Nearly six years ago our city was hit by an earthquake which pretty much divided Christchurch into Business-As-Usual on the west side and, out east where the Homestead is situated, the Badlands. Without electricity, our world shrunk to a block either side of the Homestead front gates and whatever was being talked about round the water truck. Each day we brought the newspaper but most of us didn’t read them; after all, we were living it and that was taking all our energy. Sometimes folk would ring from the other side of town to check on us (we had an old fashioned, plug in phone that still worked) and we’d marvel at how normal their lives were. They were watching TV and going out for coffee, shopping and visiting and the like, while we were our washing clothes in a plastic basin of water warmed on the barbecue and trying to ingest the ten kilo of apricots we’d packed into the rapidly defrosting freezer only weeks earlier.
Then last week we suddenly found ourselves with the shoe on the other foot. As we tended the animals, watered the garden and pottered down to Brighton to check out our revamped library – moving through our everyday normality – across town, people’s lives were being changed forever.
Fires were raging on the Port Hills; in the valleys and on the tracks, in Victoria Park and along the Summit Road – all those places Christchurch goes to play in the weekend. It lapped at the top of the new Christchurch Adventure Park and around the iconic Sign of the Kiwi Cafe that had only, a couple of weeks earlier, re-opened after a rebuild as a result of ‘quake damage. Many, many people drove away from their houses not knowing whether they would see them again. Some of them won’t.
From the Homestead we could see helicoptors buzzing like little flies, white glowing dots against the smoke, with those little, tiny buckets dangling beneath. That one of them crashed, killing the pilot, is still hard to comprehend.
And through it all, social media was also ablaze. Photos of hellish flames and billowing smoke were everywhere, as was speculation and gossip. Newspapers trawled facebook and the likes and reported that chatter as news. How does this happen? Why do we allow it?
Now, as I write this, the flames have disappeared so the stream of dramatic photos has dried up but the State of Emergency remains and many, many people are working to keep the hot-spots contained.
Now we know how those people on the other side of town felt six year ago. We feel powerless, ineffectual, and useless – and so, so sorry.
Kia Kaha, Christchurch.