If I’m honest, I woke up apprehensive and with a sense of foreboding this morning. The last year has been hard. It still is on a daily basis. I’ve come to realise I am not as strong as I thought I was. I am not bulletproof. Things do faze me. When I think about what has happened in the last year I feel a sinking, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yet I feel guilty for feeling this way. I didn’t lose my life in the earthquake. No one close to me lost theirs either. I wasn’t in the CBD at the time when it happened. I wasn’t surrounded by the falling buildings, the screams of people trapped or in shock. I wasn’t one of the heroes who rescued those from the buildings. My house didn’t crumble around me. It’s hard to justify the feelings that I have.
I was at home in North New Brighton when the earthquake hit. I will never forget the sound.…. an ominous roar followed by a rumbling shake that rocked the house. At first I thought it was merely another aftershock from the September earthquake that would soon pass. But that’s not what Mother Nature had planned. A huge jolt then hit the house like a freight train and rattled the windows and doors and turned the house upside down. I was sat on the sofa below the big front window. I’ve never in my life seen glass ripple. It looked like a bit of plastic. Looking back now, the hours after the earthquake seem surreal. Volcanoes of liquefaction erupting out of the street. People pouring out of houses everywhere with looks of complete shock and dismay on their faces. Roads filling up with cars, first with people trying to get away from the beach, then people trying to get home to loved ones or to get to schools to collect their terrified children. Cars, vans and motorbikes sinking into huge holes in the road. I stood on the street corner telling people brave enough to walk where the holes were to avoid, and helping scared mothers across the road with children and buggies.
I think the worst thing of all was not being able to get in touch with anyone. I felt alone and helpless. There was no power which meant no radio or television. The phone lines were jammed and not even texts appeared to be going through. Everything was silent from those I loved. I had no idea what had happened to anyone, whether they were hurt, or worse. Eventually I remembered that we had a wind up radio which I managed to retrieve from the house. I don’t know whether this made it better or worse. From knowing nothing to the barrage of information about the city centre and surrounding areas. Lives lost. People trapped. Chaos everywhere. It’s then that your mind starts imaging all the various scenarios. Would people I loved be trapped somewhere in the city centre? Did I need to go and help find them? Were they injured? Were they dead? I had no way of getting to them. I had no car and no bicycle. No way to get out or to go and find anyone. I was stuck where I was. The only thing I could do was help my neighbours and other people where I could around us. Not knowing what had happened to anyone close to me. After about 2 hours I finally got a text through from my grandmother telling me they were OK and asking how I was. Clearly none of my messages were getting through. I still had no idea where my other half was though. Although his work is on the outskirts of town it wasn’t uncommon for him to be doing deliveries or repairs in the city centre.
On the outside I was organised helping those around me but on the inside I was terrified. Terrified of what ifs. Terrified of not knowing. Terrified for all those who were dead or trapped. Terrified for those who had lost everything. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only about 3 hours, Rory arrived in front of me on a bike. I didn’t even see him coming down the road, it was like he just appeared in front of me. He was covered in mud and liquefaction but was alive and unhurt. I think I was in shock as it took me a few moments to realise it was him. The relief was immense. It was then I felt my outside shell start to crumble a little, and over the past 12 months it’s continued to do so. I know now that I am not superhuman, that I am not untouchable. It’s been a big wake up call and learning curve for me, and I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with it on a daily basis. With each ongoing aftershock, and there’s been over 10,000 now, there’s the moment of panic and fear. Is this another one? What’s going to happen now? Is this it? And then the calming down period after when it turns out to be OK. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to it. Ever going to be able to deal with it, but I’m trying.
Over the last 12 months I have witnessed incredible acts of bravery and kindness. I have seen a community come together, grow closer, and help each other to overcome enormous adversity. A lot of us are fragile, we are all feeling it. Things have changed and will never be the same again. But through it all I have also seen how the human spirit can grow stronger in times like these. And we have all grown, and will continue to do so over the years to come.
Kia Kaha Christchurch (Be Strong)
If you would like to read my account of the earthquake last year and the weeks following please go to http://www.kapcha.co.nz/2011/02/letter-from-the-eastern-suburbs-an-earthquake-story/