To the editor;
My boyfriend Dan Sims and I have been in New Zealand since the middle of November (Dan is from Prince George originally, but has lived in Kamloops for a few years).
We have spent most of our time travelling around both the north and south island, but have been living in Christchurch since the end of January. We have been renting a place in Halswell, (a suburb 8 km south of the city centre), and working while we try to sell our vehicle.
When we first got here, we hoped to find a place to rent and work within the city centre, but luckily we didn’t find anything.
Since being here, we’ve heard many stories about the big earthquake in September 2010 (which was still fresh in everyone’s minds), as well as all the aftershocks they’ve been experiencing since. After only one week of being here, we felt some of those aftershocks for ourselves.
The destruction was also very clear; huge cracks in buildings, many buildings closed/condemned, lots of construction and scaffolding on affected buildings.
They also had a big aftershock on Boxing Day, and actually just had a big Boxing Day sale last weekend to make up for missing the real thing. Everyone was always talking about how lucky they were that no one was seriously hurt or killed because the earthquake hit very early in the morning when everyone was at home.
There were rumours going around that someone had predicted another big quake would hit on March 20, 2011, and some people we’ve met have even made plans to leave town at that time just in case.
Then on Tuesday, Feb. 22, the big quake hit. I was working about 40 km south of Christchurch where we felt strong shaking, which lasted a little longer than most aftershocks, but nothing fell over or anything. I just assumed it was another harmless aftershock like so many others that we had felt. By the time everyone went to run outside, the shaking had stopped, so we continued working.
A few minutes later it happened again, but didn’t last quite as long. Again, we continued working.
With the radio on in the background, we soon started hearing what was actually going on in the city; “the prime minister is on his way to assess the damage”, “buildings have collapsed on two buses”, “multiple fatalities”.
We stayed at work for another three hours, but it was impossible not to worry about what was going on. The power also flicked on and off several times.
I had the cell phone, so had no way of contacting Dan who was working much closer to the city near the airport. Luckily he left me a voice message within an hour so I knew he was okay.
Everyone at work was receiving endless text messages from friends and family all checking on each other. Within a few hours it was impossible to make a phone call because the networks were too jammed.
I was fortunate to come back to a house with power, water, and both our other room mates. Some houses on our street had bad liquifaction*, but that is the worst visible damage. Just down the road the liquefaction gets much worse, and only a few kilometres away there are buildings completely destroyed.
We’ve had a family with a nine month old baby staying at our house since the quake, and several others stopping by to use our shower.
Aftershocks have finally become less frequent three days later, but the first night was pretty scary.
It still doesn’t seem real to me despite being here. You’re watching it on the TV – and it’s all happening right down the road. It’s on the radio and TV news 24 hours a day. There are constant reminders of what to do if another quake hits (but there are so many aftershocks that people just become accustomed to it).
Many people are “panic buying”. Grocery stores have empty shelves and line ups out the door. Petrol stations that are open have lineups three blocks down the road.
Governement, Civil Defense, the Red Cross, International Search and Rescue teams, and volunteers are all doing an amazing job in such a difficult situation, and people are doing everything they can to help each other out.
It’s hard to fathom how a city could possibly recover from such destruction and devastation, but people remain positive that they will.
In the few weeks that we’ve been here, we’ve really gotten to know and love Christchurch. We ride our bikes into the city on our days off work, and we were walking around Cathedral Square just two days before. I feel very lucky.
When you see a disaster of this scale on the news it is usually happening on the other side of the world. It’s heartbreaking, but then you turn off the TV and life goes on. When you are actually here, you turn off the TV and the devastation is still all around you. Everybody is affected in some way, and in a small city like Christchurch, everybody knows somebody who has lost a loved one.
We are leaving for Auckland on March 5, and for Buenos Aires on March 8. Our flights have been booked for a few weeks and we are not changing our plans because of the earthquake.
Since we are here and safe we plan to do what we can to help out the people that have to start over. There is a lot of cleaning up to do, and any cash donations that people can make to help out will go a long way.
New Zealand is a beautiful country with amazing people, and really reminds us a lot of home. We’ve really enjoyed our time here, and it’s a shame to leave with this tragedy on our minds.
Dan and I have been travelling since May 2009 and have been to over 35 countries. However, this is by far the worst thing we have seen or experienced anywhere in our travels.
We plan to buy a motorcycle in Argentina and take the scenic route all the way back home.
*Liquefaction is when the strength and stiffness of a soil is reduced by earthquake shaking.