I created this blog to reflect on teaching, but the deadly earthquake that struck while I was at school on Tuesday 22nd September is what I’m going to write about now. This post will hopefully be a cathartic one for me. Counsellors reckon that it’s not good to constantly re-live a traumatic event, but it’s hard not to, and writing down what happened will help me get it out of my system, if you know what I mean. Please don’t read this if you are feeling traumatised by the quake – there’s nothing horrific in it, but ‘quake stories’ are hardly comforting.
Tuesday began with the PPTA PUM in the Christchurch Town Hall. I saw lots of lovely friends from my last school, yay. Then I went back to school. I had a free period and planned some lessons, had lunch, went on duty…then, about five minutes before 1pm, the start of period 4, I went into my classroom to write out my lesson plan on the whiteboard and set my laptop up. And then the quake hit. I had felt a quake in my classroom before; when I went in to sort some stuff out before the school year started, there was a 4-pointer which felt, well, unpleasant but small. This one started gently, and I thought, “Oh! Another wee one.” But it got bigger very quickly. I heard students screaming in the building. I ran to the door and hung onto the door frame – it was a violent one. The power went off. Once the rocking and swaying stopped I ran outside. Kids everywhere, some excited, some crying, lots of hugging. I was weird, because it felt bad, though not as bad as the 7.1…but then I work in West Christchurch and we live in the East…
I ran outside to the field, the school assembly point, as we had practised earlier this year (though I think that was as a result of a faulty alarm, not an intended practice, and definitely not an earthquake). My form class (Year 9, newbies to high school) came to me. They surrounded me, all chattering about what happened. They are such a great bunch. One of the girls began to cry when the first big after-shock hit - it must have been one of the 5-pointers as it was yukky. I held back tears myself, and then tried hard to not cry twice again as two other students broke down. Many students were upset because they couldn’t get hold of their parents by cellphone – over and over again I explained that Telecom and Vodafone would be experiencing system overload, delays and even might be down.
I had left my cellphone in the building, and was, eventually, allowed to go in and retrieve it. The building I teach in is fairly new and obviously very well built as there was no damage. In fact, I don’t think there was much damage to the school at all. At one point, while the whole school was on the field, a helicopter flew over us, headed towards the city centre, and all the students waved. That was a strange moment. I felt like crying then too, even though it was kind of lovely that so many people were obviously safe and well and able to wave at a helicopter. I tried to imagine what that would look like to the people in the helicopter. Then I heard a rumour that people had died in the city centre. That was a shock, and I didn’t really want to believe it. After all, rumours are always rife in emergency situations.
We spent two hours on the field on that overcast, rather chilly, slightly spitty day. I stayed at school until every single student from my form class had been picked up by a family member; I finally left about 3:30pm.
Along the way home it became apparent that things were bad. I saw huge, grey volcanoes of liquefaction on the road side…and that was in west Christchurch. The traffic crawled across the northern roads. I got to Burwood at about 4:20pm and then I ditched my car in a side street and walked, because the traffic was so terrible and I just wanted to get home as soon as possible. I ran across Avondale bridge, fearing a quake would hit as I crossed the already-ravaged-bridge, and walked down Avonside Drive, avoiding, on the way, the huge cracks, including ones that had swallowed cars. Avonside Drive is ten times worse than it was in the 7.1, which is scary, ‘cos it was munted then.
Two blocks away from our house, I came across flood water. Realising that flooding was a major issue, I wandered around the area for a while, trying to find a way in to my street. Finally, I took my sandals off, put them in my laptop case, rolled up my trousers, and waded up Wainoni Road to our street. The water was knee high and was that strange-but-oh-so-distinguishable grey-brown. I went very slowly, as the silty sand is incredibly slippery. There were hot and cold spots, just like when you go swimming in the sea, and some parts were very squelchy under my feet. I got to the corner of our street and peered around. The whole street was under water. So scary. There was one car parked in the street and not a person in sight. I made my way to the car, and then very cautiously shuffled from the car, across the street, to a lamppost near our fence. It was so disconcerting not being able to see the curb or grass verges on the side of the road. I walked along the fence line and opened the gate. Bubbles were rising up from the water where our drive would be. I heard Z open the front door and I called out, “What are the bubbles?” “Liquefaction,” he called back. That was comforting…I thought there was some sort of earthquake-bubble-monster under our property.
Z got home before me, although it took him 3 hours to get across town. He cleaned up the mess inside, which was much worse than last time, and found Gusto cowering behind a chair in the lounge. Finally, he found Grillz under the deck, perched on some rubble, surrounded by flood water. He put a plank across the water and, after a lot of coaxing, Grillz walked to safety. I am so grateful to him for sorting all that out before I got home.
In the end, we had to make a decision: stay or go. We decided to go. The flood waters on our property were very distressing. We both thought our place would be OK after the 6.3 – it was pretty OK last time. The cats got shut into a bedroom, with plenty of food and water and a litter tray. Wading through a kilometre of water carrying them was not an option as they were very stressed. Just as well we didn’t too, because I lost my sandals in the squelchy, quicksand-like mud as we walked to the car. We drove to our friend’s and stayed with him for the night. I’m so grateful to him too. Hardly slept though, due to aftershocks and worrying about the cats…
And that was my 22nd February 2011. We are so lucky.