Remembering the June 2011 Christchurch Quake

Today marks the fifth anniversary of two strong quakes that shook the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. On June 13, 2011, a 5.7-magnitude quake was followed by a 6.3 quake only a few hours later.

After a long string of quakes and aftershocks that had riddled our existence for nine months, it wasn't surprising that many of us were nonchalant about the events of that day, but as I look back at it now and realize how fortunate I was.

The week prior, I was rudely awoken by a 4.5-magnitude quake. I was still in bed enjoying my sleep-in on the public holiday (Queen's Birthday).  I just rolled over and couldn't be bothered getting out of bed.  It was too cold.  My son (9-years-old at the time) came into my room and stood in the doorway holding his cuddle buddy (a pillow filled with microbeds that is really smushy).  I asked him if he was okay.

"I'll be fine, mom, as long as I have my cuddle buddy.  Can I have oatmeal for breakfast?"  At least he had his priorities straight.

On June 13, 2011, when the first quake hit (the 5.7), I was at work on the 8th floor of the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Canterbury.  I got off my chair and knelt in front of the computer, holding the monitor. I didn't bother getting under my desk.  I just didn't want to be sitting on a chair with roller wheels.  As soon as it finished, I logged off the computer I was working on and grabbed my laptop, power supply and research notes.  I then went next door to my office, shoved everything in my bag, grabbed my jacket and keys, then left the building.  I took my dear sweet time during this whole process and I wasn't the only one. The entire office was taking their time to pack our bags and whatever research notes needed to work from home.  Meanwhile, the sirens were blaring, telling us to evacuate.  You can tell that we'd been through all this before.  And after the February 2011 quakes, it took six weeks before we were granted access to the building again.

After the February quakes, the University of Canterbury had adopted the policy that any quake over a 5.0 was an instant evacuation of the entire campus until they could assess the main buildings. After the 5.7 quake hit in June 2011, I didn't bother sticking around, I just headed home.

The 6.3 hit a couple hours later while I was on the bus.  That was a new experience for me.  At first, I thought we had gone over a new bump in the road, but then the bus stopped and swayed sideways.  I looked out the window and saw some high school students holding onto the poles on the side of the road and the fences rippling.

"Oh, it's actually an earthquake," I thought.

Then the panicked comments of some of the other passengers squealed out. "We're going to tip."

Thank goodness one of the high school students actually paid attention in class and was able to be the voice of reason. "We are not going to tip over.  Buses are designed with all the weight at the bottom and with the bus being filled with people, we're weighing it down.  It would take at least a 10 to tip us over, and in a 10 all the buildings around us would be falling down anyway, so us tipping over would be the least of our concerns." Well done, kid, whoever you were.

But my adventures of June 13, 2011 were only just starting.

My lounge after the 6.3 on Monday 13 June. At least the TV still worked. The neighbour's daughter was the child in the photo.

My lounge after the 6.3 on Monday 13 June. At least the TV still worked. The neighbour's daughter was the child in the photo.

My husband was home from work that day, staying with our daughter who was extremely ill, vomiting constantly and running a temperature of 40 degC + (104 degF +). When I arrived home after my very long bust trip, he was just leaving to take our daughter back to the doctor's for a followup assessment. I took over for the neighbour who was looking after our son and began the photo taking task and the clean up.  (You could tell that we'd been through the process of quakes before, knowing exactly what we needed to do for the insurance.)

My husband came home with a referral to the Pediatric unit at the hospital.  "Crap," I muttered as I started backing an overnight bag.  The neighbour took our son, and my husband and I took our daughter into the city.  With the quake, we had no idea how close we would be able to get to the hospital, but thankfully because I worked there in one of the research units, I had access to the back entrance, not that it did us any good. Because of the quakes, my daughter had to be triaged in Accident & Emergency; no standard admissions were being processed. It was the first time I had ever been in that part of the hospital. Definitely an interesting experience.

My daughter in the hospital on June 13, 2011. She hated having the IV shunt in her hand, but we had no idea what was happening.

My daughter in the hospital on June 13, 2011. She hated having the IV shunt in her hand, but we had no idea what was happening.

Our daughter was admitted to hospital overnight for observation. It was touch and go, with her fever spiking to 41 degC (106 degF); the doctor wondered if she was experiencing the early signs of appendicitis. Thankfully that wasn't the case.

But if you ask her for her story about the June 2011 quake, she'll tell you about the aftershock we experienced while in the hospital. It hit at about midnight. She woke up screaming and tried to bolt for the door, but got her foot caught in the bed sheets and she fell head first out of the bed. Five years later, and that's what she remembers.

In all of this chaos, there was a little detail that I knew nothing about, not until some weeks later when we were finally allowed back into the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Canterbury. Across the pathway was the Physical Sciences Library building. On the side of that building were concrete facade slabs which came crashing down to the ground during the 6.3 quake on June 13, 2011. Across the courtyard was the Eskrine Mathematics Building, which also had some bits fall down to the ground. On the way home, I always walked between the two buildings. When leaving the campus that day, that's the way I had walked. I had no idea how lucky I had really been.

Five years later and Christchurch is still suffering from quakes. We had a 5.7 not that long ago, and my house, yet again, is in need of repairs as a result. It's just a part of our lives now. As each year passes, I wonder what other surprises nature has in store for us. Regardless, I know I'll get through. We all will.


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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

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