Christchurch Recovering After 7.1 Earthquake

Published Date Author: , September 27th, 2010

Christchurch Earthquake“Did the earth move for you?” became the most popular joke in Christchurch . It moved for us all. It shook, rocked and rolled us as we clung to the nearest man or door frame if you hadn’t got lucky that night.

It was 4.35am on 4th September 2010. I had two guests from Auckland at my B&B, Christchurch Gaystay . While Christchurch is close to the faultline, earthquakes are unlikely in Auckland on the North Island.

Suddenly our beds started shaking violently.

There was crashing and banging as vases and wine on shelves fell to the ground. We lept out of bed and clung to door frames which are supposed to be the strongest part of a house. We were all naked but the power had gone off and we could not see each other . “My willy is being swung by the earthquake” yelled Mike so he grabbed his Calvins to contain the pendulum .

“Please!” I yelled to anyone who might turn off the shaking. I expected any minute for my house to fall like a pack of cards. 30, 45, 60 seconds? Who knows? It stopped and the house seemed to sway back on an even keel, as if the storm at sea at suddenly stopped.

In the dark I found my way downstairs and the door to the lounge would not open, but it was impeded only by a broken bottle of wine. “A cheap red”, I sighed. Red wine making its way across the tiles towards the wool carpet. So I grabbed my massage towells and threw them over glass and alcohol and began the clean up. As the boys upstairs still clung to each other or a door frame I cleaned up then found some broken family heirloom Doulton plates in pieces.

The electricity was dead so we used gas to boil water and have a cup of coffee. A bicycle light was the only light we had till I lit the candle sticks. I found a transistor radio so we sat over it like the family in Woody Allen’s Radio Days, listening to the news. It emerged that 80 buildings in town were destroyed.

Thousands of chimneys had crashed down on to house rooves. New faultlines snaked across the countryside , not respecting anything in their paths, breaking apart houses and gardens, opening great cracks in the land. Grey mud began bubbling to the surface, liquefaction, a new word to us, the cause of this. Water pipes and sewer pipes broke and their contents flowed in to the street and rivers . We are proud of the cleanliness of our rivers and streams and now they were flowing a muddy brown, contaminated.

The news kept coming. Houses split in two, verandas dropped to the side walks, restaurant walls fell on to the street. Historic buildings, earthquake proofed years ago had parapets and spires at strange angles . People stepped out of their front doors and into 5 feet of water where their path was a minute ago. They hugged each other and cried at the loss of their beloved home.

We sat at home as dawn arrived, wondering what to do. Eight hours later we had electricity again. some had never lost power, some still do not have it several days later .

We began to feel a warmth for each other, that we had survived. Miraculously the news told us that no one had died. Building standards had proved to be important. Haiti’s earthquake was the same magnitude.

We had to get out of the house so walked around the area and found great cracks in roadways, mud and sewerage bubbling up. I went to a friend’s house and found him shovelling mud, so joined him in barrowing it to the roadway. His house had cracks inside and out and his back door would not open.

It was the weekend so no one went to work as we cleaned up our houses, wondering when the next after-shock would scare us. Power and water came back on so we could watch the TV images of our town, images people around the world had seen before we had.

Things are returning to normal, the central business district was closed for a couple of days as the safety of buildings was assessed. But many people are not allowed to return to homes, some are sleeping in school halls until temporary accommodation can be found. 2000 houses are uninhabitable. The city has 330,000 residents.

Aftershocks occurred for some days, including several at 5.4 magnitude.

Texts, phone calls and emails arrived from around the world, former guests inquiring about me and my house.

Bulldozers are knocking over the remains of old buildings, mainly old brick buildings, built 100-150 years ago without a thought for an earthquake. Meetings are being held trying to set architectural standards for the rebuilding of shops and houses.

The last major earthquake in NZ occurred in 1931 in Napier on the North Island of NZ. 256 people died and the central city had just 4 buildings standing . As it was rebuilt in the art deco era many of the buildings are a tourist attraction these days, and there is an annual Art Deco Festival. So, out of the ashes grew a city with a different emphasis and character. We hope the same happens here. 80% of the business district is undamaged so not affected to the extent of the Napier earthquake. TV loves to present the extremes, so it looks worse to viewers than it actually is.

Spring is here and daffodils, magnolias and rododendruns are defying the eathquake and brightening us up

You can see pics of the affects of the quake by googling Christchurch Earthquake.

My business Christchurch Gaystay is still open for business. www.gaystay.co.nz/chchgaystay . I hope people will still come to Christchurch and New Zealand. My B&B caters for gay and lesbian travellers . It is 10 minutes walk from downtown . It costs $60 for a single traveller. That includes breakfast and broadband. $95 is the rate for a couple.

Napier accommodation can be found on www.gaystay.co.nz. There are 85 gay owned B&Bs on that site around New Zealand

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