Tomorrow, 22 February, marks the third anniversary of the magnitude 6.34 (according to that undeniable authority, Canterbury Quake Live) earthquake which, for a fleeting moment, catapulted our tiny bit of the planet into the global spotlight. Here at the Homestead we will be commemorating the Day that Changed Our Idea of Everything as we have the last two, gathering with our community on the banks of the Avon River with sunflowers in hand; Our contribution to the River of Flowers. Blooms sure beat what was flowing down it three years ago.
Apologies to those readers who have their own quake stories or have already heard ours (probably more than once), it’s just that a chance comment by new friend to the Homestead, The Self-confessed Geek, got us thinking that perhaps our story, and that of Christchurch as a whole, is something that bears a repeat airing. The thought provoking comment? That on arrival in our fair city, eighteen months ago, he was shocked that everything hadn’t been fixed yet.
It’s fair to say that just prior to Tuesday 22 February 2011 we Cantabrians were feeling a bit smug. On Saturday 4 September 2010 we had been woken at 4.35am by a 7.2 magnitude quake that had crumbled houses, toppled chimneys and squashed cars. Here at the Homestead the movement was such that the odd squeak-bang sound in the dark silence that experience now tells us follows a quake was found to be the light over the dining table, swinging on the end of its flex in a wide arc from ceiling on one side to ceiling on the other. Yep, it was one mighty shake but amazingly there were no casualties. One member of the Homestead even wore a T Shirt proclaiming they had “Survived the Quake”. How we gloated; they breed us tough in Canterbury! The day of the quake we sat in the sun and played Pictionary, secure in the knowledge that our emergency water supply was adequate for at least three days, the barbeque had ample fuel, our store cupboard was full, and by following Kim Hill‘s helpful instructions (received via our kinetic/solar radio) even our *ahem* toileting needs were sorted. No power/water/sewer? Ha! Bring it on!
As the aftershocks dissipated we got on with our lives. The Earthquake Commission (EQC) paid their visits, assessed the losses, worked for some people/upset others and insurance claims were made and paid out. The Homestead faired well: a few more bricks off the already dilapidated chimney, a newly stripped and varnished floor dented, a few cracks in the new bathroom and one cup broken. Christmas holidays came and went. The Bean Counter had a promotion at work. The Renovator was run off his feet keeping the hungry tourist hoards (and locals) fed and watered at a local cafe and The Goat Herd finally accepted THAT time had come, boarded the Metrostar bus and trundled across town to start the third year of her Mech. Eng degree at Canterbury University.
Tuesday 22 February started as a very ordinary day. The Bean Counter, Renovator and Goat Herd ambled off to fulfill their various obligations in the outside world while on the Homestead The Milk Maid, Farmer and Farm Girl finished one of those super deep housework cleans. Lunchtime: The Farmer chomped through a stack of peanut butter sandwiches before pedalling off to his weekly violin lesson. Macaroni Cheese (never a Farmer favourite) was on the menu for the other two. As a super treat, Farm Girl was allowed to watch TV while she ate; across the lounge the Milk Maid indulged in a sneaky game on the PlayStation. We’d been working hard! Down the road, The Renovator was behind the coffee machine churning out lattes and cappuccinos for the lunch rush and three suburbs away, The Bean Counter was closeted in his tiny office, deep in conversation with the foreman of the construction team working onsite, and his Admin Assistant tapped on her computer, throwing in the odd smart remark. The Goat Herd’s fluid dynamics lecture in the Mushroom had just finished.
A car crash?
A judder and rumble.
crockery bouncing off arm, head; smashing and flying
Farm Girl, fork in hand, staring, screaming
TV, screen blank, rocking on it’s undersized black foot
negotiate the furniture, the ever changing gap between sofas
Hugging her tight, back arched against the contents of the bookcase
The kids? Husband? Family? City?
About a week earlier there had been a teatime conversation where the master bedroom was identified as the best place to hunker down in the unlikely event of lightening striking twice; it’s wardrobe housed the first aid and emergency kits and water supply, the ceiling was sturdy, the bed would deflect glass from the windows. Here Farm Girl and the Milk Maid cranked up the radio and listened to the rest of New Zealand discover what had happened. The cathedral was down. The CBD in tatters. Christchurch was finished.
The plug in phone rings. The Renovator is safe. Our conversation cuts off almost immediately, but he’s okay. Texts start coming in: Are you okays from people barely known. Frustration! What about my family? Then The Goat Herd’s number pops up. She’s fine, heading for her grandparent’s house near the university. The Farmer, mid journey, alters course for the Renovator’s cafe. The boys are together. Nothing from The Bean Counter. Farm Girl applies plasters to The Milk Maids bleeding arm, nicked by flying crockery. They venture outside to turn off the house water supply at the road to preserve the purity of what is in our cylinder and header tank. The ground keeps bucking with aftershocks. The shops across the road sway and creak audibly, the timber screaming. People scream too. A bus thunders past, the ashen driver hunched over the wheel. My phone bleeps. Finally. The Bean Counter is fine but he’s not going to be home for a long time.
Liquefaction, he says. Everywhere.
Slowly everyone comes home. Over the next few days the bruises caused by flying microwaves, panini press, and stacks of plates come out on The Renovators legs. We hear how he shoved people out of the cafe, how he ran back inside for his phone stashed, as rules dictated, at the far end of the counter. We tell him off. You shouldn’t have done that! It’s only a phone, we say. Secretly, we’re glad he maintained a way to contact us.
The Farmer is quiet. Bit by little bit we hear about him witnessing the road open up, the power poles swaying, the old brick shops crumbling in on themselves. “… and everybody was screaming.” The screaming was something that woke him up for many, many months.
Everyone had their demons to battle. The Bean Counter was convinced he had shoved his Admin Assistant out of the way in his haste to get to the door. It was only viewing the security camera footage, once the power came on weeks later, showing him grabbing and shoving her ahead of him to the door frame where they huddled together with the foreman as computers, stock, files and boxes rained down, that put his mind at rest.
The Goat Herd battles the guilt of getting off so lightly, having been on the other side of town where things were less violent, then learns later that the building she was in is to be demolished due to quake damage.
The Homestead was without running water for just over two weeks. Every day we were alerted to the arrival of Roger and the water tanker by its blasting horn.
News was swapped, jokes made, Roger’s ongoing adaptations to the truck water outlet admired. Our world shrunk to the two blocks we can see from outside our gates. Seven days out from the quake, food parcels were delivered from the back of a truck. The Singaporean Army delivered chemical loos door to door. Boiling water remained a daily priority for months afterwards. Farm Girl’s chore was to jump up and down on our laundry in a tub of warm water. “I’m the washing machine,” she told everyone who came to the door: the Salvation Army, the Army, lots of people in hi-viz jackets.
Power returned to our small cluster of houses via a very noisy generator. By then, the Japanese Tsunami had been and gone. No one wanted to turn the TV on, but the warm showers were amazing. The Bean Counter traded his dishes duty for trundling the contents of the loo, in the wheelbarrow, 300 metres down the road to the drop tank. A certain loo-emptying etiquette arose; always undertaken under the cover of darkness, a respectful distance was maintained between depositors, a cursory nod of recognition but no conversation. Our sewers came back on line six months later, in August.
Three years out, our side of the city is still rickety.
Our roads are potholed, roadworks are a way of life. Some of us chunter and fume; Here at the Homestead, we take it one day at a time. We have more gaps than shops in Brighton, but we find all we need there.
Christchurch is not fixed yet but it’s not dead either. We’ll get there. We’re not sure what “there” will look like, but we’re heading in the right direction.
Last blog it was mentioned that we returned home to a decorated living room and two welcome home notes from Farm Girl.
I love you, says one of them, 100 road cones, 1000 liquefaction trucks, 100,000 stop and go signs.
She is indeed a child of the quake.
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