Tomorrow is the 22nd of February, 2012. This marks the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake that killed more than 180 people. I don’t want to give a definitive number for the number of people who died in this earthquake because there are some who believe the number to be higher than the official figure which is currently 185. There are people who died from stress-induced heart attacks and strokes in the weeks and months following the earthquake. They are victims of the event on February 22nd, 2011, too.
Here is my version of that day.
Daniel was attending afternoon kindergarten on Tuesday afternoons. The session began at 12:45pm and we had just arrived at kindy when the 12:51pm quake hit. We were inside the single-storey building, less than two metres from the doorway to the office. Daniel was holding my right hand and I was carrying Elizabeth with my left arm.
Every earthquake is different and it’s not always clear from the outset whether they’re going to be big or small or medium-sized. In the brief second that I knew it was another aftershock, I scanned the room for somewhere to take cover. The doorway was our closest option so I turned towards it. Then quite suddenly the earthquake was huge and we did not get to walk/run to the doorway but rather were thrown into it in a diagonal upwards motion, banging the frame itself then collapsing onto the floor. We waited on the floor for the waves to subside. I can remember seeing a large, photocopying machine waltz past us. The quake gradually petered off and when I felt it was safe to stand up and walk outside, we did. Elizabeth and Daniel were both crying.
Parents of other children at the kindergarten appeared very quickly and looked anxious until they saw their child was safe and unharmed. There were no deaths at the kindergarten and any injuries that occurred were minor. I had an “egg” on my wrist where it banged the doorframe. It was very fortunate that my wrist took the brunt of the force and not Elizabeth’s head.
The head teacher had been in the office during the quake and saw us hit the doorframe so she came outside to check on us. She offered to call an ambulance. At first I said yes, please because I could not see how Elizabeth could have escaped unharmed. The phones were down though which is just as well since Elizabeth turned out to be fine and I’d have felt terrible calling an ambulance away from someone who really did need one. At this point, we didn’t know how bad things were.
Eventually we made our way home. One of the larger aftershocks hit while we were walking and I can remember crouching down to the ground with the children whilst nervously looking at the house beside us hoping there was no chimney or brick-work ready to come crashing down on top of us.
I was very worried about Ben since his office was on the 6th floor, but he allayed my fears with a text message saying he was fine and on his way home.
There was liquefaction on the streets around our house as well as in our front yard and there was a collapsed garage at a house nearby. Our front driveway was covered in silt and water was bubbling out of the ground. We went straight to our back yard. I wasn’t ready to go inside the house but I peered in through the windows and could see it was a mess. There was glass all over the kitchen floor and our fridge had gone for a walk. I did not want to take the children inside.
Ben arrived home quickly thanks to his bicycle. The traffic was bad that day and anyone going by car spent a great deal of time in traffic not going anywhere.
We made the decision very quickly to leave for Dunedin where my mother-in-law lives. We packed the car with clothes, children and dogs and left without cleaning up the mess inside. We were lucky that we were able to leave the city that day and that the roads and bridges we needed were still intact and that we had somewhere to go.
We travelled north first and then west and finally south, to avoid the traffic and congestion around the CBD and then drove almost non-stop to Dunedin, passing a stream of cars going the other way. They would have been police, firemen and many other brave souls mobilized to help the rescue effort. We arrived in Dunedin some time around 11pm that night.
I’ve dug up this old photo of my “war wound”, taken a day or two after the earthquake. It doesn’t look that bad, except when I think that it might have been Elizabeth’s head instead.