Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christchurch five weeks on

So what's it like living in Christchurch these days?
Well sort of normal and sort of not.
We are still boiling the water so each day we still check how much water we have boiled and if we need to boil more. We still have the glass of boiled water for brushing teeth and use some in a bowl to wash salad vegetables from the garden.
Karl is in his second week back onsite at work. So routines are much more normal. Lucy had started at her temporary school location but then got chicken pox so is back home again. The current site for her school is just for this term, so next term her school will move again.
I had total sympathy for the business owners desperate to get into the inner city for things from their businesses after four weeks. It is such a long time to not be able to operate and while commercial insurance may cover some things, it doesn't cover losing customers to other companies because you have been unable to operate for a whole month. However, after talking to an engineer who has been working in the city since Feb 22nd, my opinion changed.
From the outside it is hard to see what is going on in the central city, but it has been really busy in there. Teams of USAR people and engineers have been working twelve hour days - four days on, two days off to check all buildings for safety. As areas have been checked and buildings stabilised or demolished, areas have been opened up. The cordons have shrunk a great deal in the last five weeks. Of course that means, the worst area in the middle is still cordoned off but with very good reason. The engineer I spoke to said it is an extremely dangerous place for an untrained person. Some cracks look bad but don't affect the building structurally, while other buildings may look fine but be very dangerous. Columns have been bent or broken so a concrete floor or roof maybe completely unsupported. Stairwells can be badly damaged and just hanging on by tenuous attachments. If you don't know where to walk, it has the potential to be fatal. So the poor business people have to wait, but many are now gaining limited access to get out essential items. It also stinks - five weeks of no power with places like sushi shops and fish restaurants...
I have driven passed the cordon for various reasons and even on the streets that are open, there is noone and hardly any traffic - even if your business could open, there is no one there to buy.
I dropped off an order from our webshop the other day and was met with many eyes from a bedroom and a lounge full of people working at desks, relocated from their usual workplace.
There are many temporary measures that we are all doing for today and tomorrow. At some stage I guess more permanent plans will have to be made.
The aftershocks have dropped off significantly we are only getting them sporadically, a couple a week. It is now not unusual to have quake free days. The kids still need reassurance with any unexpected noise or rattle - a big truck or bus passing or the wind rattling something.
The roads on this side of town are fine but we all still weave around bumps and dips. More holes have been repaired in our road and then heavy rain gets in to damaged parts and small ones open up.
We have had the rapid assessment by EQC of house last week and have been placed in the 4-6 month minor structural damage grouping. I still need to ring our own insurance about the driveway damage.
I did the first proper supermarket shop last week - not just for essentials. I haven't yet gone to a mall, but I wasn't a great mall shopper anyway and just now I don't really want to go in one. I have been caught out by trying to shop places that are still shut, even in areas I thought would be okay but the shop I wanted to go to was not okay.
It is hard to believe five weeks has passed and yet many are still living elsewhere, waiting to come back until next term. How will they feel coming back? Will they remember the sewerage is still far from fixed, even it appears that way at their house? How will the city cope with the increase in usage of power and water?
So it is sort of normal but not at all as it was on February 21st.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Visit to the Memorial Service

Lucy and I attended most of the Memorial Service. Lucy was disappointed she didn't get to meet Prince William and that she wasn't on tv. Here were my impressions of the service, if you didn't get to make it along.
A lot of people went! For all the negative chat beforehand, when our bus pulled up, it was already three-quarters full and everyone was going to the service. I felt a little underdressed in my jeans and sweatshirt. Women were dressed in skirts or smart trousers and men were wearing shirts. This was not another concert in the park, it was a memorial service.
Once off the bus we walked into the park. As we approached the Park Terrace corner of North Hagley park, we heard a bellow, at first Lucy thought was an elephant but then over the loud speakers came "Toia Mai Te Waka". This song is about pulling your canoe up and is often used in powhiri to welcome guests. I found it surprisingly reassuring. The voices rang out so strongly of a people that in the past have lost many more whanau to the arrival of such things as infectious diseases and fought much bigger battles, than what our city was currently facing. They were still singing out strongly after all these years and Christchurch will too.
Before the service started, they showed the fourteen minute video of the severely damaged central city. Everyone was quiet. It was eerie to sit in such a large crowd in silence for that length of time. People got really irritable if anyone broke the silence, I still haven't quite figured out why.
The organisers had billed this event as a family event but unfortunately for us the video wasn't so great. Lucy hadn't seen too many images since walking out of the CBD on the 22nd. The video reminded her of that day. Her behaviour went downhill after that. She became belligerent and rude. Later we talked that perhaps it is better to cry than to misbehave. I guess the kids feel emotions and then don't know what to do with them.
One of the musical acts was Dave Dobbyn singing Loyal. Whatever you think of the song, I found it sad at the service. Only a few months ago we had Band Together in this same park. Everyone was laughing, talking, singing along and eating hot dogs. At the service, everyone just sat in silence until he finished playing. How much the mood of the city had changed in just five months.
There were many different religions represented in the service but there were more Christian traditions. After all it is New Zealand's background and often how we mourn. The Lord's prayer was said. I thought so many people all mumbling the Lord's Prayer in low voices, was a little like the hum of an approaching aftershock. Everyone gathered together made that sound.
We were under a clear blue sky and a very hot sun. I couldn't help but look around the crowd and wonder if everyone had sun cream on. In the wake of such a big change in the city, little things like sun cream can seem trivial but how much skin damage happened that day, that could lead to melanoma? Sometimes the world can seem a very cruel place.
Lucy and I left early and walked back into the Botanical Gardens. A couple asked if I could take their photo in front of some of the trees, just starting to show autumn colours. It was a lovely shot of a happy couple surrounded by the beauty of nature.
Many of the world's cities are near or on faultlines because they offer us so much - beautiful, rugged mountain scenery that I love and groovey stuff like gold. Apparently someone has worked out that on balance, the benefits for humans living near faultlines outweighs the nasty earthquakes. Sometimes it just takes awhile to see the beauty again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

To Kiwis outside Christchurch

Here is what I wrote for my friend, who had been asked to comment on Christchurch at their work thing today in Wellington

Today is a memorial day for those that died and for our city. Please tomorrow and the day after, remember the living in Christchurch.
For many, I think this day has come too soon, not all the dead have been named, not all funerals held, schools are barely up and running, many businesses are still working out their future - Heck we can't even get into the middle of our city.
Personally, I am a bit scared of memorial day, probably like many here, I haven't thought much about the grief of this quake. Life has been too busy doing basics.
I am worried that if I take the time out on this day everything that has happened will hit me like an unwanted aftershock - The people I no longer will see, the change in our business, the terrible damage to the city, the changes to our own house. At some stage, I am going to have face these new realities.
After today's service - as the media moves on, Christchurch will still be here just starting to grieve; the elderly couple realizing they may not live long enough to see the city rebuilt, the kids missing classmates who have permanently left town, without getting a chance to say goodbye. People dealing with images in their heads who only say of February 22nd "I saw some things…..".
Everyday I hear of new situations that make my heart sad.
I think we are all still coming to grips with what has happened.
We are still having aftershocks that bring back memories of September 4th or February 22nd, depending on their shake.
We are still working out how our lives go from here.
Please remember us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm a motorsport fan - so why do I care about Rugby?

Pre Feb 22, I was already sick of the rugby world cup; the disruption to the inner city in preparation, the stupid corporatey rules about what words businesses can and can't use in marketing. But Post Feb 22, I became quite a strong advocate that Christchurch should still host rugby world cup games. Today I realised, I have been fooling myself about my city. I knew we were experiencing a new normal at the moment, but I guess I always figured we could get back to proper "normal" in the nearish future.
This morning I heard a business consultant on the telly say business was not trying to get back to normal in Christchurch, it was currently in survival mode and then it would be finding a new normal.
An email from Lucy's Learning Advisor (otherwise known as her teacher) with a list of resources they needed made me realise, my relief at them finding a temporary location was only a very small part of getting the school up and going. Then I was confronted with all the small details - Lucy's bag is still in their school building in the red zone in the CBD. I need to find a new bag, some books and pens and pencils. Her pencil case is in the CBD. Her rain jacket and polar fleece she used to wear to school, also still in the CBD. In fact teacher's cars are still stuck in the carpark building in the CBD. I was thinking school being back was a step to a more normal existence but it is not normal at all.
This week I have seen a little of the better part of the Eastern side of the city - imagine gravel back country roads, that were previously busy, smooth city streets. I have seen a little of the inner city. I nearly cried when I saw the inner city, not because of the buildings that we've seen many times on the news but for the buildings that have never made it to the news that are lying as a pile of rubble, the windows smashed and still lying on the footpath. It is like a raw wound.
Seeing a little of both these areas, what hit me with a chilling lump in my stomach was the littler things, the folds in footpaths or new step ups in the ground that used to be flat. They reminded me of the amount of force that it took to push the ground like that and how that uncontrolled power felt.
By the time I saw the announcement on the World Cup I already knew what it would be. In some ways perhaps we needed this decision to make us admit that we really are in the middle of a national disaster. The word surreal has often cropped up in conversation, because our life here does feel unreal. We are three weeks after February 22 but sometimes it feels like only minutes and sometimes it feels like months. I may not be a rugby fan but it was really hard to hear that decision. It is one thing for us to say our city is munted. It is another for outsiders to tell us.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Normal Day in Christchurch

I know in every city, everyone's normality is different. What is normal for Christchurch people now? At the moment I think we are acutely aware of how different normal is for people living in the same city.
We live on the south western, good side of the city who have power and water. This is our new normal, but again it is something that is constantly changing.
Currently we don't have the wakeup alarm on because we don't have set places to be at the moment. Of course the little guys get us up at a regular time anyway.
We go to the toilet with the floor crack the length of the room. We only flush when necessary and know even then, that it will be floating down the river past our friend's house at some time in the near future. For showers, the kids share with us and they are as fast as possible - no thinking time.
When the kettle boils we take the lid off and let it boil for three minutes to make sure any bugs are killed. We check the supply of boiled water and put on another stock pot if needed.
After breakfast, we brush our teeth using a cup of boiled water that sits in the bathroom.
We do a minimal amount of washing, to not overload the wastewater system. When will I be able to clear the backlog of less important washing? Perhaps another trip to a friend not on Christchurch's water and sewage systems.
Then it is time for homeschooling. Next week Lucy's school starts back but it is never going back to its third floor central city location. In the future they will build a new school close to the city but only one story. At the moment they are in beautiful borrowed premises down the road from us. Karl's current work is highly varied, he may need to spend several hours working via the internet or he made need to be somewhere to do things. Each day it is different and work is no longer set hours but any time. In between things, I keep our webshop ticking over, organising orders and if I have to go out somewhere, I try to leave plenty of time. The traffic is terrible with much of the central city still shut off. Getting across, even the western side of the city, can take much longer than it used to.
Conversations with other people from Christchurch are different. Now there is always the question - "Are you okay, how is your house?" Everyone is very aware of the losses others have suffered, so the answer is generally.
"We're fine, the house is okay. Well it has cracks but we can live in it." Being able to live in your house, is now something that is great. It doesn't matter about its appearance, that it maybe cracked or the floor dips and rises - it keeps off the rain and in the warmth and that is enough. Sometimes the answer is;
"It is munted, we have four bags of belongings and that is all."
How do you respond to that?
All through the day at any time there may be an aftershock. They come in all shapes. Sometimes they are more noise than shake, sometimes they are all shake and no noise. I asked this evening how you would describe the noise. Tristan reckons it was like moving your tongue over your teeth rapidly, Karl suggested thunder, Lucy said like the wind pulling at your house. I describe it as a low rumble, like a truck going past but more substantial. Sometimes they are small and sometimes they cause us all to pause and wait, to see if it will stop or not. I am not terrified of them anymore, though at night they still get the heart pumping. The land feels a lot looser than before. It seems to move more and take awhile to stop even with the smaller aftershocks.
It is tiring feeling them, waking up to them and not feeling them, sub consciously waiting for the next one. The amount we get in a day varies. We might have one or two larger ones. Yesterday I didn't feel any all day but then we had a couple of over four magnitude quakes in the evening. These meant the house creaked and rocked but nothing fell over. Even as I type this we just had one, that sent Tristan scurrying for a hug because he was scared. It was only a 3.3 but centred just a few blocks away. Nothing fell down.
I find myself always shutting the pantry and cupboard doors, to stop things falling out. I push things back from the edges of furniture. Bottles are put on the floor in the pantry or further back. Plastic containers are at the front. Some items are still sitting in a box, not yet put back up, while we wait for the aftershocks to die down.
This is our current normal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Post Quake Thoughts

Some things that I have been mulling over these past 13 days.
The day the 6.3 aftershock hit we were supposed to be running a Thai cooking class that evening. With sauces smashed all over the floor, I was trying to tidy them up, thinking I have to have it all nice for tonight. Of course as I became aware of the magnitude of the situation, the class never went ahead. Now looking back it seems unbelievable that I ever thought it could.

On the evening of the quake, it was suggested we leave town for Nelson. I didn't see why, we would get power and water probably the next day, it would be okay. By about 4 in the morning, when I was still awake and being shaken by aftershocks every few minutes - our decision was made, we were leaving town.

I will never forget driving north. Every stop we met other Christchurch people. You could tell they were Christchurch people because they looked as pale and sad as we did. There were no smiles that day, except from the kids. Just downcast mouths and haunted eyes. After the 7.1 we were smiling because we got through with comparatively little damage and no loss of life - this time was vastly different.

We had no power at our house for six days and no water for nine days. We are some of the luckier ones. Once you get water and power back, it is hard to believe how you lived you when you didn't have it. Did you really only shower at other people's houses and use water collected from elsewhere in the 24ltr beer fermentor? Having power and water you quickly get back into life's routines - even if you boil the water for 3 minutes before using it and have pots of boiled water sitting about on the bench.

Today we learnt something about how the kids are really feeling - we spent an hour just sitting with them on our laps and giving them hugs. Following that, they went to bed much better tonight. Yesterday Tristan wet his pants a number of times, finally we found out why - he was too scared to go to the toilet by himself. It has a crack right through the floor and I guess it just kept reminding him of that day. They don't tell you their problems, they just act all crazy and slowly we have to work it out, without getting too frazzled by their behaviour and our own emotions.

As life slips into some old routines but not others, it is hard to get a grip on our new life and what shape it will take. Everyday there are little steps forward to normality but then you hear another ramification of the quake and you feel you have slipped backwards again, wondering how this city and it's people who remain will ever move forward.

I guess it is like the little kids book we had out of the library a few years ago - One step - that is all we can do at a time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Quake aftermath

This is what I . wrote last time, a week after the quake.
It is not like that this time. We are sleeping better because the aftershocks are not as frequent or as large but everything is different. Last time I said the aftershocks "are now just part of life". It is not the same now. We had an aftershock last night and my body reacted so badly - my heart was racing and the adrenaline started pumping and although I don't want to admit it I was terrified. I think it is because last Tuesday, I thought it was just another aftershock and I didn't initially react and as the shaking got worse and we huddled under that counter listening to crashing glass, I still didn't really believe what was happening. Now my body thinks any of these aftershocks could develop like that. My head can tell you all the scientific data and the logical sequence of aftershocks but my body no longer trusts the brain and reacts all on its own before any signal from my thoughts.
We still do not have any water. We thankfully have power. Last time I was already talking of moving on and getting on with life. I was preparing to go back to the central city for Lucy's school the following week. There is none of that this time. Instead I get messages from people no longer coming back to Christchurch. They have lost their businesses or their jobs. Many people have left town temporarily. Our future is completely different too, with the shop shutting and working out how we can do markets and keep the webshop going.
Today I was looking in the boxes of sticky products, I was straight back there with the smell of sauces combining and the crashing and shattering of glass.
This is going to be a long process - for our city and for our hearts.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.