Not to be overly dramatic or anything, but this has been a hell of a week. The American public elected Donald Trump as their next president, which was shocking enough as it was (to me at least), then New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and continuous aftershocks, and now flooding and landslides have hit many regions, including the one where I live.
The image below shows the earthquake pattern around NZ in the last 48 hours (image from NZ Herald, for more information click here).
It was just past midnight on Sunday morning and I was just about to go to bed (well, to go to sleep) when I felt an earthquake. Living in New Zealand, quakes aren’t that unusual, but this one had a little bit more force behind it than usual, although it was still fairly mild. I paused the YouTube video I was watching as the quake started building, and getting stronger. At a certain point, perhaps 20 seconds into it, I decided to get off my bed and into my doorway. We were always taught at school to get in a doorway if there is an earthquake, and there was nothing in my bedroom that I could easily get underneath so it was the best I could do. My cat lay on the bed and watched me as I braced myself with back against the frame on one side and feet against the other, riding it out. It got stronger, and stronger. I could hear things rattling around in the kitchen, and then the power went out. The sky seemed to light up, then the power came back on for a moment, before going off again. It wouldn’t come back on for several hours.
The light in the sky was due to the phenomena known as Earthquake Lights – see video here.
I live in a flat below a bigger house, and my bedroom is right by the access into my neighbours’ garage. At the strongest point of the quake, a shelving unit of some kind crashed to the ground in the garage, and I gritted my teeth and looked at my cat, who was still lying on the bed by the laptop, watching me with the detached curiosity that cats reserve for humans that seem to be behaving oddly. Eventually, the rolling stopped, and after a moment, I realised my legs were shaking so sat down, still braced in the doorway, and tried to call my parents. I couldn’t get through, so I logged on to Geonet to check out where the quake was centred and how strong it was, then popped onto Facebook and looked at the pile of OMG and HOLY CRAP statuses that were flooding my wall.
I posted the following status at the time:
THAT was by far the biggest earthquake I have ever felt. Scary! Power is off and phone is dying but the cat and I are both fine. Hope everyone is okay and safe. Aroha to the people of Christchurch as it was a 7.5 located just north of Hamner Springs. Ground is still shaking…stupid earthquakes.
(And yes, I realise now that I spelled Hanmer Springs wrong, but I was under a bit of pressure at the time!)
I then tried my parents again and this time got through – their power was off as well and most of their phones are cordless and don’t work if the power isn’t on, so I had to give them time to get downstairs to the office. I spoke to my Dad, who told me that they were all fine and he’d heard from my brother in Wellington who was also fine. That was a relief, and we chatted briefly before I said goodnight as my phone was very low on battery. I think that was one of the scariest parts – my work phone was downstairs but the charger cable had given out a few days earlier and it was completely dead. Living alone, with no power and a phone on 11% battery and swiftly fading, I started to feel quite cut off.
Meanwhile I was still bracing myself for aftershocks. Years of experience have taught me that aftershocks are an inevitability after a quake, and generally the bigger the quake, the bigger (and more frequent) the aftershocks. I still remember a quake that we had one night when I was living in Wellington. I got out of bed and into the doorway (possibly not the best place to be, given that the door was made of glass, but still safer than in my bed below the window) and rode it out. It wasn’t too big, and after a few moments of stillness, I decided to go back to bed. Halfway across the room, an aftershock hit that almost knocked me off my feet and had me scrambling back into the relative safety of the doorway.
Click here for live updates on the quakes we’re getting and how severe they are:
I decided that I needed to rest my phone and save its battery, so once the ground had mostly stopped moving, I went back to bed. I plugged my phone into its charger in case the power came back on, but turned the mobile data off (I didn’t have much left anyway) so that it wouldn’t drain its battery faster. I had no way of knowing how long the power would be off for, but I switched on my beside lamp so that I would know when it did come on (which happened a few hours later, when the bright light woke me up).
What I never considered was the threat of a tsunami. It wasn’t until I woke up later that morning and checked Facebook again on my now fully charged, wifi enabled phone, that I realised how many people had evacuated overnight due to concern over a tsunami. Fortunately the threat was mainly on the east coast and never eventuated here (or anywhere else really, though apparently a big wave did hit Kaikoura – more on them later). But it was a bit remiss of me not to even think of that one!
Most earthquakes hit you like someone’s just reached out with a giant elbow and bumped your house – the ground jolts suddenly and everything rattles around, but it’s usually over fairly quickly. Sometimes you can feel (or hear) it coming, sometimes things rattle in the cupboards for a moment or two beforehand, and you know there’s a jolt coming and you just wait for it. But this recent string of quakes have been more like being on a ship at sea – during the big one, the ground seemed to be rolling, and it lasted for a full two minutes. Initially, Geonet had it listed as a 6.6 magnitude quake, but it was later upgraded to a 7.5 – the biggest quake here since the 7.8 at Dusky Sound in 2009.
Radio NZ (who have been brilliant throughout) posted this series of photos showing earthquake damage across the country.
The aftershocks could last days, weeks, months or even years. Every time there is a quake of magnitude 6 or higher, there are predicted to be approx. 10 corresponding aftershocks of magnitude 5, and so on down the chain. Most of the time, it just feels as though you’re slightly light-headed – that kind of “Am I moving?” sensation. (Like right now…) But sometimes you really feel them, and there have been a couple in the past two days that had me on my feet and moving into a safer space in the room, but none have been as scary as that first one. My view from my desk is of my horse float and car, and on Monday afternoon, more than once I looked out of the window and watched the horse float swaying from side to side.
The quake caused this landslide which rerouted the railway line near Kaikoura (for more pictures and info click here).
What was also unusual about this quake was how widely felt it was. Earthquakes are often quite centralised, but other than the Far North and the bottom of the South Island, almost everyone felt the big one. Swimming pools had their own private tsunamis as far north as Auckland, but it was the coastal town of Kaikoura that was eventually revealed to have been hit the hardest. Roads are still closed in and out of Kaikoura due to slips, and tourists are being evacuated by helicopter. Kaikoura (kai – food, koura – crayfish) is a small settlement on the East Coast of the South Island, and is a popular tourist destination. Whale watching is particularly popular in the area, and they also fish for paua and crayfish in the area. They already have big catches of both that may have to be thrown out as they can’t get them out of the area to sell. One of the quake’s two tragic fatalities occurred when Kaikoura’s famed Elm Homestead collapsed. (The other fatality was due to a heart attack brought on by the quake in North Canterbury.)
Closer to home in Wellington, my brother lost most of the plates in his kitchen and his TV is done for. He lives on the 15th floor of an apartment building in the central city, and it’s designed to move slightly, which is probably good for its own stability but not so good for his possessions. (It’s so moveable that it actually sways in high wind, which Wellington gets a lot.) Also in the city, shop windows smashed, and today they closed off Molesworth Street when a routine check of a (fortunately vacant) building revealed a broken beam and a possibility of collapse.
Wellington Live on Facebook posted this video from security footage inside the Golf Warehouse at the time of the quake – you can see when that big jolt hit that sent my neighbour’s shelving to the ground!
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, less than 24 hours later we had almost 24 hours of torrential rain which has resulted in flooding, road closures and landslides.
This is how State Highway 1 out of Wellington ended up being closed for most of the day (photo from NZTA):
And this is the alternative route out of Wellington along SH58, which was also closed as the flood water kept rising (photo from NZTA):
My cat continues to be utterly unfazed by all this, and if you’re wondering how JJ is coping, based on this photo I took of him today, he’s been comfort eating his way through it. (Ye Gods, the boy is fat. Spring grass is coming through and I haven’t been riding much, but I think it’s time to get the grazing muzzle out!)
He’s certainly faring better than this unfortunate cow family:
Don’t worry, they’ve been rescued. (Click the link above to find out how.)
So last night and tonight, and for the next few nights, I will be sleeping with a solar powered torch radio next to my bed, already tuned into Radio NZ. I have filled my car up with diesel and my cupboard up with food that I can eat without having to cook it. I’ve got bottled water and my phone lives on its charger (I bought a new charger cable for my work phone too, so I now have two fully charged phones.) And I have my car parked right outside the front door, a sleeping bag and boots by the door, clothes on the end of my bed when I go to sleep and a packed bag nearby in case I need to evacuate in the middle of the night. I also keep my contact lenses right by the bed instead of downstairs in the bathroom, just in case. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
All photos belong to the respective copyright owners and where possible have been linked to their source.