Massive Earthquake Hits Christchurch New Zealand
It was 03:20am Saturday, 04 September 2010 in Brisbane Australia and I was woken by a text message from my Mum in Christchurch New Zealand, that simply said : " just had a huge earthquake, TV on the floor and things broken everywhere". I thought it was just my dear old mum overreacting and I rolled over and went back to sleep, after all, I had a few beers the night before and was tired and it was early!
In the morning I turned on the TV to see if I could see anything about it, and no mention of it on Australian TV so I made my coffee, turned on the computer and went to xtra.co.nz to get the news from home and see what they had to say. To my horror, the first images I saw were those of places I knew very well, that had been reduced to rubble. I can't repeat the words out of my mouth at that point but it rhymed with ducking bell and then panic set in. So, it was on the phone to the old girl to make sure she was ok and to check on the sisters and their families.
Mum answered the phone and sounded pretty shaken and upset as could be expected. She told of how they were shaken out of bed with things crashing down around them in the darkness. I can't explain to you the feeling of shock and helplessness I was feeling at this point but it wasn't a nice feeling at all. How could this happen to my home town? This is the kind of thing that happens to other places, not my home. It is really a surreal feeling and is still sinking in.
So what happened?
At 04:35 am the 7.1 earthquake began about 40km west of Christchurch near the small farming town of Darfield and about 10km underground. The tremor lasted just under one minute and was described as a rolling feeling by everyone in the vicinity. Luckily, this time of the morning the city was fairly empty with many of the bars closing an hour or so earlier. Had they still been open, I'm sure there would have been carnage.
Over the course of the next 24 hours there were a total of about 30 smaller after shocks that sent the residents of Christchurch into a state of fear. Although many were concerned about a possible Tsunami happening, this was not the case as the epi-centre was located inland and the shock waves went out to sea.
The central business district has been closed down due to many buildings collapsing and the outbreak of several fires. Sadly, there were also reports of several looters taking advantage of the situation and also some burglaries have taken place in abandoned residential areas.
Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand and home to about 400,000 people, with many older Gothic style buildings in and around the city centre. Some heritage buildings have been extensively damaged, but many survived with minor damage. Collapses of chimneys has caused damage to property and collapse of brickwork and 1930 - 1970s era buildings seems to be where most of the destruction has happened. Water mains and sewerage burst and is yet to be fixed and electricity was out to most of the city for several hours but up to 90% was restored by early that day. Milk tankers are being used to bring in water to the city and many residents are unable to shower or cook without first boiling water. Although bottled water is available in supermarkets and stores, its not that common to buy it as the tap water is safe to drink, so many people will not have bottled water just sitting at home.
A state of emergency was declared giving the authorities additional powers to evacuate areas of the city when or if it was needed. So far it is only the central city that is in virtual lock down. Residential properties also suffered damage and approximately 1300 people are unable to return their homes as they have been deemed unsafe.
The damage bill so far is estimated at $2 billion and the government and local council have already put in place actions to speed up the repair of the city and get things back to normal, although rebuilding the city centre may take up to a year.
Bridges, rail lines and fences have been twisted and made unusable and roads have been torn up with huge cracks and crevasses everywhere. This is surely going to cause chaos with the public transport system, and traffic alike, with many bridges crossing the tranquil Avon River that gently winds its way through the city.
It is difficult to describe the feeling I had as I watched the scenes on the news. Christchurch is known as the Garden City, now its a city of rubble. This is my city, that I grew up in and seeing familiar places twisted and destroyed brought a lump to my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. This is the kind of thing that happens only on TV in places far away. Now reality hits that it can happen to anyone.
The government, council and emergency service though have done a stellar job and compare the quake to that which recently hit Haiti killing thousands. Both were similar in distance and depth from a major metropolitan centre but superior construction techniques and time of the tremor are the major difference in there being no reported loss of life and only 2 serious injuries.
New Zealand has always been prone to earthquakes, we get hundreds of tremors every year, and some refer to us as the shaky isles. This is the very reason that strict building standards are in place with all buildings being assessed on their earthquake survivability.
Tremors are still taking place nearly 48 hours after the main quake and a severe storm and wind warning in place for tonight, so it will be another nervous night for all residents in Christchurch.