Earthquake update - Day 3

We are now back in Christchurch. We have power and the sewage system seems to be working here, but there is no safe drinking water because of ruptured pipes and sewers. The supermarkets (those that are open) have been cleared out of bottled water, so we are boiling the tap water and then cooling it. We’ve also filled the bath and every receptacle we can find, just in case the tap runs dry again.

It was strange going to bed last night - we all felt a little afraid of getting back into the same beds we’d been shaken out of two nights earlier.

The full extent of the quake is only just beginning to be realised. It was one of the ten highest NZ earthquakes ever recorded - the same magnitude as the recent Haitian quake, but because buildings here are built to a high specification, there is much less damage. Wooden or concrete structures have weathered it well; brick built buildings, facades and chimneys have collapsed. Christchurch has lost many of its historic buildings - such as Homebush house below.

As we drove out of the city to stay with friends, we passed through areas that looked completely unscathed, then streets where almost every house was damaged, pavements ripped away from the roads, tarmac and paving cracked open. There was a strange grey sludge everywhere - apparently the ground beneath parts of the city was liquefied by the quake and the slurry oozed out of the fractures. Two suburbs have been declared uninhabitable.  We passed a young couple trying to salvage furniture from the ruins of their home and stacking it on the pavement.  One of those moments when you realise how lucky you really are.

This is a street in the centre of the city.

And this is someone’s garden.

The rift from the fault goes right across the countryside, realigning roads, railways and hedges. The Transcenic railway I used last week to go to Kaikoura, now has a few S bends in it that weren’t there before and is closed for an indefinite period.  One of the main motorway slip roads we passed was corrugated like an accordion.

Field taken from the air

There is no public transport at the moment, the centre of the city is still sealed off because buildings are unsafe, and there is an overnight curfew.  The army are very conspicuously deployed. We’re still experiencing aftershocks - some of them quite big (5.1) and they make you pause for a moment and think about running for cover. But then the shaking and rumbling stops rather than intensifying and you can carry on what you are doing. There’s just been another jolt as I’m writing this - enough to rattle objects on the shelf and rock the table I'm writing on. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. But at the moment the predominant sense is one of relief - the damage is to property - only one person died and a hundred or so were injured. If the quake had occurred during normal working and shopping time there would have been carnage.


  1. Oh Kathleen - how odd you must feel, to have come here to this place of danger and to be going through such discomfort, and yet where in the world would you rather be when your family is facing this? Right here at a guess...

    And what a FANTASTIC review in The Listener of your book. Absolutely stunning. You must be thrilled to bits.

  2. Natural disasters are simultaneously disconcerting and grounding. On one level you feel very small and helpless, but then you realise how fortunate you are to come through unscathed.
    It is so fortunate that NZ is well set up for quakes. The 1989 Newcastle Earthquake (the Aussie Newcastle not yours) was "only" 5.6 which rates as an aftershock in Christchurch's case. Yet because our buildings were/are not really built with quakes in mind 13 people died.


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