Category Archives: New Zealand

the day an earthquake changed a country

Today’s NaBloPoMo prompt about favorite places has made me think of something I wrote months ago. Writing is therapeutic for me, I often like to sit down and just write freely as a way of acknowledging an issue. The following post is something I wrote back in March but never shared with anyone until now. I’ve also edited it a bit for context. 

New Brighton beach, pier and library - my sanctuary for 7 years.

(2009) New Brighton beach, pier and library - my sanctuary for 7 years.

It’s the early morning of March, one week after the 6.3 earthquake that changed Christchurch and the entire country of New Zealand forever. The number of fatalities is rising and the city resembles a ghost town.  I’ve had to make a conscious effort to switch off the TV at night, it’s too easy to watch the aftermath of crumpled buildings, flattened cars and people made homeless by the aftershock scientist predicted we’d always have after the initial earthquake in September 2010′s first earthquake that miraculously claimed no lives (that earthquake hit middle of the night, compared to this one hitting at midday). I have to turn it off for my sanity. And as I do, I wonder how people living in tents or even in their homes but with the constant aftershocks are managing mentally and emotionally. It’s amazing how even though I am not in Christchurch I am deeply affected by the devastation, as are so many people throughout the country.

Christchurch was my home for 7 years, the place I bought my first home (that we still own), returned to after being married overseas and honeymooning, started and ended my first business as well as became a mother. So, you can imagine how surreal it is for me to see streets and even people I know on the news night after night, suffering and forever changed. I had my New Zealand citizenship ceremony at the Christchurch Town Hall, not far from where many a building has fallen. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker presented me my certificate and did so in French – remembering that I am from Montreal, Quebec and wanting me to feel welcomed to his city. On the news this past week, he has shown the same wonderful spirit and has offered up support and genuine care for everyone who lost their lives in this earthquake –  from the business man, to the traveller, to the English language school student.

As quickly as they are leaving town, many will be descending from around the world as they continue to announce the names of so many from foreign lands.

Watching punter on the Avon. Buildings in the background no longer exist.

(2009) Watching punters on the Avon River. Buildings in the background no longer exist post earthquake.

I remember being at work and someone running into our communications team office to say, “You guys will be very busy soon. Apparently an earthquake struck Christchurch, and it was big.” We didn’t know how big it was at the moment, but I started to phone family I had in the area and couldn’t get through to any. We turned the only TV on in the building that lives in our office – the networks hadn’t yet started broadcasting anything but Twitter was on fire with news of crumbling bricks and reports of the ground opening up. We all knew that this was the “big one” and that soon enough we would be getting into action, making sure our Christchurch colleagues were safe as well as the blind, partially sighted and deafblind members that we work to support. Ironic that just a little over a week ago the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence launched their Get Ready Get Thru checklists and information packs in accessible formats suitable to our members – braille, audio and other e formats. At the time, though the media was there and the launch was a blip on the news radar, it didn’t make the 6 o’clock news, it wasn’t important. Looking back now, we can safely say what a valuable resource it would be to so many of our members.

I resumed calling and leaving messages with lots of Christchurch friends. By the time I called Big Monkey to see if he’d heard, the spire of The Cathedral in Christchurch’s square came tumbling down. An icon of Christchurch, tears started rolling down my face and I knew at once, this would be the day that everything would change. I got an airy feeling not too dissimilar to the feeling I got watching 9/11 unfold. In this instance at least we knew the perpetrator, but still he was threatening to claim many lives.