This Ain’t No Burning Man, But It Sure Feels Like It

Student Volunteer Army, Farmy Army, Christchurch Earthquake

It’s 3:45 am and unfortunately I’m up.   Gaia is not happy this wee morning and is letting us know with three successive M3 to M4 quakes in the last 45 minutes.   I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing the magnitudes over the last six months now that I’ve got over a hundred seismic shakes under my belt.    I usually confirm my guesses with GeoNet but this morning their website is taking a hell of a long time to update.  All I know is that the 2:55 am shaker logged in at M3.9.   Hopefully by the time I finish writing this post, I’ll find out about the others.  (2:55 am – M3.9; 2:59 am – M3.4;  3:19am – M3.3;  3:34am – M3.2)

This has been a long, long, few days here in Christchurch.   We came back from Wainui on Sunday afternoon to check on our house and to ‘do something’.  With our 4×4 laden down with containers of Wainui spring water, shovels, food, gumboots, and whatnot, we made the journey back to the south-western Christchurch boundary and one would have never guessed that such a Christchurch devastated city laid beyond.

But as we drove into our Hoon Hay neighborhood, we could see that things were just a bit amiss.   Piles of silt that had resulted from liquefaction had already been shoveled up neatly onto the road verges and here and there were road surface cracks and bumps.  Orange traffic cones marked the worst areas.   Signs saying ‘free water here’ were in front of a few neighbors’ houses.

Our house got off easy in this latest round of quakes.   There’s a few cracks in the external faux-brick stucco façade and quite a few hairline cracks in the gib in most of the rooms but nothing structural or major.   The place wasn’t even that messy.  One broken vase and one broken lamp shade and only a few things to pick up off the floor.

I immediately made the rounds to the neighbors.  Everyone was fine; everyone had enough food and water.   Water was slowly trickling out of the taps.   I took Nina for a walk around the block to where I’d heard the damage had been more severe.   There was water seeping out of some pipe onto the road which may have explained why our water pressure was so low and there was probably 2 foot-tall piles of silt along almost the entire length of the block waiting for some future collection.

We immediately got in contact with a few friends and invited them by for dinner and to share stories of the last week.   One was our friend who’d lost his condo in the central business district (CBD) and he regaled us with his Mission-Impossible-John-Le-Carre- middle-of-the-night commando operation he pulled off sneaking into the curfew and cordoned zone CBD and into his condemned building to rescue a few more of his beloved items.  He is now my hero and his story (which he will need to write about in detail himself because it is his amazing story to tell) will become legend.    We heard from another friend who lives in the hard-hit area of Sumner, helping to rescue a guy from a boulder-collapsed building and helping neighbors wherever he can.    It was good to be together and to share and to laugh.

On Monday, I began the round of phone calls to friends on the other side of the city who still did not have power or water.  I made plans to head over there on Tuesday to deliver goods and to help out.     Two other friends from the West side of town came by for a few hours and shared more stories.   I went out to do errands and it was eerily ‘business as usual’ as the market and shops were all open.   You would really not even know how serious the situation was if you had no connection to the news to show us the devastation.  It seems like the entire Western side of Christchurch had gotten off easy.    Some streets are worse than others, but all homes standing with what seemed like minimal damage and all major roadways open and navigable.

Niki, an Ozzie Kiwiburner friend of ours,  and who needed a place to stay for two nights before flying to Oz, arrived early in the evening.   And Pete, Kat, and Kat’s mum Margaret, visiting from the U.K. and who had the unfortunate luck of flying into NZ on earthquake day and was at the Christchurch airport waiting for her connection to Dunedin only to find herself at a closed-for-the-rest-of-the-day airport yet had the wits about her to catch a bus heading south and out of Christchurch, arrived later that night from Oamaru in a 4×4 and a trailer laden with barrels for water and buckets and food to give away.      There were six of us in the house that night.

On Tuesday morning, there was a bit of chaos at the house as we all figured out who was doing what.  Bruce took Nina to the vet;  Niki took the bicycle to go have a job interview;  Kat & Pete were sorting out what part of town to serve;  I went a few blocks away to fill up empty containers from the trucked in tanker of water.    The van wouldn’t start.  The water stopped coming out of our taps.  Ollie came by to check on the house for us;  Dennis came by to have a chat.  We had lunch.   Bruce, Ollie, and Nina left for Wainui.

Finally Niki & I head out to Brighton, another hard hit neighborhood on the east side of town.    I was bracing myself for the worst.   We saw a few collapsed buildings and lots and lots of silt being piled up by the truckloads (no joke) but it wasn’t the horrific apocalyptic mayhem and destruction doom and gloom that I had expected.  Those areas are cordoned off and not to be seen except by rescue and relief workers.   The amount of work that has already been done to get the city’s infrastructure going in such a short time is mind-boggling.  We were both impressed.

We made it to Gen’s place in relatively good time delivering a few amenities of life:  drinkable water, a solar shower bag, and an LPG tank for the BBQ.   No power, no running water.   It was Day 7 and Gen was in good spirits and not about to leave her home.      Next we made it to Tims’ parents’ place in North Brighton.   Here the roads had suffered more liquefaction but they’d already been plowed by ‘the farmy army’ as hundreds of farmers had come in from across the country to operate diggers and other heavy equipment.   Tim had done most of the cleanup work inside the house but we leant a hand to tidy up what was left.    Then the three of us head back to Hoon Hay and rendezvoused with Pete, Kat, and Margaret.   They did manage to get into a really hard hit neighborhood where, in addition to no power and no water, portaloos had yet to be delivered and sewage was still flooding their streets.   These are the people that need help and they do not appear to be getting it.  An eye-opening article and blogpost has been circulating about the situation – you should have a read.

Tuesday evening brought a few more Christchurch Kiwiburners over for some camaraderie and sharing.    Ro and Paulo had spent the day volunteering with the University’s Student Volunteer Army.  Thousands of volunteers have come together to be deployed across the city to answer pleas of residents’ help to shovel silt and canvass neighborhoods with information and food.  They are amazing!

Today I spent the afternoon along with several other friends, helping to pack up friend Pippa’s house as her home was severely damaged and is not habitable.  They think it can be fixed, but it will take some time so her stuff is going into storage and she into temporary living accommodation.    Her place is situated in Mt. Pleasant, in one of the hillside neighborhoods of Christchurch.  Virtually every home that I saw on her road was damaged with fallen over stone/brick fences, fallen/cracked walls, etc and her immediate neighbor had been given a ‘red sticker’ (a no-go).   This was indicative of the entire area.

In addition to being a long day, it was also a hot, dry, and windy one with gale force winds battering the City.   As the liquefied silt has dried over the week, this fine dust, some of which is contaminated with sewerage, was blowing around everywhere.  The city issued warnings for people to stay inside and to wear dust masks if you were outside.   The inside of our house is caked with a thin film of dust everywhere.

So this is not Burning Man but it sure feels like it.   We are living in extreme and trying conditions and the thing that gets us through the day right now is the generosity of our fellow humans – those folks out there who are volunteering to do clean up, who are out giving food and goods away for free;  who are doing what they can, whether it is just a smile or lending an ear and sharing a story.   Again, I have to say that resiliency of the human spirit is immense and I’m happy to see it in full force during this surreal time that we are experiencing.    The Kiwi ‘can-do’ attitude is alive and the humour is still with us.  Check out this Trade Me post for some landscaping materials (you need to look at the photos and all the comments at the bottom).  It will make you laugh and love New Zealand like I do.