We live in a pretty boring town. I mean that in the best possible way. It is a safe town in the world’s most peaceful country. So imagine our surprise when we woke up at 4:30am Saturday to what sounded like a train coming through our house. We quickly realised it was an earthquake and headed to the doorway. It lasted a very long 40 seconds but it was shaking so much we had to hold onto the doorframe to stand up. We could hear stuff crashing around in our house and the noise of the earthquake was amazing. Our power went out about halfway through so it was completely dark. Afterwards we high-fived our success at surviving the earthquake, grabbed our bike lights and did what any normal person would do, we Twittered. We were not the only ones. Prime Minister John Key admitted that he did not hear about the earthquake from civil defence or emergency services but that he first heard about the earthquake after his sister sent him a text. I think Cantabrians decided on a twitter hashtag for the earthquake (#eqnz) before CNN even picked up the story.
We have never been in an earthquake before and we did not really know a) if it was a big earthquake and b) what to do next; so after we established that 7.1 was indeed a big earthquake we walked around the house surveying the damage. I used to think our house was cold and drafty in the winter and on the verge of collapse but after the earthquake when I saw that we suffered no damage I now have a new respect for our flat. Since there was no power we walked outside to look at the sky. With no light pollution in the city you could see so many stars. Turns out most of the neighbourhood was outside and our neighbours stopped by to make sure we were okay. After calming down from the excitement and calling our parents to let them know we were alright we went back to bed for a couple hours.
When the sun finally came up and we awoke and realised we still had no power so we made coffee on our campstove in the backyard and hopped on our bikes to go survey the damage. We had no power or internet so really the rest of the world seemed to know more about the damage in Christchurch than we did.
We later learned that Christchurch fared really well considering the epicentre was only 30km from the city centre and it was a shallow earthquake at only 10km. The CBD was closed and a command centre was set up at the Art Gallery. We wandered around for a bit and found that although all the businesses in the CBD were closed the Irish pub and the Dux De Lux brewpub were open. It was a beautiful spring day and both establishments were filled with people. While enjoying our beer we ran into some friends and exchanged stories and photos. We still had not heard any news so did not know the extent of the damage in other parts of town. Turns out that New Brighton was flooded and the Eastern suburbs along the Avon River had lots of damage. Most of the damage to the Eastern suburbs was caused by liquefaction.
We also learned the University was closed for the week to survey damage and check for chemical spills. More than half a million books were displaced in the library so it will take some time to reassemble.There is a 7pm curfew in city so we headed home to drink some champagne and celebrate surviving our first earthquake. Our power was back on so we could read about the earthquake on the internet and charge up our phones.
It is now two days later and we are still under a boil advisory for water. We tried to buy water at the grocery store but even with a two bottles per person limit they were sold out. They were also out of bread so it looks like we will be baking our own for the next week.
We did learn a few things from this earthquake. Top three things:
1) We should have had batteries for our radio and a landline phone that was not cordless
In reality I already know this one. I have been told this so many times but apparently I have to learn everything the hard way. We lost power and our cell coverage was not reliable during the first day after the earthquake. We had no idea what was going on in the rest of the city. A battery for our radio would have been a huge help. Our landline is cordless so it was useless once we lost power. A corded landline would have been great for calling our families afterwards.
2) It was good we had lots of water on hand
This is something we did right although in the future I might keep more on hand. We had about a one-day supply of water but now after having to boil all water for three minutes, I wish we had stocked up on about three days of water.
3) Wood is a great building material
Those three little pigs are wrong about building with brick. Again, being a forester I already knew how much I loved wood as a building material but it was amazing how our old wood house shook a lot during the quake but did not fall. The most damage we saw in Christchurch was to brick houses. While most did not completely fall apart, many of them lost chimneys.
I think the best thing we learned is that we have amazing family, friends and neighbours. Neighbours we had never met stopped in to see how we were doing and we had so many emails and phone calls all weekend from people around the world. We feel lucky to know such remarkable people.