It’s been a hectic day… since very early in the morning we’ve been on the phone to New Zealand trying to reach family and friends. (It was Saturday Morning here in The Netherlands, but Saturday Evening New Zealand time.)
I grew up with Earthquakes, they are a fact of life in New Zealand since the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific tectonic plates share an unhappy join that runs nearly the entire length of the country.
Because these are among of the biggest and most active tectonic plates in the world, and New Zealand is a country encased along the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire” we get the full works, boiling mud pools, geothermal hot springs, active volcanoes and …naturally, earthquakes.
Growing up in New Zealand I’ve experienced at least six “decent shakes” … I remember once as a kid (roughly 13 years of age) that we had out-of-town visitors and my sister and I were sleeping in a caravan in the garden so that guests could sleep in our beds inside the house. In the middle of the night I woke to a low growling rumble and an unfathomable movement, lifted the curtain and looked out onto our veggie garden, it was a bright moon and a clear night and the outside light was on as well, so what I saw has been etched into my brain forever.
The entire garden was still there : neat rows of carrots, yellow beans, peas, potatoes etc remained in their lines, but, instead of nice and flat and normal looking, it was all moving, and I could actually see waves about 30 cm ( approx. 1 foot) moving though the garden, exactly as it is when you stand on a beach and see small waves roll in to the shore.
Evenly, rhythmically, one after another. the earth was rising and falling as just as water would have done and I remember looking in wonder as I saw carrot tops in the trough of a wave, then on the crest, then back in the trough.
It was like the solid earth was actually made of water, and it acted like it. I wasn’t afraid, I was in awe and somehow it was so sudden and so strange that it simply didn’t occur to me to be scared.
The noise was more disconcerting, if you have never heard the earth moan then trying to describe such an amazing sound is difficult in the extreme. Imagine the rumble of thunder in the earth instead of the sky, it has a deep voice and it was long and mesmerizing and yet it also sounded like a familiar sound in a very very wrong place.
After watching the last wave roll past about 15 seconds later and have the caravan settle back onto an even keel, I distinctly remember saying out loud, “Earthquake, I want to sleep”, and then I simply dropped the curtain, rolled over and did so.
It was no big deal and my sister slept though the whole thing, so apparently did our guests and I think that my the time my Father did a prowl of the property to look for damage, I was already asleep again.
It’s standard practice for all New Zealand School Children to do not only Fire Drill, but also Earthquake Drill, At one of my former workplaces I was part of a Civil Defense team and we did courses on negotiating earthquake damaged buildings to search for survivors as well as First Aid.
With more than 1200 Earthquakes per year in the South Island alone, most are felt only by the delicate needles of super sensitive machines and probably quite a few animals that people assume are “a bit out-of-sorts today” as humanity blissfully goes about their business, unaware that the earth rumbles kilometers benieth their feet.
I’ve felt at least six decent earthquakes in New Zealand, some single jolts, some long and slow rumbles that seemly took ages to end. None of them compare to Saturday’s magnitude, when in Christchurch New Zealand, at 4.35 a.m. an earthquake hit that was 7.1 on the Richter Scale.
Connecting with friends and loved ones has been a massive relief… the last call came this evening, to friends who have a home, their own business and who look after a house in Christchurch that we own and rent out on a full-time basis. The evening News here has already told us that there are miraculously no fatalities from this earthquake, so we know our tenants are ok, but our house is of an age that means it’s in the larger of the risk categories, so we are wondering how that fared.
The news is just though.. Their places are fine, ours almost so…we are now short of a chimney in the living room, it landed in the driveway, but only the top half came off so and apart from that all damage is minor so it will be a reasonably easy fix.
We, like many sensible New Zealand home owners knew that this day would one day come and invested in a special Earthquake Insurance Policy. so documentation of the damage is the order of the day, photos and probably screeds of Insurance forms in due course to fill in and submit. It could have been far far worse.
Our friends’ Shop and home are structurally fine, not a crack, but stock is all over the floors of the shop and it will be time consuming to clean up.
My Father reported large amounts of broken glassware, crockery and breakables that got flung unceremoniously out of cupboards and some cracks in the walls that look a bit dicey, he was more amazed that some of the cast iron chess set pieces were flung more than 4 meters across the room, I can attest that those pieces are heavy little beasts.
My Mother passed away almost 20 years ago from cancer and my Father has been in a relationship for about 13 years now, in recent months the pair tied the knot to make it “Official” at a super quiet ceremony at the Registry Office and Himself and I sent a hand-painted Delft Plate to celebrate the event. (Hand-painted, from the Porcelains Fles in Delft, means craftsmanship, and in this case it also means .. expensive, very expensive).
Since it took six weeks to get there, it only arrived last week and my Father positioned it on the wall last Thursday. In a small twist of fate, it’s pretty much the only thing that didn’t fall off the walls in their house less than two days later!
(ergo God likes hand-painted Delfts ware???) Hmmm…. or has a sense of humour.
My Father experienced three decent sized after-shocks just in the time I was on the phone to him… (approx) 45 minutes… so clearly the dust hasn’t settled yet. His earlier walk around the neighborhood revealed mostly a pattern of tumbled brick chimneys… a reoccurring theme it seems. ( He took his out a few years back when a Heat Pump was installed and rendered it obsolete)
Other friends mercifully reported mostly inside damage, rather than structural damage to their homes. The Inside mess is substantial in some cases, but well, they were all very thankful that everyone was safe and well and whilst the loss of sentimental items was morned, it was better those than losing one or more of the family. One friends’ extended family lives closer to the epicenter 30 kilometers to the north west of Christchurch though, and their homes have fared far worse. My heart goes out to them as their homes are currently no longer habitable and may or may not be repairable.
It seems that some people got tipped out of bed by the shaking, others couldn’t get off the bed, but no one I know slept though this one, and that others are, quite rightly rather nervous about every little tremour that has subsequently been felt. Since several of these after-shocks have measured 5 on the Richter Scale, I don’t blame them.
I can only hope that this is as bad as it gets… they have been without phone for part/most of the day, ditto electric power, but those have been quickly restored and all they are missing now is running water. Everywhere I am hearing heartwarming stories of people popping in to check on neighbours, help out the elderly, and community spirit by the bucket-load as people help out with clearing bricks from pavements and drives, check if people have food etc.
To see the far greater damage in the Central Business district in the center of town, one thing is very clear, the lack of fatalities is surely only due to the sheer luck that this earthquake occurred at 4.35 am in the morning when people were tucked up in their beds.
For this I am very very very very very very very Thankful.
To see if there is an earthquake happening near you right at this moment, click here…
Edited to add an even better link: