Louise Landess | Real words for real people

Those of us who were in Christchurch for either the totally unexpected quake of 4 September 2010 or ‘THE quake’ on 22 February 2011, all have our own story. In this post, I’m only going to refer to my own. And only really to set the scene and foundations for the Christchurch City Collective.

So earthquakes. They’re definitely a minus in terms of destruction, disruption, injury and loss of life, and there’s already plenty written about the devastation of the thousands of Christchurch quakes and aftershocks – if you’re unfamiliar with the details, I’ll leave you to read up on them elsewhere.

Like most people, on the morning of Saturday, 4 September, I was at home, asleep. My son was in town, visiting from Wellington, here to celebrate his 21st birthday, but was down the road, staying with old school friends for the night. We were looking forward to a weekend of celebrations. When the quake struck, despite have no clue what was happening, I instinctively made for my bedroom door and stood underneath its frame – solid, rimu timber as it turns out, and a safe haven for me in the months ahead.

For the crazy 40 seconds or so that my world shook, I was taken back to my youth and my clubbing days. It was super loud, I was unable to get my bearings, it was dark and my world was moving. No matter how hard I tried to stay still and figure out what was going on, I could make no sense of it. It sounded like a train was hurtling towards my house. When the water in my hot water cylinder stopped sloshing around, and the earth momentarily stood still, I made my way to the kitchen where I crouched under the table for what seemed like hours, texting back and forth to my son, while things fell off shelves and out of cupboards all around me.

Something I learnt about myself looking back at those texts a few days later, was that even in the most frightening of circumstances, I maintain a pretty good sense of humour. This is something that I will gladly claim on my own CV.

After a while I ventured outside and stood in my garden. It was still quite dark, very mild, the world was momentarily quiet; I started to wonder if I had imagined everything. Then suddenly an aftershock came from nowhere and I watched with awe as my massive lounge window began to wave like liquid in front of me. I realised that this really was real and certainly nothing like I’d ever experienced before. As my neighbours wandered down the driveway towards me, together we began to try and make sense of it all.

Then, like many others did that day, in the absence of electricity – I cranked up the BBQ, made a cup of tea and waited until it was time for the supermarket to open. All I could think of was that I needed to get some bread and some water, and get ready for my son’s birthday celebrations, whatever form they might take.

My lad had the car, so being without power, or transistor radio, I had no immediate communications and no idea if there’d been any significant impact elsewhere. Heading to the supermarket a couple of hours later, I could clearly see that roads were cracked, people were walking around the neighbourhood in their PJs, stock was scattered throughout the store and Eftpos was down. I could tell that the celebrations probably weren’t going to happen, at least, not as intended.  We were going to have to tear up the plans.

CV fodder

Aptitude: Able to maintain a good sense of humour and keep my spirits up when alone in a difficult situation

Experience: Surviving in an unusual traumatic situation – aka, coping well under pressure!