September 4th 2010

It is now one year since the September 4th Canterbury earthquake. Here’s my account of that event.

Ben and I were fast asleep in bed at 4.35am that Saturday morning. In an instant we were awake and leaping out of bed. My thoughts were with our chimney which was in a crumbling state of disrepair directly above the roof over our bed. We had plans to remove it because we felt it was an earthquake hazard. The earthquake beat us to it.

Elizabeth was 8 months at the time and asleep next to us. I grabbed her and made my way to Daniel’s bedroom. I ran into something. Looking back I think it must have been our bedroom door which was no doubt swinging on its hinge. It was pitch black so I couldn’t see. I can remember thinking, oh my god, I can’t walk so I got down to the ground and crawled along the floor. As well as the thundering grinding of rocks beneath us I could hear things smashing in our house.

The official recommendation for what to do during an earthquake according to the Earthquake Commission is to Move no more than a few steps to a safe place, drop, cover, and hold on. Having experienced quite a few earthquakes now I can say that this is sound advice. But in reality it’s very hard to obey. If you have a child asleep in the next room, you instinctively want to get to them no matter how hard or dangerous it might be. I imagine that if you’re inside a building, you would instinctively try to run outside even though they say this is the most dangerous thing you can do. 

I didn’t know the official advice back then anyway so I tried to get to Daniel’s bedroom and eventually made it. Daniel was still asleep. By now the earthquake was starting to subside. They don’t stop quite as suddenly as they start. There tends to be a tapering off of the waves kind of like ripples in a pond. I pulled him out of bed and the four of us sat in the doorway to his bedroom until it was completely over. By this stage Elizabeth and Daniel were both crying. 

This was my first earthquake ever. I always new living in New Zealand I would eventually experience an earthquake. I asked Ben whether it was a big one and he said he thought it was pretty big. We had assembled our emergency supply kit earlier that year – torch, radio, food and water. Finding the torch and radio in the dark proved quite a challenge though. Ben went off in search of the torch while I tried to comfort the kids. It was at this stage I felt something warm and sticky trickling down my face. Blood. It turned out to be a minor wound which healed quickly.

No-one ever told me about the aftershocks and they came big and frequently in that first 24 hours. The first five hours went like this:

7.1M, depth: 11km 4/9/2010 04:35
5.6M, depth: 10km 4/9/2010 04:56
4.7M, depth: 10km 4/9/2010 05:06
4.7M, depth: 7km 4/9/2010 05:26
4.4M, depth: 11km 4/9/2010 05:38
4.3M, depth: 15km 4/9/2010 05:46
4.6M, depth: 3km 4/9/2010 05:55
4.5M, depth: 3km 4/9/2010 06:01
4.1M, depth: 24km 4/9/2010 06:04
4M, depth: 9km 4/9/2010 06:07
4.1M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 06:15
4.3M, depth: 16km 4/9/2010 06:17
4.5M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 06:18
4M, depth: 6km 4/9/2010 06:24
4.2M, depth: 7km 4/9/2010 06:33
3.9M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 06:54
3.9M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 06:54
4.3M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 07:04
4.8M, depth: 11km 4/9/2010 07:07
4.6M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 07:13
3.6M, depth: 19km 4/9/2010 07:21
4M, depth: 9km 4/9/2010 07:52
5.1M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 07:56
5M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 08:15
3.3M, depth: 7km 4/9/2010 08:51
3.3M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 09:11
3.9M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 09:21
3.1M, depth: 5km 4/9/2010 09:31
They continued in much the same manner throughout the day. The first week of aftershocks was the worst and in that first week, Monday night of 6th of September (a year ago today) was awful. It went like this:
5.1M, depth: 10km 6/9/2010 23:24
4.8M, depth: 5km 6/9/2010 23:24
4.5M, depth: 6km 6/9/2010 23:25
5.4M, depth: 6km 6/9/2010 23:40
4.2M, depth: 7km 6/9/2010 23:54
4.6M, depth: 10km 7/9/2010 00:21
I didn’t sleep at all that night and by Tuesday was looking and feeling very worn and haggard. Tuesday night came and I was desperate for some relief so I suggested to Ben that we sleep in the car. He was not very enthusiastic but being the very considerate fellow that he is, agreed. So that night the 6 of us (two dogs included) slept in our Honda Odyssey. It was very cramped and very cold as temperatures in Christchurch at that time last year were bordering around zero degrees outside overnight. But I felt relaxed enough to fall asleep. I can remember the feeling now and it was glorious. The next morning I went inside the house all refreshed just in time for the Mag. 5.0 at 7.49am just under Lyttleton. Although we had had countless aftershock already, this was the first of many centered right beneath the city. All the others had been west of Christchurch, some 20-30km away. This makes a huge difference.
There were no fatalities in the September earthquake. One gentleman was seriously injured by a chimney falling into his bedroom. He eventually made a full recovery. There was a marked increase in heart attacks however so it’s not entirely accurate to say there were no fatalities. These people were victims of the earthquake.


We lost power and most water pressure that first day and were told not to flush the toilets. Our power supply resumed the same day in the afternoon and our water was back on around lunch time. The chimney above our bed fell onto the roof but did not crash through it thanks to our steel roof. Our second chimney suffered structural damage and was removed within the first week. Here’s the second chimney:


After that first earthquake, the mood in Christchurch was almost joyful, as though we’d had our big one and come through it remarkably well. I struggled with the aftershocks though and from about the first week after September 4th 2010, knew that I wanted and needed to live somewhere else.

4 responses to “September 4th 2010”

  1. Now that Miss "Talleyband", "hyperbowl", "highdungeon" Gillard is visiting your fair shores perhaps you'd like consider offering Christchurch as an off-shore processing centre for some of the 35 million economic refugees she's encouraged through yet another of her dud policies to come to Australia. According to to-day's The Press,"Christchurch's central business district is built largely on liquefaction-prone soil, making it "complex and challenging" to construct new quake-resistant buildings". While the city is in limbo you could help out your neighbours across the ditch. How about it?

  2. A really interesting account especially your reference to the noise. I hadn't even thought about that. Fingers crossed that you won't have to deal with volcanoes in your new place!! B

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