Getting a shakeup 

We had a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake last week (I live in New Zealand). The damage is remarkable both for what it did do – raise the Kaikoura seabed 2m or so – and what it didn’t do – raze Wellington. 

Photo: NZ Transport Agency

Earthquakes are perhaps the worst of the natural disasters because they are completely unpredictable. With floods, fire, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tornadoes, you have warning and time to prepare or evacuate. Not so with earthquakes. There might be a rumble as if a heavy truck is passing but that’s all the warning you get, less than a second – just enough to get the adrenaline on the move – then bam! The earth starts moving. And you have no idea if it’s going to stop or keep going and get worse. And when it stops, if it’s going to start again. 

It was midnight when the fault gave way. I shot out of bed and got into the doorway, not ideal but better than lying in bed if the roof fell in. As soon as the major shaking stopped I got dressed, grabbed the duvet and went downstairs to huddle on the couch for the rest of the night, figuring it would be easier to run outside from the ground floor if things started to give way. 

The rest of the night was a blur of more shakes, tsunami sirens, checking Facebook and GeoNet to find out what was happening. I didn’t evacuate for the tsunami sirens because I’m above the line. Also, my house was still standing. 

And, miraculously, nothing broke. Nothing fell of a shelf. I still can’t believe it. That highway is cracked to pieces, the railway line got flung meters eastward, the seabed rose 2m, the mountains moved several metres sideways, cows got stranded on islands in destroyed paddocks, buildings are on the condemned list, and I didn’t even lose a wine glass. Unbelievable. 

This is why earthquakes are so stressful. You simply cannot know what is going to happen. Christchurch’s 6.6 mag earthquake in 2011 caused far more damage because it was centred right under the city. We survived a 7.8 more or less intact. But who knows what comes next? 

Christchurch taught me that I could survive something like that. I survived more by good luck than good planning.  I learned that emotionally I could cope, but it was difficult and I remember feeling extremely alone and wishing desperately for company and reassurance. 

Sunday night’s quake brought that feeling rushing back. This time I was surrounded by neighbours and I had internet & phone access so I didn’t feel as isolated, but I still yearned for the reassurance of another. Self soothing has its limits, I’ve discovered. 

I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about that, as someone who lives alone. Except perhaps to reach out to those around me to make sure they are all alright and offer, rather than ask for, reassurance. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t do that. I did check to see if neighbours lights were on and houses unbroken, but I didn’t knock on their doors to see if they were alright. Because being up and having electricity isn’t the same as being alright. 

Like almost everyone in NZ I’m now checking my emergency kit supplies and hoping I won’t need any of it. And next time I hope I’ll think to check on my neighbours.