Remembering Sept 4th: Angela Oliver
September the 4th, 2010: 4:35 am
Christchurch, New Zealand
It comes with a rumbling, a deep and guttural roar. My feet awake first, propelling me out of bed and across the floor almost before my brain has registered: “Earthquake!” Into the doorway, ground rolling beneath my feet. Fingers clutch the frame, crouching, eyes scrunched closed. As if that makes it any easier. As if the night is not dark enough. The house groans and moans, bucking like a beast untamed. No room for thoughts in my head – just a desperate plea.
Around me, crashes and bangs. Thumps from below. It feels like an eternity.
It is 45 seconds.
Then, silence. Deep, profound; broken only by the distant sounds of car alarms. I grab my husband, crouched in the adjacent doorway, and hold him tight. Insanely, a sense of relief pervades me. This was the Big One, they’ve been threatening it for years, the Alpine Fault, due to fracture at any time. And we have survived.
Except that it wasn’t.
No power, no Facebook. The phone lines are all jammed, but I fumble off a text message to my mother, on a phone that’s nearly dead. I cannot stop shivering. Can’t find the flashlight, but husband grabs the fully charged laptop and we use it to light our way downstairs. A mess. The thumps had been our tall book cases, and the floor is littered with books, lying like broken birds. Upstairs, my television, a 17-inch brick, had crashed to the floor within arms reach of my refuge. And I hadn’t even registered it.
The front door is stuck, so we wrench it open. I walk to the road. All seems oddly still and calm. No broken building. With no power, I seek shelter in my car, fumbling to find a radio station and a news report.
Magnitude 7.1. No reported casualties.
Sirens break the silence with their screams.
We crawl over the bookcases and into the kitchen, fumbling to plug in the old-style phone. Dial tone, but it won’t ring. The lines must be jammed.
Adrenalin dying, exhaustion takes hold. Aftershocks rattle on continuously, as we huddle on bean bags in the upstairs doorway, shaking with cold and nerves. Finally, I allow my husband to coax me out of the (perceived) safety of the doorway, and back into bed. I bring the bean bag with me. As if that will help.
We hear from our family. They’re alive and okay. Just scared. We’re all scared.
Dawn comes, and with it a still surreality. Power is restored, but as aftershocks continue to rattle the house, my nerves cannot take being confined within walls. The frost has melted away, into a sunny spring day, and I join the multitudes as they roam the streets, cameras in hand, looks of stunned disbelief on their faces. Scarce a chimney left standing. Brick walls are toppled. Local shops reduced to rubble.
But no-one has died.
The face of our city has changed, but this is only the beginning. For Mother Nature is not done with us yet…