Christchurch is a remarkable place. When wandering around here last week I’d noticed that a lot of businesses (even buses) had notices on them referencing the earthquake from September (or perhaps December, as they had two big ones last year). There were noticeable cracks on many buildings, but people were clearly trying to pick up the pieces and get back on their feet which was inspiring.
Yesterday’s earthquake has brought this city to its knees. I was beyond fortunate enough to be on a bus heading into the city, and not in the city centre itself (or at the airport, which had some damage as well). Now being on a bus in the midst of a 6.3 earthquake that’s shallow was no picnic, but I am considerably lucky and only have a few bumps and bruises.
After word of the quake’s size spread through the bus, it was an awkward final few minutes as our driver pointed out inane objects on the side of the road (a giant salmon! Dairy cows!) while we all wondered “well yes but where are you taking us? Is the city okay?”
It was not okay. Beautiful buildings old and new laid in ruins, including parts of the cathedral which I visited last week, above. People out for lunch were trapped (hundreds remain unaccounted for), fires burned out of control, and thick plumes of smoke and dust clouded the sky. Liquefaction swallowed up cars, giant cracks snaked down roads, and it was (and remains) utter chaos.
My bus dropped us on the side of a road near the airport and wished us good luck. The airport was closed. With large aftershocks and the weather turning darker (mother nature really packs a punch when she’s angry) I frantically looked for somewhere to go. Luckily there was a hotel near the airport which took everyone in, and provided us with blankets, food and a dry place to try to sleep. Huddled together in the makeshift bedroom, hundreds of us silently watched the news in disbelief as landscapes we previously recognized vanished before our eyes. Cheers erupted when people were pulled from rubble, and audible gasps were heard as the death toll rose.
I experienced the kindness of strangers multiple times over the past 36 hours. A kind woman from Sarnia tapped me on the shoulder and passed me her phone card when my Visa wouldn’t work, so I could call my parents and let them know that I was okay (and also let them know – surprise – that there’d been an earthquake. Good middle-of-the-night wake-up call). A couple from California ate dinner with me and offered to drive me to another airport if I could get a flight out of there (I couldn’t, but a nice offer). And a couple from Manchester shared their cell phone so I could call home again and speak for more than 30 seconds, which I am eternally grateful.
I now sit at the airport, 10 hours before my rescheduled flight to Melbourne, in the hopes that it will go as planned tomorrow. Shelters are too far from the airport, so I’m chancing my luck here that I’ll be able to find a corner to curl up in. I am tired, dirty and hungry, but am very thankful that everything is okay. I have my passport, possessions, and am safe, which is a lot more than others I’ve met can say.
Thanks everyone for your concerns and well-wishes. I was (and still am) feeling rather stunned, scared and sleep-deprived. I do hope that my travels take me onwards and upwards from here. Keep calm and carry on. And hope for the best for those who are injured or missing.