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Christchurch Earthquake – Scene Setter

Christchurch earthquake – scene-setter - February 23, 2011

By Kip Brook

This is a war zone; but no sign of the enemy. People crushed to death; people trapped; people missing. Friends are missing. People’s lives shattered forever.

Christchurch’s latest earthquake just before 1pm yesterday is New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.
The mood and atmosphere around the streets and suburbs of Christchurch is one of anxiety, fear and shock.

The first I knew about what was to come was an ascending and violent rumbling noise. A 1.8 metre high wall to wall bookcase behind my desk tumbled down on me. Brook flew right across the room like paper darts. I was trapped for a w time but in between the jolts managed to squeeze under a desk before being thrown to the other side of the room.

Big heavy bookcase down, but I was lucky; so many were not so lucky. I feared for my family and rushed to my ex-wife’s work she is an executive officer at a disabled school. The roads were leaking sand and liquefaction. Some cars had fallen into holes as the ground had opened up. The power was down, traffic lights out and mayhem at intersections. A big dog, spooked, was hit by two cars but didn’t survive the third hit.

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At her school, Chrissy was out in the field with the students and their biggest issues was how to ferry disabled ones home – no buses, taxis under pressure, no phone or text contact with parents. No way of contacting parents. They had no idea of the catastrophe around them – especially in the city.

As I drive to our house another after-shock and the ground, the power poles, walls and earth wobbles around violently liked fiercely shaken jelly. At home l like everyone else’s our contents and so many of our treasures and worldly possessions shattered in front of my eyes. It’s is no different to any other home in Christchurch --- windows, mirrors, glasses, crockery. All broken. But we are alive and will rebuild.

The streets are gridlocked as those that can leave the central business district (CBD). People abandon cars and start running or walk away from danger, desperate to get home to check on family.

For hours the phones are out and texting or calls are out. I have a half hour's walk to my office but I come across an 87 year old pensioner Irene Grenfel. The busses are out. And she is walking 8-9km to her home. She is frail and cold, pushing a supermarket trolley with two bags. I help her on her way home. We can’t push the trolley through the liquefaction as it’s like soft wet sand. I lift and carry and help her over intersections where water from the liquefaction is flooding the roads. St Andrews College playing fields are awash. Hundreds of students stranded, not knowing how to get home or exactly what to do. Irene despairs as she looks at some of Christchurch’s grandest old homes gapping, collapsed, totally ‘bombed out’ looking.

I have not heard if my children are safe and Irene edges closer to home. I flag down a police car and tell her of Irene’s plight and they go to her rescue.

Power still out, no phones working, and no water. I feel the bruising coming out in my back from the bookcase and feel a little dazed and disorientated. Everything is closed, more buildings collapse in front of my eyes.

By night fall, texting is restored. All my family are fine but we have not heard from one of my daughter’/s friends in the CBD. We prepare for a long night.

People are trying to be positive; so many help each other. This is a special and strong community. But a lot of tears to be shed yet. I am still shaking and in shock.


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