I live just out of Cheviot and just after midnight on Monday November 14, we were shaken out of our beds by a 7.5 earthquake. It went on for what seemed like a long time, but was somewhere between two and three minutes.
The days leading up to the time the earthquake struck had been busy. Really busy. I had a one-day turnaround from Adelaide 4* horse trials to start our coverage at the Canterbury Show (which really is a fantastic show and if you haven’t been, then perhaps you should!). There are so many classes to cover there, from Shetlands to show jumping, from Clydesdales to ponies in carts. My fitbit tells me I walked at least 12 kms each day!
In amongst that busy-ness, my husband was admitted to hospital, and ended up having to spend two nights there being treated for a major infection. As a result, we spent an extra night in Christchurch and a lot of time in the hospital. It was two very tired people who went to bed that Sunday night, so when we were so violently awoken on Monday morning, we were very confused.
“Where are we?” he asked. “Christchurch,” I replied for some unknown reason. Perhaps I associate earthquakes with Christchurch, having worked for a couple of years in the Christchurch rebuild sector after the big quakes in 2011. Perhaps I had been dreaming of being at the show still. We stumbled out of bed and pulled back the curtains and with the big moon, it was very light. “No, we are at home,” I declared, stating the obvious. The house was shaking, banging and creaking. We staggered towards the kitchen; there is nowhere to hide in our bedroom or hallway. We yelled at our French woofers to see if they were all right, and to take cover, which seems silly as there is nowhere in their room either, except under the covers! But they emerged, and reacted by rushing outside which isn’t ideal, but something that seems to come naturally to most, including me in the 2011 quakes. All exits of our house have a verandah with a roof over it, and these are probably going to be the first to collapse. But also worryingly, the brick chimney in the middle of our house could do major damage – so when you are in the moment, you just do what you can.
We also worried where the earthquake was based, thinking that if it was in Wellington or Christchurch there would be such devastation. “I hope this is the worst of it, I hope it is based here,” I said, worrying for the family we have in both centres. Little did I know at this point that it was indeed centred just up the road.
The noise is hard to describe, but I don’t remember hearing the bookshelf tipping over on to the spare bed, or the whiteboard crashing to the floor. My office was a mess, but to be fair, I had just dumped lots of stuff in there after returning home. My camera gear was already all on the floor, I think, or did it fall off the bench in the quake? Who knows, but it is all okay anyway. That was all the damage we incurred; we were luckier than so many.
Our generator, which had sat idle for some time, was fired up and kept us going, as there was no power. So we were able to make a cup of tea, turn the lights on and find all the torches. Our area doesn’t have the best cellphone coverage or radio reception normally but it was practically non-existent after the quakes, so being able to have the wifi on was a psychological lifesaver. We could listen to the radio to find out what was happening, we could post on social media to say we were safe, and we could get all the news from Twitter.
My ever-prepared husband handed out head-torches and we went out to check on the animals. The horses and donkeys were all fine, and settled, blinking at us either from being woken up or having a bright light shone in their faces. The pigs were also fine, thinking we were bringing them a midnight snack.
After checking all we could, we went back to bed for a couple of hours. Our two dogs don’t usually sleep on our bed, the cats usually claim it, but after every quake we have had, it ends up being a popular place for both dogs and cats. There was only one slight altercation between one dog and one cat, but eventually the six of us got a bit of rest. The animals get very clingy after quakes, with the exception of the Boss Cat, who refused to come back into the house for some hours. He did eventually come back inside in the afternoon, and about five minutes later there was another big aftershock so he was out of there again!
My mother-in-law, who lives in the little township of Cheviot, didn’t fare so well, with cupboards spilling out on to the floor and her good collection of jars in the laundry smashing as they hit the ground. Some of her prized ornaments didn’t make it either, and her old tank at the bottom of the section is now sitting on the ground instead of on its stand. She had no power and no generator, so we brought her back to our place, plied her with tea and the tele, and rushed out to tend to other matters.
Some of the staff who work in my husband’s business also ended up with most of their breakable household contents broken, and one couple decided to spend the night camping in their garden, as their house was such a mess. We went out to visit these people, who were on the north side of Cheviot, far closer to the epicentre than us, and the damage to the roads as we travelled up was extensive and frightening. We know that it gets worse the closer you get to Kaikoura, and we worry about the effect this will have on the area, on my husband’s business, as many of the customers are from Kaikoura and further north. There are quite a few cafes in the town who rely on those travelling through.
Others in the area have incurred huge losses. Homes destroyed, major slips, farm fences decimated, major repair needed in so many places. I see on Facebook one family spent their night in their horsefloat out in the middle of the paddock, a safe option, but not a sustainable one.
We have helicopters frequently flying overhead, making their way to Kaikoura. I give a friendly wave to them all, especially the one Richie McCaw is flying (not that I know which one it is…).
I also keep my cellphone battery topped up as much as possible, our cars are full of petrol, and we have a good supply of fuel for the generator, just in case. We have our helmets by our bed, along with our torches, sturdy shoes and a set of clothes. I wore my best nightie last night, with the thought that I would be happy to be found in that, if that was the way I was going out.
Of course my husband, who was supposed to be resting this week as part of his recovery, has done the exact opposite, so I worry about that. Yes, there is a lot to worry about at the moment. Just as well I am well qualified in that department.
While earthquakes themselves are terrifying, it is the after-effects that really take their toll on people as a realisation of the implications of the damage sets in. Then we have to be resilient, and keep plugging away at the recovery, which takes longer than ever expected, and is harder than surviving the few minutes of terror while the ground moves so violently under your feet.
Now I am worrying that my blog is in the “fun articles” category on the website, and this post can hardly be described as fun. So send some fun our way, please. We could do with a bit!
And as I go to post this article, another rattling after-shock, which stops me in my tracks, as I decide whether to jump under my very solid desk – or is it just a little rattler? Phew, just a little rattler.