Monday, May 23, 2011

The Great Quakes

I have tried to write this post many times before.
(You can read my published post on the September quake here, and the February quake here.) The only photos I have included in this post are directly related to things I have mentioned and do not include any pictures of quake damage or suffering. To view these you can google them.

I finish it and get stuck, my limited writing abilities do not do my feelings and thoughts on this topic justice. So, for perhaps the last time, this may be my final attempt to convey everything inside my mind into letters and words.

I suppose the reason I want to write about it so desperately is because it has affected us all so much. People heal in different ways. Some bottle it up and ignore it (and I think I have been doing that so far) and others talk and talk and talk about it and dwell on it. Neither of these scenarios are great for healing a person, we need a healthy balance of both. So in an effort to convey what I think inside I am trying to write this blog post. I wish not to drag up the past for the sake of it, and I wish not to encourage you to continue to worry and stress.

Matthew 6:27 "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

The first thing to know is that in Christchurch where I live we have survived the effects of 2 very large earthquakes in the last year. The first was in September 2010 and it was magnitude 7.1. In hindsight, it was huge, however, I had only experience a few very minor earthquakes prior to that so really had nothing to compare it to. The quake happened at 4.35am on a Saturday morning when most of our citys residents were tucked up in their beds, resting for what was to be a beautiful weekend ahead. Lawns would have been mowed (ours still was), cars would have been washed, beach trips takens and shopping done at the mall. Unfortunately this is not the way the weekend played out as we were awaken from our sleeps.

Everyone has different recollections and experiences depending on where they lived, who they were with and the damage that was done. For Graeme and I, we were in bed in a deep sleep and we were both awoken at the same time by a loud rumble. It was so loud we both woke up, had time to sit up and glance at the window and then at each other and begin to say "what the...?" Because the rumble was so loud it honestly sounded like a freight train was about to crash into our bedroom. In fact, in those few moments I honestly thought something was about to hit our house. Whether a plane, a train or a truck. I also had a secondary thought that maybe the rugby stadium next to our house was being bombed.

I talk in moments because in a situation like that I had no perception of time. The earthquake felt like it lasted minutes, but it was only 40 seconds. It's amazing what can go through your head and what you can achieve in 40 seconds to make it feel like minutes. Just like a car crash, everything slows down and you can analyse it all.

Immediately after we questioned the great noise the earth started to move beneath us. We jumped out of our bed and ran to the doorway. I was trying to pull the handle open furiously while Graeme was pushing it shut. I was panicing and shouting "Jesus!", then I realised that Graeme was holding the door closed I yelled (or at least I think the words escaped my mouth, I'm not sure) "Let me out of here!". "Dressing gowns" was his only response, then I realised that we both had no clothes on. Those extra moments will teach us for sleeping in the nuddy. I made my way over to the wardrobe where things were falling out, I managed to get down our gowns and put them on, all while the ground rocked and swayed beneath us.

Once we were in the hallway, the light was on and our flatmates Cha and Josh were already in their doorways. Cha was on the floor and she looked sick. We braced ourselves and waited out the rest of the quake. After many large aftershocks we braved the shelter of the doorways and checked out the damage of the house. No major damage was had except for items off shelves and jars broken. Thank God.

You have to understand that because I had such limited experience in such events I really had no idea of the scale of it. I realise that now. I called my mum anyway and told her there had been an earthquake and not to worry. She was up (at 4.30 in the morning) already and had felt the quake on the other side of the South Island. I laugh at the thought now, but Graeme and I decided to go back to bed and get some sleep. We were so tired so cuddled and talked our way through the magnitude 4, 5 and 6 aftershocks that followed throughout the early hours of the morning. Graeme used his Iphone to contact the outside world and read constant updates and see photos that people posted online.

My sister in England skyped us later. It had been breaking news over there, and I was a little confused as to why. She said people were looting in the city centre and buildings had come down. I was surprised. It sounded like mayhem, yet all was well in our little household.

As the day progressed we learned the real state of things. Building and homes destroyed, power and water off, sewage leaking, liqufaction. Yet our little home had been set apart. I was so grateful.

No deaths. That was the big thing. Somehow, everyone escaped with their lives despite falling bricks and sinking homes. Everyone seemed to be praising our building code - saying if it wasn't for that, we could have been a repeat of Haiti. Others thanked God that it happened at 4.35 in the morning when most were sleeping, and not a few hours before when most would be partying in town, or later when everyone would be hitting the shops and public places on such a beautiful day. It really did seem unreal that we got off so "lightly". I know people lost their homes, and I know many people are still without a home and sewage from the initial September quake. But when I compare that with the value of a life, there is hardly any comparison. Perhaps my feelings would be different if it were my home in ruins.

The army was called in, our firefighter friend worked every hour for the following weeks, police cordons were set, schools were postponed and work was on hold. Families grew together and called each other, friends gathered together and churches prayed. Our city was spared.

The following Wednesday Graeme and many people from our immediate group of friends had gone back to work. We encountered a severe aftershock early in the morning and work was called off for the day. Friends gathered at our house where I cooked everyone a delicious breakfast. We talked, we laughed, we tried to forget our stresses. At some point it was decided that everyone would go to Nelson together. Good friends up their offered us accommodation and we gladly escaped the stress of it all. I remember Graeme texting his supervisor to say he was going to be away for a few days. He text back and said "Do what you have to mate, but remember you still have to come back and face it" Or something to that effect. I have remembered those words since then. We still have to face it and heal from it. We cannot ignore it and we cannot dwell on such things.

We had a great time in Nelson (I blogged about it here). I tell you this because that morning with all of my friends in our home, eating and sharing so early in the morning on such an unusual day was honestly one of the best moments that I experienced last year, probably one of the greatest ever. I felt like in those moments I got to know my friends on a whole new level.

Months passed, building were demolished, aftershocks continued. Cantabrians somehow became seismologists and could determine the magnitude of a quake. Sometimes it was even a game. "I bet that was a 5.1!" "No way, more like a 4.9"

In January an old friends parents came back to NewZealand and we met them for coffee. During it they asked us how we were coping with it all. I was quite stunned by the question and gave them a pretty tame answer off the top of my head. I had never really considered that the quakes might still be affecting me. I guess they were deep down, but not in my day to day life like other people.

The second largest quake happened on February 22, 2011, and it was a magnitude 6.3. Considerably smaller in magnitude than our September quake (of 7.1) but considerably more violent, sudden and damaging.


It was a good day for me. I had a call earlier that morning wanting me to come in to the city for an immediate job interview that afternoon, I was nervous and excited! I had showered and dressed for it, found bus money, and decided to make some pizza dough in the mean time to keep my mind busy. I was in the kitchen getting out bowls when I realised I didn't know the portions for the dough. I went down to our bedroom to google search a recipe and as I stood with my laptop propped up in my palm while typing with the other hand I was thrown sideways.

At 12.51pm Without any warning, with no rumble like previous earthquakes the ground had moved underneath my feet and I fell against our bed. My macbook had fallen out of my hands and had landed on the floor. As we had all become accustomed to waiting out so many aftershocks I took a moment to think "Is this a big one?" In other words, did I need to shelter? Or could I just ride it out? Instantly it was apparent that this was no ordinary aftershock. The house twisted and shook. Our TV stand is ontop of our dutchess and it came tumbling to the floor narrowly missing my ankles. I jumped up on our bed in response and braced myself in the corner of our room. The path to our door was blocked by our TV and their was no where else to go. There is a wooden shelf screwed high up into the wall in our room. I pressed the top of my head into it to try and keep myself balanced but it was not easy. Alarms were going off, dogs were barking and I could hear great booms above all of the noises our house was making. I kept my face from our large windows, they were shaking and rattling and seemed to be under so much pressure I thought they would explode. I didn't want glass in my eyes. The ceiling was twisting, I could see it changing shape, the corners were being pulled and it was moving from side to side. I pictured the roof caving in and random assortments of household items falling and buring me. I know the Mutus use their attic for storage but I had no idea what was up there. I picture crock pots knocking me out and blankets suffocating me. 

My thoughts turned to the little baby in my womb. We had only seen her in a scan the week before. She was so precious to us already, and even as I write this my eyes tear up. Very few people knew of her and I worried that if something happened to me they would not know of our little baby. I was not obviously pregnant and in those moments of the earthquake I glanced around for a vivid or a pen to write "pregnant" on myself. Now, without adrenaline, I wonder what I thought they could have done had they known that information. Maybe if something happened and I was buried under bricks they might prioritise my little girl. I think that's what I thought. 

I was terrified.

I yelled out to Jesus. I screamed at him actually. I was so full of fear and I had nothing else besides my Lord in those moment. I closed my eyes and yelled for him to help me, I was desperate and manners and politeness in prayers was not observed. Jesus says to call on him, so I did. I called. I yelled. "Help me! Everyone! Help" were among my prayers. I braved an opportunity and looked outside our window. The sun was shining and there was a dog in our neighbours back yard who was panicking. The dog was running around in circles and back and forward barking. She must have been calling on her maker too. Our neighbours home was still standing, the sky was bright and I could see that civilisation still existed. That brought me a tremendous amount of comfort. 

The initial quake dulled down and I was able to breath. My heart was pounding in my chest and I spoke to our baby "It will be fine. Don't worry" But really I think I was just trying to reasure myself. In the lull of the quake I jumped down off the bed and scrambled to find my cell phone which I thought was charging. I realised it was in my pocket as a violent aftershock hit and I resumed my brace position. I realised there was no rumble with this quake either so I figured we must be close to the epicenter, which later appeared to only be a few kilometers away.

As that aftershock finished I realised I had to get out of the house. I climbed over our TV and wrenched the door open. The hallway had broken glass down it and it was dark. I had bare feet on. I ran for the front door which was blocked so I made my way out the lounge door, pushing my clothes horse away from the exit. The place was a mess. My Mother In Law's vases and frames and adorments were scattered on the floor, some broken. 

I made it outside into the fresh air, pulled out my phone and began to text Graeme, my husband, who was working in Sydenham at the time. He responded immediately which was a moment of joy for me saying he was ok and he would be home soon and things were a mess (I think he said that, or perhaps he said that later in the afternoon). Either way, I was satisfied. I sat on the pavement and text my Mum to tell her I was okay and that phone lines would go down so not to call. Its funny how much you learn after months of earthquakes. I knew the phones would go down, so I was surprised when Graeme managed to received my text and contact back. After that I lost reception as expected and I turned my eyes to our little dead end street. Neighbours were gathering a few houses down. A builder working on a house there called out to me to see that I was okay since I was sitting my by myself on the sidewalk. "Holy Crap" was all I could respond. 
I was in shock. A neighbours brick fence had come down and the husband was covering his elderly wife on their veranda during each aftershock. I realised they might be worse off than me and I made my way across the street to see them. Another large aftershock hit and I grabbed onto the lampost to steady myself. It was a wooden one and I heard it crack. I looked up and saw the powerlines swaying then I heard rocks tumble off the hills behind their house. Clouds of dust rose and we all stood and stared. I called out to them and they called back. In shock. Everyone was. 

[The date and time are probably why this email didn't get sent from Graemes work outbox. Twitpic from Graemes Twitter.]

I walked down the the builder and my neighbours, none of whom I had ever met. One lady put her arm around me for a brief moment. While I had been stuck in our house, they had already started from house to house to check on everyone. A quick census told us that no one was hurt and our attention turned to the 3 burst water mains in our street. Two were in the pavement and one was in the road. The road main was gushing out water and the others were trickling. I resumed my spot on the pavement, staring at the road. Water began to fill our gutters. Opposite from us a house on an elevated ground had brown water gushing out of it. It gushed out so quickly it started to flood our street. The neighbours talked of people they knew who they hadn't heard from. There must be death, they kept saying. How could there not be?

I felt so lonely, so cut off from the world. I didn't know anything. I didn't know where my husband was or why he was taking so long, I didn't know what my friends were doing, I didn't hear from my family, I didn't know the magnitude of the quake and I didn't know the state of the city. I just knew it must be bad. I went back inside in between two aftershocks and retreived my laptop from our bedroom floor. It was getting cold and I had no shoes and socks on, I sat in a car in our driveway and tried to go online. No power = no internet I discovered. I tried to distract myself and read the introduction to a pdf book I had saved previously. A text came through from my friend Megan in Wellington asking if we were safe. To my surprise I was able to respond and asked her how big it was. She said 6.3. In those lonely hours she was my only point of contact and I am so grateful to her for that. 

Before long my Father In Law arrived home. He brought with him no news except that traffic was terrible. Later, my beloved Graeme arrived home. His car was covered in mud. He was quiet and looked tired. His eyes told me so much. We embraced and I asked how were things. He began to weep. It was bad. We sat on the steps outside and he told myself and his Dad how buildings had come down. Graeme and his work mates had rushed to their aid. They had worked inside the Tasty Tucker Bakery where Graeme usually bought his lunch from. Young and old had been trapped inside. Some with great blocks of concrete pining them to the ground. Graeme and the men from his work had smashed out windows and used boards as stretchers to pull people out. Graeme cried as he told us their stories. He looked exhausted and I silently asked what seeing those sights does to a person. We later learnt that two of the people from Tasty Tucker sadly passed away but the others they rescued survived. 

Graemes Dad had already begun cleaning up the kitchen - litterally sweeping everything out into bins. Everything was broken. He had also begun to dig a longdrop for us to use over the coming weeks. He was so quick to act. All I wanted to do was sit and feel sorry for ourselves. We were unprepared and needed gas and water so Graeme and I went out on a mission. Of course the petrol stations we needed were closed, traffic was almost gridlocked and the state of our neighbourhood was a mess. We laughed at all the dirtbikes that were out taking advantage of the liqufaction. I felt sorry for the business women still walking home hours later with their highheels and briefcase in their hands and their legs and hoisery covered in mud. We returned home and had to park at the top of the street and take off our shoes and roll up our pants because the flooding had progressed.

Eventually my Mother In Law arrived home and our brother, Phillip. As it darkened I tried to distract us. We played cludeo. I desperately tried to make it sound fun. After that we charged the car batteries and listened to the radio. We heard no good news. We had a phone call from a friend in a panic in Australia, she needed help for her Pastors who were stranded and sick. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do. We were stranded as well. We told them to ring our friends Roy and Holly because they lived closer, but we didn't even know if they were safe, what their homeline was and cell phones were still down. Once again, I felt so cut off and useless.

It grew dark very quickly and we lite candles. Graemes Mum made us a delicious pasta meal on a gas cooker. 

Sharp aftershocks continued to roll through, and as it happened before, we were so close to the earthquakes there was no warning, no thundering noises to warn us. They came on instantly and sent us grasping for something to hold on to.

As we sat at the dining room table trying to play 2 player 500 by candlelight we realised that we had flights to go to Auckland early tomorrow morning for a national C3 leadership conference. We had no idea if we would still be able to make it but I was desperate to leave the city. I made contact with my friend Megan from Wellington who I had been able to get through to earlier in the day. She let us know that the airports were scheduled to open at 8pm and Jetstar flights had been cancelled, luckily we were on Air New Zealand. We made travel arrangements to leave the following morning and packed our bags in the dark.

That night was the longest night of my life. Every few minutes it seemed we were woken up by aftershocks. Graeme and I held on to each other tightly but I noticed he was considerably more jumpy and anxious about them than he had previously been. I tried not to react to them, hoping they wouldn't get the better of me. I knew what impact the house could take and I was sure that we would last the night. That night the family all kept our doors open and solar lights in the hall way incase of emergency. During a particularly rough aftershock Graeme jumped out of bed and almost ran into the doorway where he met his mum who had done the same. Then Graeme woke up and he was standing up, wondering where I was. I was still in bed, and he had sleep-reacted. It was humorous afterwards, but it was one of the roughest painfilled nights I have encountered so far.

The next morning we made it across the other side of town and into Avonhead where we met my Dad who took us to the airport. He had electricity and water on. It didn't seem fair. 

The airport was filled with weary looking Cantabrians who gave each other knowing and encouraging smiles. The lines were endless and no one pushed in. Everyone was exceptionally gracious and understanding of each other, a kind human spirit was in the air and it was so comforting. We were one of the first scheduled flights out, and the first to land in Auckland from Christchurch.

[Photo c/o Graeme on far left with red check shirt on. The kind man infront of him let us cut in front and we were fast tracked to the front of the line because of flight was being called.]

I really feel like in that time that God was carrying me. I look back in hindsight and I'm amazed that I kept it together. 

Our flight to Auckland was uneventful and we were met at the terminal by Redcross and Salvation Army workers, councillors and police. They had stations set up to take in quake victims. News cameras were everywhere and in peoples faces as they embraced for the first time and let their tears of pain leak through for all to see. People were being reunited and I held on to Graemes hand extra tightly. Our good friend Luke picked us up at the airport. He is Graemes oldest friend and is from Christchurch. We shared what we knew with him, but we didn't know much. Infact, he had most of the news for us and we listened intently to what he could tell us of our city and people.

We went to Dawns parents house and waited in the car for them to get home. We listened to the radio where John Key addressed the nation. I knew that people in Christchurch for the most part wouldn't hear it by I was touched by it all the same and it brought tears to my eyes. That afternoon I learned that they had started to find bodies in buildings and one of the first victims had been named, Jaime Gilbert. My heart broke. I had gone to highschool with Jaime. We shared our Drama and English classes together. Jaime was exceptionally talented and had so much going for him, he was a hard worker and was full of family pride. He tried to teach me to beat box, taught me to make a bong out of a soda can (not that I ever did), copied my english homework and kissed me on stage during a performance. He was a father to two very young children and had a partner and a loving family who he always talked about. I hadn't seen Jaime in about 2 years but I have lasting fond memories of him and couldn't help but feel it was a bad start to a whole lot of bad news coming. I later found out that my step families cousin had died as well. I was awakened to the truth that Christchurch is a very small place, everyone knows someone and I realised that even though we had our lives, we would be effected with grieving all the same. 

[Queensland Urban Search And Rescue workers after a month long service to our city. They were on our flight and the whole plane applauded them, and I thanked them and said we all thought they were heros even if we were too proud to say it. They were perhaps the most humble people I've met.]

Months later I still dream about Jaime. I keep seeing images of his lifeless body being pulled from rubble by two strong men, I see his sister with blood running down her face screaming for her brother and I see his partner and children weeping in their private moments. Sometimes when I'm out and about I keep thinking I see Jaime, only to have the person turn around and its not them. I don't know how I'm supposed to get rid of these images and thoughts in my mind.

A few other friends arrived from Christchurch, the rest didn't make it as their flights had been cancelled. We went to church that night and people from C3 Auckland hugged us, prayed, smiled and tried to make small talk. On the inside I felt hollow, like a shell. It wasn't until the worship time in the service that I really started to consider all that had happened and all that it meant. Songs were sung about worshiping God in all situations, when we "are on a mountain we will worship, we our city is falling we will worship". I broke. I was so angry, hurt, confused and devastated but all I could do was worship. I had no other choices. In those moments the only thing I had to turn to was God. I sung, I lifted my hands, I worshiped our Maker and I thanked Him that he was close in a time when everyone was broken and no answers were available. 

Revelation 21:3 "They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." A picture of what is to come.

We spent the rest of the week in Auckland, glad that we were there with power and showers and friends, but missing our friends and feeling as if we should be there with them, spending nights playing cards by candlelight, boiling water together, cleaning up church and our homes, offering support to those who need it. Once again, because I was out of Christchurch I felt so cut off from everything. I so badly wanted to be back. Perhaps that was the pastor in me coming through. We waited out till the end of the week and took our return flight back. Our home was still without basic power, water or sewage so we spent a few nights at my dads house and then the rest of the week at our good friends place, Perry and Hollie. 

When sewage was restored and we could flush the toilet we returned to our home and family. The street was messy and it smelt of poo. I had to cover my nose and mouth whenever I was outside because the stench was so bad for me. 

Weeks passed, months passed, and now it is 3 months since that fateful day. I am grateful that I have my family and still have my hope and that faith was enough to get me through. As we drove to a lunch date yesterday I came the closest to the cordon I have ever been. I saw flashes of flattened buildings as we drove past and my mouth dropped. It really does look like the photographs and images they show on the TV. Perhaps in real life it seems worse. 

[The NZ Army move in and clean up our street. Photo c/o Phillip Laughton-Mutu]

My thoughts go out to all Cantabrians everywhere who have lost loved ones. I have no answers for you but I am thinking of you and praying for you without ceasing. My thanks go to the rest of New Zealand, who are really like a family. Thank you for all of your support, your gifts and messages. Tears come to my eyes whenever I see the message board in Riccarton Westfield from you. Thank you to the Redcross who astounded me in those initial days. You are so quick and well resourced. Thank you to all the churches everywhere who sent man power and supplies. Thank you to the Student Army - Everyone is so impressed with you, and you did an amazing job in assisting your city. We are so proud of you. Thank you to the government stepping in, to WINZ for our grocery and petrol vouchers, and for a friendly face and caring touch at the welfare centers. Thank you to the Army who are still spending sleepless nights guarding the central city cordon, you are not forgotten. Thank you also for coming in with your trucks and cleaning up our street. Thank you to all of the Search and Rescue Teams. I'm so glad I got to meet some of you Australians on our flight the next month and got to thank you and applaude you in person. Thank you to our church family in Auckland who looked after us so well and attended to everyone of our needs. 

[water given out at the welfare centers, donated by Queenstown Primary School. "Dear Christchurch, I hope you are okay after the big disaster, from Queenstown Primary"]

Thank you to everyone for your love and support. We still need it.


  1. Tears run down my cheeks as I sit here reading your account! I was 20 something weeks pregnant at the time of the September quake and can totally relate to your fears for your unborn babies.
    Us Cantabrians must stick together, so if you feel like meeting up with a group of Mummy bloggers, just send me an email and I'll send you the details.
    Big hugs xox

  2. Thank you for having this able to be shared. Even now over a year on it still bring tears to my eyes hearing each persons experience.


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