Misinformed Fathers and Aftershocks…

She sat at the dining room table staring at the laptop. The nerves were shot and she wasn't getting much sleep, but one thing was helping with her mental sanity — her writing. Ironically, the anxiety brought on by the quaky earth fueled the tension of her story.

During the February quake, the tower fell forward, taking the telescope with it. (Photo taken by a member of the Civil Defence Rescue Team soon after the February quake.)

During the February quake, the tower of Townsend Observatory fell forward, taking the telescope with it. (Photo taken by a member of the Civil Defence Rescue Team soon after the February quake.)

Her cell phone chimed. It was a message from her father. "Don't worry about clean up at work. It's in the street." Her jaw dropped. Without pause, she flicked over to her web browser and brought up the University of Canterbury website, searching for signs of what her father was talking about. Her heart raced out of control with worry for her colleagues. While she had been working from home when the quake hit, she had been in email communication with those in the lab. She was afraid that one of them had died and she didn't know.

Sprawled across the university's home page was a statement that the buildings, for the most part, were relatively unscathed, but full assessment had yet to be conducted. She looked between the txt message on her cell phone and the contradictory information on her computer screen, confused. She searched every site she could think of to find information as to what her father was talking about. Nothing.

Frowning, she dialed her father on the landline. "Dad, what are you talking about?"

"The Physics and Astronomy building is in the street. The tower is just a pile of rubble."

"Tower? What tower?"

"The astronomy tower with the telescope."

She scratched her head, her eyebrows furrowed. "Dad, there isn't a tower on the Physics and Astronomy building."

"Now that doesn't make sense. The flyovers of the CBD—"

"The CBD?! Oh my god, Dad, that's not the university. That's the Arts Centre. Those buildings haven't been used as university buildings since the 1960s."

"Really?" he asked. "But the news said that those buildings were Canterbury University where Rutherford studied."

"Exactly." She had to force herself to take a deep breath while she tried to explain it in such a way that she didn't take his head off for sending her into a panic. "The Arts Centre is in the buildings that were once Canterbury College where Sir Ernest Rutherford performed his experiments that split the atom. The University of Canterbury is now located in Ilam, not in the CBD."

She hung her head and closed her eyes. She wanted to strangle him. His heart was in the right place, she knew that — he was trying to make light of a difficult situation — but must he really give her a heart attack of worry. "Can I make a suggestion?"

"What's that?"

"I love you lots, Dad, but actually call next time, not just send a txt message. It would be much easier for me to clarify what you're seeing on the news."


My family on Graduation Day (December 2009). I was awarded a PhD in Astronomy, so it was perfectly fitting to take this photo in front of Townsend Observatory. I'm so glad I go this photo, because the observatory no long exists.

My family on Graduation Day (December 2009). I was awarded a PhD in Astronomy, so it was perfectly fitting to take this photo in front of Townsend Observatory. I'm so glad I got this photo, because the observatory no longer exists.

At the time of the February quake in 2011, I was a post-doctoral research fellow with the MARS Imaging Research Group, based out of the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Canterbury. My father knew this. In my father's ignorance, he had confused the Townsend Observatory, part of Christchurch Arts Centre, with the building where I worked. It was still heartbreaking to hear that the historic dome and telescope were now rubble, but it was a relief to learn that all of my colleagues were safe and well, even if shaken.

During the September 2010 quake, the tower structure of Townsend Observatory was severely damaged, cracking throughout the building. On February 22, 2011, the tower fell forward into the courtyard, bringing down the 115-year-old telescope with it. Miraculously, the lens of the telescope survived. Thanks to the generosity of UC Alumnus Professor David Teece and his family, the telescope will be restored.

To get more information about the restoration project of the Townsend Teece Telescope, visit www.telescope.org.nz or their Facebook page.


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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Posted in Earthquakes, Personal Favourites, Remembrance and tagged , , , , , .

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