Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The End of the Before

Three years ago today my world changed.  It was the End of the Before.

Anniversaries bring back memories.  4 September 2010.  26 December 2010.  22 February 201113 June 2011.  23 December 2011.  10 July 2012.  For each one I can tell you exactly where I was and exactly what happened.

Night-time. I was woken by a deep rumble, like distant thunder, coming from below the ground.  A kind of rumble that’s felt more than heard.  I instantly recognise it. 


I was already moving though the bedroom door as the rumble reached the house, and started vibrating. I gathered up my 20 month old son from his cot. He woke as I picked him up, blinking at me in bewilderment.

You're overreacting, a part of my mind told me. It's only an earthquake. He'd probably have slept through it if you'd left him.

I reached the doorway of my son's bedroom and I crouched over the child as the shaking increased in intensity. I could hear things falling out of the bathroom cupboards directly across the hall from me. This house will be fine, it's a 1950's timber house, it'll flex, but not fall down. I heard sounds of smashing and breaking in the kitchen. I looked down the hallway towards the girls bedrooms. There was a bookcase in the way. The shelf was secured to the wall, but I was worried about the things falling off it. My husband Viv staggered to the door of our bedroom, and stood bracing himself.

As the shaking stopped, the answerphone started screaming. Power surge. Viv headed into the office to turn it off. I tucked my son back into his cot, and went into the girls room. They were sitting huddled on their bunks.

“Wow, girls, you've just had your first earthquake. How exciting! Who wants to come and sleep in Mummy and Daddy's bed for the rest of the night” Expect aftershocks. The first aftershock rolled in as we settled into our bed, and the toddler came running to join us. We're not going to get much sleep now anyway. We somehow fit everyone in.

I looked at the clock. 4:35am. “Shall we turn on the radio now to find out where that one came from, or wait until morning?” I asked Viv.

“Just wait until morning.”

A loud knock on the door. It was our neighbour. “Are you guys okay? Our phone started ringing, and it was coming from your number.”

“Power surge. Probably the wires in the connection box shorting. Our answerphone screamed. You guys all okay?”

The neighbour headed off to check on others on the same driveway. I headed back into the bed . Must be in the mountains. Must be pretty bad inland. We rode the rollercoaster that was the rest of the night, watching the clock.

6:00am. The radio switched on to the news bulletin. “... centered near Darfied ...” That makes sense, its near the foothills. I still associated earthquakes with mountains.

I phoned my parents first thing. I don't want to wake my Australian sister, so I tried to calculate time zones, waiting to send her a text message. “Mum's already phoned me” came the reply.

My sister wrote in her blog:

My mother phoned while I was still in bed (OMG, who died?). Everyone’s okay (OMG, what happened?). Only the worst earthquake in New Zealand for 80 years, centred just outside of Christchurch. 7.1 on the Richter scale. Mum sounded “old” for the first time that I can recall (OMG, I hope she doesn’t read this!), but I guess she’d been awake since 4:30am phoning around checking up on local family and reassuring remote family.

It didn't really sink in that first day.

Earthquake or no

But who knew then that we’d have to live through more than 10,000 shakes over 22 months.

Anniversaries.  Memories.  Sometimes things change forever, and there’s no going back to Before. 


  1. I have shivers up my spine reading that. Much love to you Vix x

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Vicki. It's been a bit of a fragile day today.

  2. Wow! Such vivid description. It brings back strong memories of our night too. It was very similar, although we had two girls with us in the hallway and the 3rd (oldest girl who was 15 at the time) was trapped on the other side of the bookshelf which had fallen over in the hallway as it was unsecured. It took a while to be able to get to her because things had fallen out of the fridge which was the other way to reach her) and I didn't want to walk through it in the dark. Although we could talk to her it was not the same as a big hug. That experience haunted her for a while, although she was better able to cope with the aftershocks with time.

    I 'rescued' our oldest safely from the caravan out the back (he thought his friends shaking the caravan for a lark), but later saw shimmering pools on the driveway. When is was light I saw the silt from liquefaction all the way from almost at the front door to the caravan door. Later we found out what it was. We spent the night talking, hugging worrying and listening to the radio. Thankfully we didn't know what was still to come.

    We are definitely living after that day (and also after Feb 22nd). Knowing where our kids were, how they were going to get there and back and what the plan was 'if something happened" dominated my thinking for some time and still figures in the back of my mind now. I didn't want to stop their independence, but .... it was hard to let them go sometimes, especially the youngest who was without a cell phone (although you can't always depend on them either in those situations).

    Thanks for the memories Claudia. Those two dates will be forever etched in our thoughts.