Sunday, January 9, 2011

After Effects of the Christchurch Earthquake. How would you cope?

On September 4th 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, badly damaging parts of the city, and homes over a large area. My November 3rd post  Effects of Christchurch  Earthquake was by a friend who lived through the event. With family and friends affected there, we have been very concerned with how they have managed with the stress of constant aftershocks, loss of homes, and the ruination of many businesses. Large aftershocks on Boxing Day brought further stress to an already strained community. 2010 has not been kind to our beautiful South Island: earthquakes, and the Pike River Mine disaster costing 29 lives, have affected many familes. It's hard to appreciate the depth of the effects these have on our friends and relations.

A friend we'll call "Grumpykiwi" has written the following to help give us some insight to how people just have to make do, and put their lives back together as best as possible.
After Shock

Even though we have enough earthquakes for our Ozzie friends to refer to New Zealand as the "shaky isles" none of us really know very much about them. However 3 months on from 4 September and Christchurch is full of amateur seismologists. Seminars are run to overflowing audiences. We just can’t get enough information.
In August 2010 no one had heard of GNS (Department of Geological and Nuclear Science) and the Geotech website. Now thousands have the site as a "favourite" on their phone!
What we thought we knew, was that a quake would all be over quite quickly, with perhaps a few small aftershocks. It would be a bit like going to the dentist, but without the anticipation. We would all have a bit of a laugh over morning tea on Monday and compare breakages.

twitpic Christchurch Earthquake
 Yeah right! It hasn’t worked out quite like that.
We slowly took stock on the Saturday morning. Most of the city lost electricity; some parts also lost water and sewerage. It seems the Electrical system protects itself by shutting down, so power was back on quite quickly. Similarly the water was back soon although for a few days we had to boil it, just to be on the safe side.
Water can be pumped and you can do temporary repairs by laying a bit of pipe along the road. You can even put bottles of it in trucks and take it to people. Not so with sewerage. It seems shit doesn’t flow uphill. To make things worse the earthquake occurred at high tide forcing the sea back up the pipes breaking things. Or it might have been low tide…whatever, sea water did some serious damage to the system. Even after eight weeks some houses still did not have sewerage. These suburbs had "porta potties" as part of their streetscape for weeks and the novelty well and truly wore off.
Still, we are a resilient lot, it was a case of "keep calm and carry on". Mostly we coped. Some better than others, but generally we coped. The emotional stuff was much harder to deal with.
The first few weeks from September the 4th was like living in a maelstrom. Christchurch became a city of sleep deprived, irritable people. Discussion of the most recent quake replaced ‘Hello" or "Gidday" as our usual greeting. There were constant tremors. One GNS report suggested we could expect an aftershock in excess of "6" on the Richter scale. I went to pick up my dog from the groomers and the first comment was, "We had a 5.9 today!" Then we discussed the pooch’s behaviour while his hair was cut. Up until today, 11 weeks since 4 September, there have been 3134 aftershocks. Actually the term "aftershock" does not do any justice to what is going on. These are all "earthquakes" in their own right.
Fair enough, we haven’t felt all of these. Arm chair experts among us will admit their knowledge is quite general. We know measuring an earthquake involves a squiggly line. We know the Richter scale is "logarithmic". Once we dredged the depths of 3rd form maths we remembered about the power of "10". We know that means a 5 is 10 times stronger than a "4", which is 10 times stronger than a "3".
Never mind the science, we know that only a sissy cares about anything less than a "3" .We know that a "4" will move you around a bit in your chair, light fittings will swing and a little knot starts to form in your tummy. We know that 4.5 is quite a lot stronger, stuff will roll on your desk and draws on your filling cabinet will rattle. The knot in your tummy gets a bit tighter and your throat goes a bit dry.
A "5" is really interesting! The filing cabinet draws roll completely open, books fall off shelves, bricks off walls and another hundred or so chimneys collapse. The stuff that was weakened by the first quake finally breaks. You heart is pounding and you have a waterfall in your armpits. There were 11 quakes over "5" in the first week! 7 weeks after the first quake we had a "4.9" that was close to the surface, and centred on the very edge of town. Apparently the nature of it meant the earth moved as much as it did for the 7.1!
Each of these quakes was preceded by quite a distinct noise so there would be a rumble a few seconds before any shaking. Unfortunately a truck driving down the road produced similar noise and similar anxiety. This was most annoying on clear calm nights when you were laying in bed trying not to think about going to sleep.
Christchurch is now a city on edge. Most of us were sleep deprived. Everyone was in "escape mode". Friends would tell you they were sleeping in their clothes just in case they had to "run for it". We put our mattress in the lounge as it was nearer the doors and escape. Besides, the entrance way seemed to have lots of framing and there were a couple of nice strong roof trusses above it. Our truck was full of camping gear. If houses around started to fall we our plan was to camp on a local football field.
The family member most pleased by all of this was our rather senior pooch. Any dog owner will tell you, "Dogs are much better than cats." Most cats had taken off for wherever it is that cats go. At one stage the SPCA had a list of over 450 lost cats. Many just returned, had a feed, licked their paws and went to sleep. Dogs on the other hand stuck around to make sure their masters were ok, besides that’s where the food was.
Our dog really liked the sleeping on the floor in the lounge part. He would patrol around the mattress, checking for the best place to sleep. Every now and then a wet nose would be stuck in your ear. There is nothing quite like a furry nose in your ear to drive up the anxiety levels for someone already stressed. Once he was satisfied everyone was asleep, he would gingery tip toe between us, and give himself away by collapsing on the bed. Once in a while he got to stay. It would have been amusing enough if only he would stop farting!
After about a week of this we came to the conclusion that "escape mode" just added to the anxiety. It was either "become a wreck" or "get over it." The best thing we did was unpack the truck, and put the mattress back on the bed. We told ourselves it was safer inside than outside. (Which it is)

One of the hardest parts of this was for those that worked in modern, safe high rise buildings. They are designed to flex. In anything approaching "5" the movement was quite spectacular! While the office was "rocking and rolling" you had to really fight the urge to get out and to stay inside, perhaps moving away from glass.
The city also had to deal with was "show pony" politicians looking for photo opportunities. Poor things, they can’t win. If they hadn’t been there they would have been accused of not caring. Still the constant exposure rescued the incumbent Mayor campaign that had until then been "dead in the water". The biggest indignities suffered was from a "special" edition of the TV Breakfast Show
There were some significant effects in the first few weeks so many were reporting for chest pains etc that the Cardiology Department cancelled all routine visits. The A&E had less problems dealing with alcohol related issues; it seems the reduced access to the cities "party zone" had an effect. Still no one had died. We all got a bit nervous about this being mentioned in case we were tempting fate. But it was true.
The rubble will be cleared and buildings rebuilt. Life goes on and in the fullness of time this will be a few pages in the history of a rather nice city. We are just a bit worried about the fashion that will be used in the "dress up" part of any re-enactment.


zablon said...

its sad the earthquake happened to those guys, but on the bright side from their experience now they are much stronger

Unknown said...

Hi Jim! Your blog's been tagged as "Our Blog of the Week" from 9 January to 16 January. Do keep your great posts coming!
Cheers - Dora

Papercut Doll said...

Thank god no one did die. I can't imagine what it must be like and reading this my heart goes out to them.

Hopefully the exposure will bring some good for them after all and hopefully sooner rather than later they can get back to living not surviving.

Andrea said...

We're heading to Christchurch later and have been keeping an eye on the earthquakes. A friend was just telling us the other day that everyone has been expecting earthquakes in Wellington and they were surprised that so many have been happening so much further south. Interesting.

Jim said...

Most people are moving on with their lives. But others are coming home from holidays finding their homes have suffered more minor damage from the Boxing Day aftershocks. So having just settled with insurance companies, they're having to go through the whole assesment, claim, repair process again...all the time knowing that another big aftershock can occur again.
Andrea, we'll try and arrange a wee tremor for you on the 18th! We get them often on the Kapiti Coast.

KD said...

Tragic. But it sure is amazing what people can get through...

A to Zen said...

Thank you for this post. In the United States it made the news of course but it's amazing to read what everyone went through. All those "aftershocks"! Where I live we don't have earthquakes. Once, we got the edge of one that happened farther away. I remember standing outside and feeling the earth shake. Everyone on our street was excited! We thought it was some great treat. Well, I will never feel that way again.