Thursday 24 February 2011

I'm a Cantabrian and my home town lies in ruin

I arrived back in Christchurch just after midnight last night, to be with family and especially, my 88-year-old mother, in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake, that so far has claimed the lives of 75 people.

I snapped this photo on the taxi ride from the airport to my brother's home in Papanui, that has become a refuge for Doreen, and a few other family members. There are temporary mattresses over the lounge floor, in what is a familiar scene across the city I'm sure.

Tuesday's 6.3 earthquake struck a few minutes before 1pm. Mum has been shaken by this latest quake. All the residents of her New Brighton Kate Sheppard retirement village were evacuated, as substantial liquefaction engulfed the community moments after the quake stuck.

As I arrived in the wee hours, I saw mum emerge from the guest bedroom to greet me. She was looking frail, however very alert and over-joyed to see me. We sat in the lounge chatting as she showed more interest in how I was and things in Cairns, than the events of the last 48 hours in Christchurch. As we sat together for around 10 minutes, sharing warm stories, at precisely 12:12am, another violent aftershock belted the house. I jumped up. This one was 4.1. The house moved and the kitchen lights swayed.

"Yeas, that was a small one," mother said. "That was nothing." I cannot imagine what the 370,000 residents of Christchurch have been going through over the last five months. Mother recalled the moment of Tuesday's quake, as she was standing in kitchen having lunch.

"Everything went all over the place, my china cabinet and the TV, I really don't know what's left," she said. Soon after a mass of mud and sludge created from liquefaction, a phenomenon when soil substantially loses strength and stiffness, and the stress of an earthquake.

To think that just last weekend I visited in Babinda, Bartle Frere, Silkwood, Tully and Mission, helping clean up the mess from Cyclone Yasi. I chatted with elderly that were tough as nails. They were survivors in the face of nature's fury. Of course, no one was killed by the storm, as there was plenty of warning and time to prepare. An earthquake does not afford such a luxury.

I previously returned home to Christchurch in November, three weeks after that original event, and was greeted to a town in devastation. However the quake on Tuesday, a 6.3, was much closer to the city, and only 5 kms deep.

There's been an extraordinary 4,958 quakes since the massive 7.1 in early September last year.

Today I will navigate the twisted streets to mum's apartment and retrieve some of her belongings. I know it will be a sad sight.


XChequer said...

Thanks to our Anzac mates! You guys were here before anyone else to lend your hands and expertise. Your response has been brilliant. You are true mates and this will never be forgotten.

MG said...

hey mikey good story

good luck with the clean up

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear your family survived OK Mike. I can't imagine how it must be for you and the rest of our NZ neighbours over the ditch. One thing I do know, it might take a while, but Christchurch will rise from the rubble a stronger city in more ways than one.
Catch you when you get back.