Hilda Oakley

Australian author and poet

   Mar 12

Earthquake in New Zealand

A personal response to the earthquake tragedy in New Zealand.
Written by a former resident of New Zealand.

A loud ‘Crack!’ rent the mid-day air.

It sounded like a shotgun being fired in the main CBD streets of Christchurch.  The buildings began swaying.  There was a rally of powerful explosion after explosion.  Many buildings were made of concrete, bricks and glass.  Windows were cracked and blown out and shattered onto the streets and footpaths below.  Shards of glass spread everywhere.

x        x        x        x

Travelling back in time, I remember looking up at the Christchurch Cathedral with its beautiful sandstone arched fascia and tall spires.  The sun shining through its beautiful stained-glass windows gave the inside of the building an aura of heavenly beauty.

At the service there was an angelic choir.  Prayers were given and problems solved.  It was a place to share your deepest thoughts with the Almighty.  Inside was a platform with intricate carvings.  Beautifully gilded designs adorned the pews.  This church was exquisite and stunning, a ‘Graceful Old Lady’.

Now she collapsed, her beauty reduced to a pile of rubble.

x        x        x        x

People were petrified and running out into the streets.  There were some who were not as fortunate.  You could hear them screaming and sobbing.  Amidst the moaning and groaning were cries for help.  Bodies were broken and bleeding.  Office workers were helping each other.  Some were carrying their work-mates out of buildings on their backs.

The shrill of ambulances and rescue vehicles split the air.  Accessing the streets and concrete footpaths became a problem, as they were bent, cracked and twisted by the force of the earthquake.  Paramedics and Rescue workers put their lives on the line, going into unstable buildings searching for the injured, or dead.  Every twenty to thirty minutes they had to evacuate the area, as there were up to another sixty after-shocks or tremors that were 4.0 or greater on the Richter Scale.  This caused more of the unstable buildings to collapse around them.

The essence of beauty, elegance and landmarks of this city were destroyed.

My heart was aching for them.  The earthquake had caused families to be torn apart, divided.  Their friends and loved ones, hands covered in blood, were digging, searching through the rubble for any sign of life.

There was chaos all around.  Fire began belching from the debris, as gas lines burst and the deadly gas became ignited.  Again the sites had to be evacuated.  Water was poured onto the fires before searching could continue.  Strong, burly men moved large rocks as they searched.  Heavy machinery was brought in and carefully removed the larger boulders.  People with gaunt faces walked aimlessly around.  Their homes were destroyed.  They had nowhere to go.  Many had lost family and friends.  The mental trauma and anguish would take a long time to heal.  Most would carry it with them, through the rest of their life.

Two miracles occurred, two days after the earthquake.  Rescued from a four storey, television station building, a woman was found at ground level and was carried out on a stretcher.  Another woman was on the second floor and was hoisted down to ground level by the Rescue Services cherry-picker. She was protected in the building by crouching under a table.

On day three and four, things looked very grim, as only deceased bodies were retrieved.  They now totalled one hundred and forty five with many still missing.

Traumas have a tendency to break down the barriers of society.  Families who hadn’t talked to each other for years and others who didn’t know one another became united as one.  They huddled together watching the chaos, clinging onto hope that their relatives or friends may be found alive.

Underground water and sewerage pipes burst.  The mud and water oozed up through crevices in the ground turning it into smelling, swirling, eddies of muddy water.

The city was left without electricity, water and sewerage infrastructure.  Even the drinking water had to be trucked in and carried home in plastic bottles.

Amongst all this commotion and disruption, people had to find a place to stay.  Their homes were unstable and too dangerous to live in.  School halls and shopping centres became refuges.  Two hundred Police from NSW Australia offered to patrol the streets to protect shattered homes and a curfew was placed in the main CBD business area of the city.

Many other countries from around the world offered to send over experts in the area of Rescue and Recovery.  Many came from Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Taiwan and Japan.  They brought with them their own accommodation, tents, food and heavy earth-moving equipment.

New Zealanders not residing in Christchurch responded to their fellow countrymen, volunteering time and energy to package food and other necessities, co-ordinating distribution to the most vulnerable, and offering heartfelt sympathy through their actions.  They continue to bring a little light and comfort into this city of devastation and chaos.

Hilda Oakley
Copyright © 28.02.2011

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