Christchurch Earthquake: “Fear. nothing else.”

I worked with Yuko in Christchurch. Our old workplace was right the middle of the city, on one side of Cathedral Square, and it no longer exists due to the damage suffered by the building.

Yuko was pretty much always the level-headed one at work, always calm and with quick wits. This may be partly a result of her Aikido training, in which she has earned a black belt. Still, the earthquake had a powerful effect.

*

Well, almost a year from the day, I still clearly remember what happened to me at that moment. Even though a lot of memories and my emotions after the event are now slowly fading away in my mind, or at least not really strongly impacted on me, I still can’t forget the moment.

What was a negative emotion you felt on Feb 22, and is there a specific experience/moment you associate with that?

Fear. nothing else. Fear Fear and Fear.

When the first big aftershock hit, I was at home, just finishing hanging up washing inside my flat. I was crouching to hang small stuff on the lowest line on a clothes rack. Then I grabbed a basket and noticed that I couldn’t stand up. ??? why? I think I had a completely blank moment for at least a couple of seconds. Sounds like a short moment but it wasn’t. It was a long moment to realize that a massive EQ was hitting us. And like a flashback, I suddenly heard myself screaming like hell. Also I heard massive mixed noises from things smashed, house rumbling , kids also screaming from a nearby school…

I had no courage to get out of my flat – or more to say, I had no idea what to do. I was panicked a bit because I couldn’t get out from a french door which we normally use as the entry, because the door was locked. My partner Kerry always locks the door after him when he goes out for work. And that morning, I was supposed to go to a friend of mine and help his business. But I had a funny headache in the morning so I canceled the plan and slept in. So the door was still locked and I had no idea where I left my key.

I noticed that I could get out from the laundry door behind the kitchen. Rushed to the kitchen and was shocked at the mess EQ made. Smashed glass and dishes everywhere, oil on the floor, the mess blocked me from getting to the laundry door because I was in bare feet. I rushed back to get a pair of shoes and another shock hit.

I rushed out to the street and saw neighbors also out, some crying, some looking absent-minded. I saw the dog next door also out in the street as the fence fell down and he wasn’t leashed. I saw dust and smoke from the direction of city and also Sumner. Neighbors talked with each other and tried to comfort each other. Still hearing massive screams from school at every aftershock hit.

Kerry managed to come back from work (His work is just two or three minutes’ drive from home) in a lady’s car. He said he couldn’t drive through the bridge because of a massive crack and the height difference between the street and the bridge, so he left his car and walked across the bridge. The lady, who knows Kerry, spotted him and offered him a ride.

Kerry quickly shot off with my car to check his mum who lives nearby and bring her to our home. She was so shaky. We tried to call to friends and family to see if they were safe. Thanks we still have old Telecom phone!! While we really struggle to find information on what was happening from radio, slowly info came from friends and family who are living in the west side of town or out of town with text messages. Kerry’s Telecom was still working. My Vodafone was crapped out.

Couldn’t believe what they were telling us; there sounds to be some casualty, the cathedral seemed to have collapsed, CTV building collapsed and burning by fire… no water, no power everywhere…….

Night was coming and we had to prepare while still in shock. I had an emergency pack prepared before September EQ and also built up more food and equipment after the September, so had no worry to spend a couple of days or more without water and power. However, I didn’t prepare myself when I suffered a disaster. Fear everywhere in my mind, constant aftershock expanding the worry.

Still, I made a straight face for Kerry’s mum and tried to comfort her as she had an angina condition triggered by September EQ and I wouldn’t like to have the same situation. She looked OK and said she was. But at 1AM at night, she suddenly said ‘I need to go to hospital’. Called 111 and asked for an ambulance, fearing we had no quick service or no quick treatment available for her. After an hour wait, a massive army ambulance arrived and took her to hospital. The driver was from out of Christchurch and didn’t know the quickest way to get a hospital. No GPS in the army truck. Kerry and the driver took a Christchurch map out and guessed which way was safe and quick to get to a hospital. He told us they took mum to St George’s Hospital.

We called to St George’s next morning and found she wasn’t there. They suggested that she might be in St Margaret Hospital. Gave them a call and also found no record of her. The reception suggested Christchurch City Hospital. Bingo!! she was in her old ward, the same room when she was in September….

Sorry for the long story. But what I want to say is the emotion while I had these events unfolding in front of me, if you ask me what the negative emotion I experienced was: fear, nothing else. Always fear about when the next big aftershock will hit, maybe this moment? maybe a minute later? maybe while I was preparing tea for us and friends who didn’t have a BBQ and didn’t have any food? Fear can’t be controlled. it’s seeping into my mind. Still does actually.

What about a positive emotion on that day, or over the course of the following week?

Positive emotion is appreciation. I appreciated Kerry was safe, Mum was safe, his whole family and friends were safe.
Neighbors were safe, not many injuries around us, some neighbors who had a well in their garden opened the gate and offered free water, made sure everyone was safe and OK with each other…… suddenly a close-knit community built up…. I was living on this street for around three years but didn’t know much about my neighbors. That was quite a warm feeling, getting to know them.

I also appreciated that help arrived so quickly and efficiently. The initial help arrived so quickly, I felt. That gave us some power to get through the though time, I believe.

I don’t know if what I wrote is help for you. I just wanted to write, maybe, just before the memorial day come.

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