Just one week ago, at 12.51 pm on Tuesday 22 February, I was working hard on editing the manuscript of The Gathering of the Lost (The Wall of Night Book Two) and calculating how many pages I would need to complete per day to meet deadline. At the same time, I was also looking forward to the UK launch of The Heir of Night on 3 March.
And then the world began to shake.
The world had been shaking a lot since 4 September when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, with nearly 5000 aftershocks recorded, but this was different. I felt the difference immediately and made it to the sturdy, timber doorway of my study. From there it was just a matter of riding out the 6.3 magnitude quake that was to wreak so much devastation throughout the city.
I was fortunate in that I did manage to ride it out, braced in my doorframe, and that after it was over, my 90-year old wooden house was still standing. Or maybe it wasn’t luck, because although old masonry buildings generally did not survive this earthquake, timber houses are lightweight and flexible, so better able to withstand the shaking. Timber houses of this vintage also tend to have heart wood frames, i.e. both flexible and strong, as well as the traditional NZ corrugated steel roof, which is also lightweight, which—unlike tiles all over town—did not go flying off.
I knew a quake of such severity in the middle of the day was going to be bad in terms of death and injury, but there was no time to think about that, because as soon as the shaking stopped the liquefaction began. Liquefaction is when subsurface sand gets forced up by groundwater and flows everywhere as a mix of black “mud” and water. In this case, it burst through the ground like a fountain and half my house was surrounded by it in less than a minute. Very scary—because of course you don’t know whether the tide is going to stop or keep on coming until it’s inside your house.
Fortunately, it did stop, although it was still up to a foot deep in places along the driveway and around the garage. Very shortly afterward, the sirens began to wail, and if there are sounds that characterise that day, it is the constant sirens, the sound of helicopters overhead and the intermittent drone of airforce planes coming in to land—as well as the sounds of gridlocked traffic and frustrated drivers along our street, which was the only one still passable for north-south traffic in this immediate area of the city.
My earthquake aftermath, besides being without power, water and sewer for some days (we’re still without sewer), has been digging out the liquefacted material for the past 6 days. I’ve done reports on my blog, while aware that my personal story pales into insignificance with that has been taking place in the cordoned-off central city. One quarter to one third of the buildings in that area have collapsed or partially collapsed, with one major fire and over 300 people missing.
My personal experience has been one of tremendous help and support from neighbours, friends and passing strangers—although I’ve heard less positive stories—and I have also been deeply moved by the level of international support. We have emergency teams on the ground from Australia, China, Japan, Taiwan, the UK and the USA, additional policing support from Australia, military support from Singapore, and a specialist body identification team from Thailand. And the really amazing thing in this too often fractious and bloody-handed world of ours: apparently they have equipment that is designed, and they are all trained, so that they can work together effectively. A ray of hope in a dark time.
Given we don’t have a postal service up and running yet, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t do a giveaway this time. I’d love it though, if you felt able to comment to show your support. And donations, whether small or large, to appeal funds such as the Red Cross NZ Earthquake Appeal will be very gratefully received.