fell on a public bus as the PGC House collapsed. The spire of the Christchurch Cathedral fell and spilt into the Square and historic buildings fell into the streets.
In Lyttleton, only 2 km (1.2 miles) from the epicentre, rockfalls cascaded into the streets, taking out buildings and homes along the way. In Sumner, the notable landmark of Shag Rock was reduced to half its height.
Whole suburbs throughout Christchurch were under a sea of liquefaction. 80% of the water and sewerage infrastructure was severely damaged.
The city of Christchurch, and the Canterbury greater region, would never be the same.
Over 45% of the buildings located in the central city needed to be demolished, and a whole suburbs on the eastern side of the city needed to be abandoned. The bridges that cross the Avon River were closed, cutting off access to parts of the city and Avonside Drive (the road that follows the Avon River through the city) has been affectionately dubbed Roller-coaster Road.
Nearly 5 years on, and Christchurch is still recovering. Abandoned homes in some parts still require demolition and roads throughout the eastern suburbs are still a cheap roller-coaster and destroyers of car suspension. Whole sections of the central city are still cordoned off and, for the first time ever, parking in the central city is not a problem.
But residents of Christchurch are looking forward to the future. While we have lost a significant portion of our heritage, this is our chance to start anew.
Christchurch will return strong.
Other Christchurch writers who also remember that date from five years ago are as follows:
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2015