The Christchurch Earthquake

by

When the Earth Shakes, and We Humans on it.
Make a *donation directly to NZ Red Cross Christchurch Fund

Epicenter: Lyttelton from above our house, a day before the quake

Amanda and I escaped. We were in Christchurch about 19 hours before the earthquake hit, just in front of the main church , which is now collapsed,  in the square dropping off my passport and work visa application at New Zealand immigration, We also ran some errands, and split up in the afternoon, Amanda stopping by a store, and I picking up our van at the bus depot.

When the earthquake did hit we were both at home. I was in the hallway, and all of sudden, I was being thrown about. I was disoriented for a few seconds, then ran down the hallway to grab my pregnant wife’s hand. She looked as confused as I, as we ran for the door. We had just experienced the earthquake 1km from the epicenter. Our rental home is just across the Lyttelton Inlet in Diamond Harbor’s Charteris Bay.  As I grabbed Amanda’s hand and we ran out of the back door of  the steel-framed house, I thought, “This isn’t good for Christchurch.”

Little did I know how bad it was.  Just over the crest of Port Hills, 20 min away, it was Hell. As Amanda and I sat on  the steep slope embankment behind the house, the second tremor came, and we could see the whole house bounce around on its foundation. We just sat there, I had an odd calm feeling, not so much being scared, but  in awe of the strong vibrations coming up through my body from the earth. Of all the years I’ve spent on mountain tops, deserts, rock faces, plains, and even glaciers, I’ve never felt this violent feeling of Mother Earth shaking. Maybe my years of emergency medical and outdoor training gave me some sense of calmness. I’m not sure, but the story of John Haynes below lends credence to that thought.

Of course more violent aftershocks came, and the news of Christchurch came to us in matter of hours. We looked over at Lyttelton, which was the epicenter,  not more than a mile away across the bay. I couldn’t quite tell how bad it was until a neighbor lent his binoculars to me. I could see the people gathering  in the streets and an historic building up on the hill, missing its back half.

I put my name in to volunteer my emergency medical skills, do some shoveling, be a handyman – whatever I could do to help. But when we read and heard on the news that  major earthquakes can create a spike in premature births, we followed suggestions by some, and departed  for the Wanaka area, 6 hrs south, where my wife, and I,  could settle our  nerves.

 

A quieter scene, The road from SnoPark, NZ

Families and businesses all over New Zealand have been opening up their homes and spaces for families. The foundation of our house looks questionable with stress cracks on key joints on the hillside home. So we accepted an offer from Snopark New Zealand to stay a few days in one of their units to gather our wits. I write this from their base lodge, on a mountaintop, where it’s the summer season here in the southern hemisphere. Thank you SnoPark New Zealand for your kindness. Other families are due to arrive today and the next few days as well.

We didn’t realize the level of stress we were holding,  of living with the aftershocks, until we drove a few hours out of  Christchurch. The more we drove, the more we relaxed. However, when we stopped for a tea and muffin at a gas station, and when a truck rolled down the highway, we both jumped.

We had not slept in the house since the 22nd, opting to sleep in our van in the driveway when night fell. One night we tried to relax inside the house before turning in, when a big tremor hit again, and we ran for the door. I guess it’s not the tremors that are terrifying, when sitting  on the grassy hillside, but being in a building, any building.

We felt helpless, and still do,  knowing that what is going on just over the hill.  But with my wife being pregnant, and I not part of an organized rescue unit or local neighborhood in Christchurch, with  gas in short supply, the authorities urging us to stay put,  it made more sense for us to head out of town.

Had we been in Christchurch 24 hrs later than we were, we would have either perished or done what we could to help others.  I understand that the other families are arriving here at at this remote area this evening. I look forward to comforting them and hearing their story, if they want to share.

Mountaineer John Haynes did what he had to do, with the skills and tools he had during the Christchurch Earthquake when we lowered trapped individuals by rope, then rappelled down to the ground.

Here’s the story from Christchurch.
Mountaineer’s Skills Save Group: Christchurch Earthquake
By Keith Lynch
The Press, Christchurch, NZ
Feb 25, 2011

Fiona and John Haynes

John Haynes doesn’t think he’s a hero.
After Tuesday’s devastating quake, Haynes was among 15 people stuck on the sixth storey of the Forsyth Barr building at the corner of Armagh and Colombo streets. “We put it to them: There was a way out. If they wanted to come they could. If they wanted to stay they could stay,” Haynes said. The way out involved being lowered via rope about 20 metres onto a car park, where the trapped people could escape onto the streets. “The building was going sideways, rocking and then the stairs collapsed from the top to the bottom leaving no obvious means of getting out,” Haynes said. “The guts of the building fell down 17 storeys. We just had a shell of a building.” Smoke and dust rushed through the building leaving 15 people trapped on the sixth floor when the quake hit. “We met and the question was what do we do? In my mind there was a danger the building could collapse. The other was of fire.” Haynes said they could have remained “stuck there but nobody would know if we were OK or not”.

“It became obvious we needed to get out,” he said. Haynes, a trained mountain guide, said he knew how to get the people down. Haynes, who works as an investigator for the Ombudsman, said after 9/11 staff installed emergency supplies, including rope, sledge hammers, axes and food in their Christchurch offices. The trapped workers smashed a window and began preparing to descend the side of the building to safety. Uncertain about the strength of the ropes, a man “of medium size” was sent down first. The rope held and together with lawyer Grant Cameron, Haynes belayed 15 people down 3 1/2 floors to the top of the car park where people could walk down to the ground floor and escape. Only Haynes and two others were left at the end. “I said I’d get myself down last because..Read the rest of this story

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2 Responses to “The Christchurch Earthquake”

  1. Wayne & Barbara Clemens Says:

    So glad to hear that you are OK! Thanks for the wonderful write-up.
    Is there any way that we can reach you by regular mail? We will be thinking of you and hope that your life settles back into a normal routine soon.

    Wayne and Barbara

  2. Rob K Says:

    Randy and Amanda we are so thankful that you are alright. We hope that all will recover and rebuild. Stay safe.

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