In my corner of the world, today is the first Saturday in September, a day I will never forget. It is the beginning of spring.
Two years ago residents of my city, Christchurch, and surrounding areas were violently woken at 4.35am by a 7.1 earthquake, the first of thousands of quakes to follow in the next two years. It was the first time the city had ever really cared about earthquakes, because it wasn’t known to be an area at risk. Now we are obsessed by them, but trying to rebuild and slowly move on.
That morning I woke and immediately tried to get out of bed and race for the doorway. It was only a matter of metres to run but between cupboard doors swinging wildly and the bed being tossed and turned, it wasn’t an easy pathway to tread. I got there and hung onto the door frame for dear life. It was beyond anything I had ever imagined and I wondered how the ground could possibly move that much. I was terrified.
By the time the shaking stopped, power and phone lines were down. A few minutes later I got a call on my mobile phone, from my sister-in-law. We were both terrified and needed to know everyone was okay. Amazingly there was no visible (once it got light) damage to my house. That was too come in the months ahead. But everything had fallen off its perch, the television had taken its first of many dives onto the floor (it’s now been replaced), and my cat, Penny was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t appear for a day and eventually I found her, also terrified, hiding under the bed.
The daylight broke eventually into a beautiful spring day. Blue skies, calm and warm. It was in stark contrast to the events of several hours earlier. I have noticed that same beautiful spring weather over the past couple of days and actually the beauty of it takes away the horror of the morning. Somehow thankfully, I have a better connection in my mind with the beautiful weather, than the terror.
I tried to head to my parents home to make sure they were okay but even my car had responded to the quake and the battery was dead. Was this coincidence or not? I have no idea. It wasn’t an old battery and there was no other reason why it should have drained. But now I was car-less and new batteries were hardly on anyone’s list of priorities that morning. Eventually I got a lift over to where I was going and it was incredible to see whole street frontages of buildings having collapsed onto the road. In Christchurch we grew to be used to destruction like this, but that day it was all brand new and it completely blew me away.
My parents were fine although they had a lot of breakages. We worked to put their place back together again, with no idea that we would repeat this exercise over and over again in the next five months, until the building was so badly damaged that we couldn’t go back in.
That afternoon, back at home, I walked down the road to the nearby Avon River (which flows through the city). The river itself was a milky colour. Almost like a milk tanker had tipped in its load. It didn’t look right at all, but was a sign of the silt that raised from the earth below into the river. That silt was something we became very used to. Called liquefaction. It wasn’t just the river, but land for miles was almost drowned in the stuff and residents had to work hard to clean it up before it set solid. Liquefaction is something I had never heard of, but was a repeated problem every time there was a big quake in the years since.
I’ve written about the quakes before but the reason I write today is to mark the anniversary (actually on 4 September) but to also note that finally the ground seems to be quieting down. Three days ago it was reported that we hadn’t had a quake (that could be felt by humans) for eight days. Wow! This is really big news for us because the quakes have been rolling constantly for the two years. To finally go that long without them is a very great gift to us all. I’ve just checked, and I don’t think we have had any since that news report, which would take it to eleven days. There have been small shakes (under 3 on the Richter scale) but that is all. Of course we all are reluctant to tempt fate by celebrating this quieting down of the ground. But maybe it is coming to an end for now.
It has been a heck of a two years. Constantly alert for quakes. There have been over 11,700 quakes in that time and most of those have been very shallow and centred very close to the city. There has been much loss, and for me aside from a very badly damaged house, my father died as a result of the stress of the quakes. Many people have suffered badly in terms of both physical and mental health. While I have been fortunate that my mental health wasn’t affected ( and that in itself is a miracle), my fibromyalgia has been put down to being a result of trauma from the quakes. I am not alone. Many people continue to suffer.
I love spring. I think it is my favourite season because I love to see the new growth, the warmer weather, the city filled with golden daffodils. I love that my daphne bush in the garden is flowering. It just makes me feel better after a long winter in a damaged home. Here in Christchurch we have a long way to go in repair and rebuilding, but perhaps now that we see the quakes dying down, and winter is over, we can begin to have hope again for restoring life.
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
- Christchurch quake-free for eight days (stuff.co.nz)
- Land woes ‘harming mental health’ (stuff.co.nz)
- Residents link health problems to silt (stuff.co.nz)
- Reality… 10,000+ Earthquakes And Counting (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Kia Kaha (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- ‘Normal’ Coveted In Christchurch (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)