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. For the purposes of this blog, I’m only going to mention parts of 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 Sept 4th, I was at home, asleep. My son was in town, visiting from Wellington, here to celebrate his 21st birthday, but he was just down the road, staying with old school friends for the night and I was looking forward to a weekend of celebrations. When the quake struck, while I had no clue what was going on, 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 the days of being drunk at a nightclub. 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 happening, I could make no sense of it. It sounded to me like a train was hurtling towards my house. When what I later worked out was the water sloshing around in my hot water cylinder stopped (from my own deduction and then, from other people’s recounting of similar) 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 – I wish I had’ve filed them away somewhere – 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 – no idea how long – I ventured outside and stood in my garden. It was still quite dark, very mild, the world was momentarily quiet and 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, and I realised that this was a surreal experience like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Then my neighbours spilled out onto the driveway and together, we began to make sense of it all.

After they wandered back in to see how their sons were doing, I did what 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. Patrick, my neighbour from the flat in front of mine had offered to drive me there (even though it’s just down the road and around the corner) and I readily accepted. All I could really 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 and without power, and certainly no transistor radio, I had no immediate communications and no idea if there’d been any impact anywhere. Once we got to the supermarket a couple of hours later, I could tell that the celebrations probably weren’t going to happen, at least, not as intended. Roads were cracked, people were in their PJs, stock was scattered throughout the store and Eftpos was down. We were going to have to tear up the plans.

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

Experience: Personal experience of having to survive/cope in an unusual traumatic situation