Thirteen days ago Christchurch had a massive 6.3 “aftershock” earthquake. If you keep up with me at all, you’ve probably seen my talking about it on the web already. You may have heard about it in the news as well. But for those who haven’t, let me just recap briefly.
On September 22nd, 2010 there was a 7.1 earthquake in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s south island. It was roughly 25 miles west of Christchurch (and 25 miles south of where I went to school in Oxford). It struck in the middle of the night when very few people were about and at a depth of around 6 miles. No one died as a direct result of the quake, and damage was limited.
Since that initial quake there have been over 5000 aftershocks. Read that again. Five-thousand aftershocks magnitude two or higher. That’s roughly 30 per day.
Things seemed to be settling down until thirteen days ago. At 12:51pm on Tuesday the 22nd local time, when tens of thousands of people were at work, people were having lunch, and tourists were taking in the sites, the biggest aftershock occurred. Smaller than the original quake, this one was centered only six miles south-east of Christchurch and a mere 1.2 miles deep. Those two facts, in addition to the timing, created a much more devastating earthquake. 166 people are confirmed dead, thousands have been displaced, the central business district (CBD) was heavily damaged, and nearly two weeks out core services aren’t 100% yet. For the first time ever, New Zealand is in a state of national emergency.
And this is the situation I want to write about. I don’t have a point I’m trying to make, I don’t have any agenda. I just want to share my thoughts. Call it my small coping mechanism for the small way this affects me.
Anyone who knows me knows that New Zealand is my heartland and second home. When I was 18 and 19 and going to school in Oxford I visited Christchurch at least once a week for three months. During my work with Impact World Tour I was sad to not help with the Christchurch show. And then in 2007-08 I lived in the city for eight months. No, that’s not a huge amount of time, but it became home. I had a church I ran sound for and attended; I had a weekly barbecue with a few friends; I had my local watering holes and local dairies; I grew to know locals and became part of the sporting community there. It was in Christchurch I first lived on my own and bought my own first car.
Honestly, it was hard to not be there in September. At first I thought it was weird, but from talking with people, they understand. It has been really difficult to not be there now. Not to see the destruction and tragedy, not to have a sob-story, and not have people care for me. As horrible an event as it is, it is the type of thing that forces community to happen. People must come together. And when major events happen to a group of people, whether it be a small group of friends or a nation, it creates a common bond – a shared experience that connects people. Just like your grandparents can tell you where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, like your parents can tell you where they were when Neil Armstrong set foot on another celestial body, and like you can tell each other where you were when 9/11 happened, Canterbrians will be able to tell you where they were and what they were doing at 12:51pm February 22nd.
That’s a shared experience I will only have with them by proxy. Through a handful of personal connections and the Internet. I heard about the quake through Twitter within minutes of it happening thanks to a web designer acquaintance who was visiting at the time. For the rest of the week I was glued to live streaming online news from New Zealand and Australian channels. While the majority of the world focused on the tension in Libya and the Middle East, I looked the other direction. But all I’ll be able to say is I was sitting in my office 7327 miles away worrying about friends.
A shared experience isn’t the only reason I want to be there. I want to help shovel silt from the liquefaction from my friends’ driveway. Or to give someone a place to sleep. To help my mates sort out water through their church. I think anyone else would feel the same for a place they consider home. I’ve been keeping up with people who are helping with the technical side of the recovery effort. Within a day websites were popping up helping people find resources and report issues. Even being in touch with these techies has been good. I hope to be able to do more. The Red Cross is looking for some web development help and I may be able to do something there. It would be great to use my skills somehow, even if I’m not there.
What’s weird to think is that in three weeks I will be there. I purchased tickets for a month long trip in December. The plan was to visit friends, holiday, and play in the NZ Ultimate (frisbee) Nationals. I would be staying with one of my friends in the city, probably spend a few afternoons downtown, eating sushi and watching gentlemen play the oversized chess set in the shadow of the cathedral in the square. It’s weird to think that I won’t be allowed into the CBD, it will be at least partially closed for probably months. It’s weird to think I may not be able to stay with my friend because I’m not sure of the state of his house. It’s weird to think I’ll probably have to boil drinking water and use a toilet dug in the back yard. And it’s weird to know that I will experience small aftershocks while I’m there. Currently, every few hours a magnitude 3.something aftershock is occurring in the Canterbury plains. I’m not expecting to be in any danger, but it will be a bit surreal.
If (when?) I move to New Zealand, Christchurch is always where I’ve wanted to live. That hasn’t changed, but it won’t be the same. Not just the skyline, but the culture and mentality of the population has irreversibly changed. As someone there mentioned, there is no six-degrees of separation in New Zealand. For a country of only 4.3 million people, it’s more like two-degrees. If you don’t know someone who was affected, you know someone who knows someone who was.
Much to my relief, everyone I know in Christchurch is safe. Their houses aren’t necessarily, but they are. I was very touched by the friends and family who reached out to ask how I was doing. I wasn’t even there, but they knew how much it meant to me. To those of you, thank you so much.
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If you read all the way down here, I’m impressed. Thanks for letting me ramble and process.