Saturday, September 03, 2011

One Year On

No one in Christchurch is going to forget being woken in the early hours of September 4th 2010. 4.35am & 45 seconds of  violent shaking that signified the time that the lives of everyone in this city were to start changing forever . Nothing could mentally prepare us for what was to come.

What everyone had thought was Mother Nature’s wake up call was in fact just her opening act.

One year on there isn’t a single person left in this city unaffected in one way or another. It isn’t something that can be imagined or understood unless you have been through it & continue to live it on a daily basis….even if you think you can imagine what it must be like, you can’t.

At the beginning of 2010 I was shocked & felt so completely helpless as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. I watched with horror as events there unfolded & then followed Haiti’s story well after the media had left it behind in its never ending chase for a new headline. I mistakenly thought I could imagine what those people were going through. I was to learn how wrong I was.

In September when we had our first 7.1 magnitude earthquake more or less the same as Haiti's, I knew how blessed we had been as a city to escape with a bit of building damage & no loss of lives. I grieved for the buildings, but could be grateful for all that we had left. 

 I took this photo at 7.00am on the 29th December 2010, having no idea why I chose the buildings & subjects I photographed at the time. Later I was to be very pleased I had.

In February that all changed. People learned what real fear was – the fear of having no control whatsoever over a situation. An earthquake is unlike anything else you can imagine. There is  no warning,  no subtle hint that something isn’t quite right & it might be about to occur.

An earthquake is not something that can be tested, diagnosed or treated – it is completely beyond any human control.  It’s not like going through any other event  you can imagine.

Having the earth shake around you, systems failing or becoming overloaded & not knowing what has happened ‘this time‘ beyond your immediate space is almost paralysing. The tightness in your chest, when you realise that your children are not where you are & that you need to get to them – or that you can’t get in touch with family members because networks are overloaded with others trying to do the same,  is a very real physical pain.

Apparently we’ve had over 8000 aftershocks. But really, in our day to day existence, they are the least of most people’s worries and to me it seems that those that have suffered the most personal damage or loss are the people that are also the least concerned about every little aftershock. Perhaps having something bigger to concern themselves with puts things into perspective. 

Many have fled the city some by choice simply because they are over it & others through necessity. 45,000 have moved within the wider Canterbury region & 26,000 have left it completely , all since February.26,000 private sector job losses in the region will have a lot to do with what seems to be a mass exodus.

The infrastructure of this city is still severely compromised. There are still many that don’t know what is going to happen with their homes, & others that are having to face the sad reality that they may never own their own home again. 

Sometimes it is hard to see the progress. But progress there most assuredly is – even if it is in the form of demolition. The roads are still a mess in many area’s & flooding has become an issue so the previously beautiful Avon River has been sand banked & isn’t quite as picturesque as it once was in many areas. But it’s not just those things that have changed.

It’s in the smaller things – the subtle differences that impact on every facet of your life one way or another.

Such as how if has affected our interior d├ęcor style…
After the September quake a visitor would arrive & you’d greet them with “Come in – but please excuse the mess”  & with a wave of your hand usher them inside. Everyone had a similar mess so it was no big deal.

As the aftershocks continued more & more got relegated to either the rubbish bin or staying safely on the floor where it couldn’t fall any further in the case of things that survived undamaged. Now when visitors arrive you don’t even bother to justify why artwork is on the floor leaning face in against walls …or why there are brown cardboard cartons holding the china that once was on display either side of it.

The upside to this is that “Dirty is the new Clean”
A combination of a mild winter, silt resulting from the bigger quakes & countless trucks travelling roads they wouldn’t normally use while transporting rubble from the red zone demolitions out to the land fill means we have a wonderful excess of dust. This dust gets everywhere, coating plants, windows & every surface you can imagine inside. It’s not selective – if you keep your windows & doors shut it will come in via the heat pump or air conditioning.

It also loves cars, managing to turn even the shiniest sports car into something that looks as if it has just done a cross country off road trip within minutes of being outside. Just as well my heap isn’t a shiny sports car.
I realised when it snowed last month that it was the first time my car had looked clean in months!!
“Fabulous”, I thought “What an effective car cleaner snow is!” It lasted 24 hours…..only because I didn’t take the car out & the trucks weren’t dumping that day.

Small things, yes. Easy enough to make light of & to bear for those of us that aren’t dealing daily with some of the bigger stuff. But it is those that are dealing with the bigger stuff that I worry about, these smaller things that are easy for many of us to bear can be like the last building block on the stack that causes the pile to tumble down for those that are dealing with trying to piece broken homes & lives back together somehow.

So one year & 8000 aftershocks on I look back at all that has happened since the initial quake, the mailleman’s heart attack, a few hospital trips for Mum, the passing on of two Aunts, my favourite Uncle having a stroke & I wonder whether the physiological  effects of this will ever be truly understood.

The ripples are many, not always obvious, & will last for some years to come.

 Kenton Chambers post February 22nd.