Samuel Williams Saturday, 04 September 2010

Last night at around 4:30AM in Christchurch, New Zealand, there was a large earthquake. At the time I was programming, specifically running a benchmark of RSA key generation. I'd just finished working setting up hosting in Germany for a company in the UK, and it was time to settle down.

Unfortunately, to my surprise the room started shaking. Next to me was Coco in a deep sleep. When the earth quake persisted, I protectively jumped on top of her and said, "It's an earthquake!". Normally, you can simply wait and the shake will dissipate, but this one suddenly got a lot stronger. At that point I grabbed half-asleep Coco and stood up in the door frame bracing myself against either side.

For the most part, we were fine. The whole house went dark almost immediately, but my computer was still on and its glow illuminated the room in an eerie pale light which made the whole experience completely surreal. It felt like the house was sliding back and forth in time, but occasionally an intense jolt would grip the floor and walls and imbue a sense of reality into the situation. I heard a smash coming from the Kitchen! Rumbling and earthly roaring coming from the ground; I waited —

After a period of time which cannot be related to normal comprehension, everything stopped moving. It was silent, at least in that moment it was silent for me. And then, back to reality, alarms from neighbours houses, dogs barking. I ran upstairs to check if Michael was okay - he was fine. We rummaged around for torches.

After trying to shut down all the computers, which was unsuccessful due to one UPS in our server rack being overloaded, I quickly called my Mother on my cellphone to make sure she was okay. Everything was fine. Michael found out using his cellphone more details about the earthquake - the first article we found was from the BBC referencing the US Geological Survey. It was a Richter 7.4 quake centred 30Km north-west out of Christchurch, at a depth of approximately 15Km (this information has since been updated).

I went outside and checked on several of my neighbours. Everyone was okay. Apparently one lady said she was thrown out of bed. Another had a tap which suddenly started leaking.

At this point, Michael suggested we headed up for the hills to have a look at the City. With nothing better to do, we grabbed some blankets and jumped into his car.

Some people were driving like maniacs. Since many traffic lights were non-functional, I saw several people simply drive through intersections without slowing down or checking. This was a bit shocking to me (and later in the day I noticed glass on the road at several intersections). Once we got up the Port Hills, it was clear that there were some major problems.

Please view the high resolution panorama. It seemed that about 2/3 or more of Christchurch had lost power. After spending time taking photographs, we headed around to watch the sun rise.. but there was a problem..

One rock had obviously bounced right in the middle of the road and almost knocked a whole section down the side of the hill. Looking closely, I could track the path of the rock a significant distance down the valley. It must have been a reckoning force, hurling down that slope.

We decided to go home. However, I suggested we head over and see my parents. To do this, we went via the City. We were shocked to find a large number of damaged buildings in various levels of destruction..

After travelling past the City, we were in the suburbs. Again, destruction was visible; it primarily seemed to affect the older character houses, especially those with brick chimneys.

At my parents house, we listened to the Radio broadcast. It was nice to hear that there were no direct casualties, and that people were working on sorting out the damaged buildings. Many public facilities were damaged: water supply pipes and sewage pipes have been damaged in many parts of the City and surrounding Canterbury district. The real problem is not the immediate danger but the way in which people deal with the following days.

We also talked about liquefaction and how it might have reduced the amount of damage, since the liquefaction effect probably dampens the impact of the shockwaves.

All throughout this time we have been experiencing aftershocks. Some of them have been very strong - others feel like groans deep from the earth, barely perceptible rumbles on the edge of your hearing.

Other Photographs

Aftermath & Ramifications


Goodness. You do know that you’re supposed to use mortar in brick chimneys, right?

I tease, I’m just really shocked by how those chimneys crumbled. For some reason, I am reminded of the Charleston earthquake – Wikipedia: 1886 Charleston earthquake.

Check out the way they bolted their walls, trying to introduce some stability to weakened brick structures. New buildings in historic districts have fake ones so they blend in =)

Very well written article, and some incredible pictures! Up until about four years ago, I lived in Christchurch having been born and raised there. As a result, I know many family and friends there, and spent a few hours on the phone making sure everyone was alright after this. I am really happy that nobody was killed during this disaster. No matter how much damage was done to the buildings in the city, it is a small price to pay for not having lost even one life.

The people will be resilient enough to bounce back from this, and the spirit of the community will be stronger than ever.

Thank you for writing such a great article, all the best to you and your family.

wah I didn’t get to do the earthquack

Whilst trawling around looking for a particular photo, I stumbled upon your site. I thought someone has already commented from the outer suburbs perspective on the earthquake, missing the time mentioned in the initial sentence. After viewing most of the photos posted, and reading a fine account of one family’s experience, it dawned on me that this was last September’s ’quake!

It certainly is a different beast compared to the latest awfully destructive event just two days ago. I guess most people in Australia have been appalled at the carnage and destruction of what is a beautiful city. (And I was going to correct the “is” to “was”!). But no, I very much feel that it takes a lot more than grand old heritage buildings standing alongside modern glass and steel constructions to make a city lovable. It is its population and what they consider makes a city beautiful, satisfying, and a pleasure to live in, and call “Home”, or “I was born there”, or “I grew up there”.

That some of these buildings, both older and newer, have been demolished effectively, is one thing, but the intolerable loss of life that we have been seeing on the TV coverage is quite another. Even though we wish that we could do something, I realise that it has to be left to those courageous enough, with very definite appropriate training, the application of the latest technology, and the co-ordination of all the various endeavours by thoughtful and respected administrators.

It is very sad to hear of so many who have lost their lives in the current earthquake, and even as I type, there is still hope that some victims may be still rescued alive, I would be delighted if all were. But realistically, we know that scenario is unlikely, after the horrific death toll which at the moment is set at 98 with a couple of hundred still un-accounted for.

You can be assured that we have been following the latest rolling coverage on TV, and are just as heartbroken as our NZ cousins.

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