It was 4.34 am on Saturday the fourth of September and I was sound asleep. It was the first Friday night that I hadn’t gone out drinking in a really long time. I can’t remember why, but at the time I had a reason.
I was dreaming that there was a fire. I can’t remember the specifics, but I know that I wasn’t worried about the fire. Then I heard someone shouting out my name. In the dream I looked around trying to see who was calling out, then I woke up.
I could still hear my name being called. Being 4.35 am now, it was dark, but it was also very very noisy, not just because of the shouting. There was a weird, deep rumbling sound combined with a rattling. There was also a strange rubbing sound, like when a person sits in a wooden chair that’s too close to the wall. At first I was confused, until I realized the source of the noise.
Earthquake. Everything was shaking, violently. My bed was moving around like there were lots of kids bouncing on it, all out of sync. The TV on the draw next to my bed was moving about, knocking the bits and pieces next to it around. My wardrobe doors were shuddering, trying to open.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion, but in reality it was only a few seconds before I was fully alert. The person calling my name was my flatmate, who I had recently moved in with. I tried a few times before successfully jumping out of bed and dashed for the door. I heard a crash behind me but kept going. I was just about to open my bedroom door, when I realized that I was completely naked. I ran back to my bed to grab my dressing gown before going into the hallway to meet my flatmate.
The shaking stopped before I opened the door, but the adrenaline was running high. My flatmate couldn’t find one of her cats, so I rushed downstairs to see if I could find him. Luckily I could, he was under the kitchen table, giving me a death stare like the quake had been my fault.
Once we calmed down a little we went around the house checking to see if anything had fallen over. A hand mirror in the bathroom had fallen off the vanity and broken and in my bedroom, the TV had fallen to where I had been lying on the bed. That was the crashing sound I heard just after I got up. It was a heavy CRT TV so I consider myself lucky to have gotten out of bed in time.
We still had power, phone and running water. My flatmate called her mother in another city and checked the news reports online. There were photos of the city center emerging, lots of bricks fallen from buildings to the streets below and there were reports that a lot of the city had lost power.
I called my mother and she didn’t answer the phone. I called my brother on his cellphone, it rang once then went to voicemail. He had a habit of blocking my calls on the weekends around that time and I remember cursing him, for being so selfish. I dialled my other brother, no answer. Then I tried my sister, who lived elsewhere. She was ok and didn’t seem too bothered. From what I can tell she didn’t know how bad it had been at that point.
Eventually, I got hold of Mum. My family was ok, a bit shaken (excuse the pun), but ok. It turned out my brothers phone had gone flat and when I first rang the others they’d been outside talking to the neighbours about the event.
While all this was going on there were a lot of large aftershocks. Each one was scary, because I just didn’t know how long they would last, when they would hit or how big they would be. My flatmate was more scared than I was, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious about it.
We didn’t go back to bed. I spent the morning on the internet, looking at Facebook to get in touch with my friends and the news to keep myself updated. I was worried about my job. I’d only had it a week and I was terrified that I’d be unemployed again, images of the building in pieces running through my mind. I managed to find my bosses number online and gave him a call, leaving a message offering my willingness to help with anything that needed doing. I needed him to know that I still wanted the job and I’d do whatever it took to keep it.
That night a whole group of us met up at a friends house to swap stories. We shared our experiences animatedly, because at this point we knew that, even though there was a lot of damage, no one had died and only two people had been injured. It was all we talked about that night (for months after as well).
Tomorrow morning marks the fifth anniversary since the first Canterbury Quake. It was a magnitude 7.1 at a depth of 10km, centred 40 kilometers west of Christchurch and was felt widely over the South Island of New Zealand and as far north as New Plymouth in the North Island. Aftershocks followed for over a year, each one varying in intensity, damage caused and also varying in the way people coped. My personal experience was all over the place. Sometimes I was ok, other times I wasn’t. But the events of that morning is an experience I’ll never forget.
Smiles and Sunshine