Let them be scared

I’ve been completely absorbed by the earthquake news coming out of New Zealand, like news of the three cows marooned on a tiny island of pasture:


I am amazed by how much damage there is in Wellington given how far away it is from the quake’s epicentre – some 400km. I’m equally amazed by how well Christchurch did given it is <100km from the epicentre. Wellington has fault lines running right beneath the city that can produce earthquakes of similar size. If an earthquake 400km away can do this much damage, what will happen when the fault beneath the city ruptures. Is it better to be ignorant and pretend to yourself it will never happen? After all, what can you do? It’s not possible to move an entire city … or is it? At the very least, parliament should not be in Wellington. During times of national disaster a quick, calm, and responsive government can make a huge difference but if our leaders are trapped or dead then that card cannot be played.

Wellington should not have any buildings higher than two storeys. The city should also have a tsunami wall (maybe it already does? I have no idea). Everyone who lives there should be forced to secure their furniture. If they haven’t then insurance companies should refuse to insure them until they do. It seems drastic to have to do it but people will not bother until after the event by which time it is too late.

By contrast I’m amazed by how well Christchurch performed. This was a huge, shallow earthquake less than 100km away. As far as I’m aware there’s very little damage there, if any. Hanmer Springs also seemed to do very well and it is practically on top of the fault. Hanmer Springs is a lovely little town in Canterbury with hot springs. We went there several times, including a couple of times for some respite from aftershocks in Christchurch. All the buildings there are either single- or double storey only and made from timber.

Today I read a great article from a New Zealand-based psychotherapist about being scared and it rings so true for me. It’s ok to be scared. In fact, I would say it’s normal. We’ve evolved this way to keep ourselves safe. If you know someone who is affected by earthquakes and struggling to cope then the best thing you can do is let them talk and listen. Here’s a quote from the article:

The first thing we can do is let them be scared, let them express themselves, and not talk about the need for “resilience.”

No one wants to feel afraid, but it is also an incredibly useful emotion. It makes us listen to Tsunami warnings, make choices to move to safety and protect our loved ones. It also brings us together.

It also motivates us to secure our furniture and mitigate risks which could, one day, save our lives.

11 thoughts on “Let them be scared”

    1. It does feel personal when you’ve seen and been to the places affected. We have been to Kaikoura lots of times and driven along that road by the sea that is now trashed.

  1. Are you able to watch Grand Designs NZ from Scotland? It’s on TV3 OnDemand.
    The final episode of this season featured a house being built in Christchurch by a couple who are horrified by all the new buildings being built to “just meet” code (see the recently completed Stats House as an example).
    Their house looked amazing, had fabulous insulation, independent power & (most importantly) is designed to flex & move when ‘quakes hit. It was built in 2 months & was untouched by the movement this week.
    One question that’s been burning in my mind; how does the movement of the land affect property boundaries? Thoughts?

    1. I just had a look and sadly it is not available. Is it this episode – http://www.3now.co.nz/shows/grand-designs-new-zealand/season-2-ep-8/117967/M10921-794 ?

      I’ll see whether I can watch it some other way. It sounds really interesting.

      It’s hard to believe all the damaged buildings in Wellington meet the code at all, even if only just. Meeting the code should mean they can withstand a 7.8M earthquake in the city, not 400km away. Sure, I’ll accept that meeting the code doesn’t mean the building survives in the long run, just that it doesn’t collapse and kill anyone. But the fact that it hasn’t even survived in the long run for an earthquake so far away doesn’t give much confidence to the standard it was built to.

      Regarding changes to property boundaries – I hadn’t thought about that before. I know fences have shifted several metres. I suppose a surveyor will have to go in an redefine those boundaries again. Presumably the amount of area you own will stay the same – you would just need to rebuild the fence.

      1. Yes, that’s the episode; well worth a watch if you can.

        I totally agree about the buildings in Wellington (& all over NZ!!!). It’s disgraceful that New Zealanders seem to plan (I use the term loosely) & build with a ‘short-term, best case’ attitude that revolves around doing it as cheap (& usually as ugly) as possible! The majority of houses built since the 2012 earthquake have concrete slab foundations (which crack & split in moderate, let alone severe ‘quakes, leaving major structural damage including collapsed roofs & ruptured pipes), many have brick exteriors (they have a tendency to fall in or out as a huge slab) & ALL (except the house on Grand Designs 😉 ) are reliant on grid electricity for heating!

        Sorry! Rant over. 🙂

        Have you been onto allright.org.nz ? It’s a fabulous resource for those who’ve gone through the trauma of the earthquakes.

        Take care,

  2. I’m afraid I think the reason Christchurch fared relatively well will be because anything fragile would have come down in previous earthquakes there.

  3. I remember helping my daughter with GCSE Geography and looking at pictures of earthquake proofing, and thinking about your experiences. I don’t think people and organisations and governments always think about the “human factor” in earthquake protection ie making people do the boring things we never get round to doing. It’s very sensible to think about how we make people prioritise eg with their furniture.

    1. Securing furniture is such a simple and easy thing to do and it can save lives. Two babies died in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake when televisions fell on top of them. They were lying on the floor and the TVs toppled over and killed them. It was so sad. And yet still people don’t bother to do it.

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