Monday, 28 February 2011

Heather's story

Heather decided to put her quake experience in writing:

I work at Shirley Boys High School and a co-worker and I decided that we would go to the Palms Mall at the corner of Marshland and New Brighton roads, as we both wanted to pick up a couple of food items. It was my daughter’s birthday, and I needed a couple of items for the birthday dinner. That afternoon the teachers at SBHS were involved in an arranged PPTA meeting, so our students had been given the afternoon off school. To ensure that the students went home, teaching staff went to the Palms to keep them out of the area. Therefore the only students who were inside the Mall were with their parents.

My friend and I had arranged to meet outside the supermarket in an open area after we had been through the checkout, so we parted company to get our purchases. I came through first and was waiting in the open area, and saw my friend, who was at that time was the second person in the express lane. Simultaneously I heard a thunk sound, and it dawned on me what it was. I had time to look around me, make a decision and run the two metres to the pillar connected to the floor and ceiling and grab hold of it, before the real rocking started. Lights were turning off and glass had starting breaking by the time I was firmly wrapped around the pillar. As the glass and masonry started to shower down on the area, I squashed my head against the pillar with my eyes open. I recall seeing someone dashing for the supermarket entry area, where there are barriers to hold on to, as the rocking was immense. The light was greenish but the glass showering was similar to a heavy rainfall. I remember thinking, “is the roof going to come down, is this how I will die?”. What amazes me now is the that there was time for coherent thought! Then the rocking stopped, the glass slowly stopped falling, and so did the masonry. Quiet came, interrupted by shouts of “Everybody out, get out”.

I had briefly noticed that I had pressed up against something as well as the pillar, and realized as I went to leave that the trolley arrangement that holds supermarket baskets had been in place but empty, and I had enfolded my shoulder bag strap around the top of the frame. I realized how I had been pushing into that pillar, and my ankle hurt where I had pushed against the frame at the bottom. But I had no injuries.

I stood for a brief second and debated, “What about my friend?”, but realized that I could not see into the checkout where she had been and dust was filling the air. I left, hyperventilating my way from the supermarket to the exit area, saying her name and deep breathing.

I left the exit and waited for her where I could see her come out; unfortunately this was still under the car park which I was not happy about, but shortly she appeared. We hugged, she brushed glass off me, and said she had managed to hide under the ledge of the checkout counter. We walked out to Marshland Road, and suddenly up came the water, then sand. We crossed the road and realized we had walked out like zombies into the roadway, regardless of cars moving. We went past the Shell Station, and I noticed that the pumps were about a foot above the carpark area (today, the area over the tanks is about a foot higher). We crossed the major intersection, realizing that the lights were not working. Around us as we walked we noticed cracks appearing in the road and footpath, past the Intermediate school grounds where the sand was appearing from the ground in front of our eyes. We arrived at school to find a full scale evacuation was taking place as the water was filling up in all the buildings. I had to roll my trousers up as high as possible, and walk through water which came over my knees. As the water was just spilling out from anywhere, I had to place my feet very carefully to make sure that I did not slip in the mud, and as the water was gray with sand, I couldn’t see what the terrain was like.

I tried to text my family, who had both sent me texts, but I think that the system had started to go down, as I could not text, but I thought it was because my hands were shaking so much, and I couldn’t explain to anyone else what to do. Talking wasn’t my best feature either. But I still considered that I was fairly together , so I decided to travel to my home which I left after 4 September earthquake and see how it had fared.

I got home to find my neighbor at his place, and found that their new extensions which had survived 4 September, had succumbed to this one. We then went to check our house, and I found that the lovely water bore which had supplied the neighbourhood last time, was broken. The bore was somewhere under the house and the tap came out by our bedroom, but the pipe had broken and water was pouring out under the house. The east wall which I thought was ok at that time, I found the next day was shattered and broken in many places with some parts facing 20 degrees away from where they should have been. The whole house looks like it has a skirt on it, as it has shifted on its foundations and the 1940 roughcast has been split at the bottom. The little brick garage that had withstood the lateral spreading of 4 September, looks as though something has fallen on it, in fact the next day we found a canoe resting on the roof at knee height after our neighbours used the canoe to get to their water surrounded house.

Next day we found that Dudley Creek had just poured over about five/six house sections, (including our back yard) and just poured like a river into the Avon. One neighbor talked about listening to the water running under his house all night. The original slumping in the road, same as at 4 September is there, and the rest of the road is generally in pieces all along the block. There were several cars parked on the side of the road, left by people who had abandoned them, and walked their way home. The postie’s car was still there listing to one side as the road sank around it. I realized that apart from turning the water off at the street, there was little I could do, and I was certainly not going inside it.

So I attempted to get home, and had been told that Marshland Road was impassable, so decided to try New Brighton Road instead. As I entered the intersection, I realized that the wonderfully clear traffic directions were being given by a young Shirley Boys High School teacher who was moving the traffic with grace and charm. Thanks to Angee Robertson. Well done! I hope she got home safely.

As I turned off New Brighton Road early, the worst area was where Locksley Ave enters New Brighton Road, (it had never come right since 4 September, so was bound to be bad). But Burwood Road was great.

I came home to our rented house, with no cracks, no lights, no water, and a few breakages, but in really good condition. I feel so lucky, and listen to the sad stories with a heavy heart. At least with 4 September, although we were shocked and found it difficult to understand why others didn’t realize what a big deal it was, there was no life lost. Those of us who had had our lives disrupted were in the minority, so everybody else just got on with their lives. This time, it is so different. I wish it wasn’t.

We took the ingredients of the birthday tea to my daughter’s place next day, and she cooked it!

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Ronald Report

River Road, between Medway St and Banks Avenue

I sent this email to a big list of friends and family, but inevitably I'll have missed some, so here it is again.

Hi to all,

First the quake itself; Heather was in The Palms mall buying some groceries, and had just left the supermarket - she clung to a major structural pillar and watched skylights and ceilings crashing down. She was covered in fragments of glass and masonry, and then nearly got caught in the rising floods and silt as the liquefaction rose while she and a friend walked the block back to school. They had to wade through knee deep water to get belongings out of offices and get to cars. I was in our office on the 7th floor of the UC Library with my colleague Jess Hollis, finishing lunch - we dived under desks as the building whipped from side to side, avoiding high speed office chairs and drawer units slamming open and shut, computers falling over, etc. As soon as it stopped, we grabbed coats, laptops, etc and left via the stair wells with many others. We had just got to an open lawn between buildings when the second shock hit, 15 mins after the first; the fright of that had a bad effect on many people who'd been OK till then, and we had a lot of upset weepy people around us. We walked the long way around to get to our cars, avoiding large buildings, then I joined a 45-60 minute bumper to bumper queue to get to the QE2 motorway and home to find Heather had just arrived, about 3pm. Attempts at texting each other had failed in the huge volume of cell network traffic; the texts arrived about dinner time!

We've been very lucky; we had a landline phone on Wed morning, then water came back on at 9am Thursday, and we returned home from an "empty the freezer" barbecue about 10pm last night to find that we had power and internet as well. So domestic life for us is back to normal, in terms of infrastructure services. We're being pretty canny with toilets and showers, because inevitably there will be damaged sewers downstream from us, but basically we're fine, and a lot more comfortable than most. We are keeping water supplies and gas stoves near by for a few more days, though, just in case. We'll probably go back to Alice's flat and retrieve our freezer contents that she's been storing.

Other services such as supermarkets and petrol stations are working on the western side of Hagley Park, but the eastern side of town is mostly shut down. We went to the big Countdown at Northlands yesterday; it was crowded and busy, but coping OK. If we need to refuel cars, I think I'll plan to go at around 7am to avoid the worst of the crowds. Obviously the university is shut while buildings are assessed for safety, and schools are all shut as well. Shirley Boys High, where Heather works, has been badly flooded and filled with liquefaction silt, and we hear that Avonside Girls High has major cracking and lateral spreading. That means this part of town needs enough temporary places to teach 3000 teenage kids.
Silt in Hendon St, St Albans, where our friends Frances and Chris live.

I won't try to summarise the mess in town; you'll have seen it all on TV. We visited our old house in River Rd on Wednesday morning, and that afternoon I biked around Mairehau & St Albans visiting friends and taking photos. The pics of our house, the collapsed road, and the neighbourhood cleanup are at my Flickr site,

Our house was already a wreck, but Tuesday finished it right off. There's an artesian bore under the house, with a tap beside our bedroom, but the pipe had sheared and we can hear water flowing somewhere under the front porch. I'm not concerned about getting inside to rip up the porch floor and plug the leak - the house is a wreck anyway, and now it's getting wet that just confirms the matter. The whole house has jolted 15-20cm sideways, opening gaps between the walls and foundations, the single brick garage is flattened, and the back lawn is full of silt and water. Don't ask about time frames for rebuilding - this has thrown all the cards up in the air, and the whole recovery process will start again. We'll be a couple of years at least, before we get back into a solid new house.

In the meantime, we're OK, healthy and more or less happy, in a totally undamaged house which we're renting until Leanne the owner returns in December. We need to have another rental organised later in the year, but we'll get through this phase first. The government $275/week rent subsidy will be helpful when our insurance payout ends.

I'll probably do messages through Facebook & Twitter, rather than email or blog, to keep updates coming, as they are quick and easy - I'm just plain Gregor Ronald on FB, @GregorRonald on Twitter.

Oh, by the way - we've had two small-to-medium aftershocks while I've been typing this. Rock and roll!

Best wishes to all,

Gregor Ronald, Christchurch, New Zealand 027-733-7427 @GregorRonald

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Quakes and stuff

My first chance to get online since yesterday's 6.3 shock; we are OK, but without power and water, like many parts of Christchurch. Water is easy enough to get, by using the artesian bores in our River Rd neighbours' back yards; our house's bore pipe snapped yesterday and we can hear the water pouring out under the front porch. Nobody has any inclination (or the courage) to go into the house, rip up the porch floor, and try to plug the pipe.

It looks like we have a holiday (of sorts) with the University shut until further notice. It would be nice to have power and internet, but that will probably take a few more days. In the meantime I can use the internet at Alice's flat - we're there now, while a chicken cooks for dinner. We had thawed it for yesterday's dinner, but without an oven that wasn't possible, so it needs to be cooked today.

We had our friends Peter and Lauren from Wanaka coming to stay last night, so when Peter texted from Twizel we said to keep coming; he bought sausages in Ashburton and we had sausages and salad by candlelight. We are cooking on a two burner gas camping stove until we get electricity restored.

More later...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Summer fun

The Waipu Cove/Langs Beach area is a lovely spot, with golden sands, little bays, and a view of the Hen and Chickens islands sweeping round to Whangarei Heads. Property values reflect this, of course; I saw an 800 sq.m section offered for $540,000. The wedding takes place on Langs Beach itself, at 3.30 this afternoon, so we have the morning to relax and explore. Or lie around reading...

Good news last night of the Government rent subsidy package for those whose insurance money has run out. The trouble is that we won't reach that point until September, and what rentals will be left by then? Telling us they'll subsidise rent by $275 for a couple is fine, but imagine what landlords will be charging by then - if houses are available at all.

I note that the spin doctors had Gerry Brownlee presented as a regular bloke, minus tie and suit coat and dressed in a Bob Parker Action Man jacket, to present this. With the flag as a backdrop of course. After his blustering blunders on Campbell Live earlier this week, he needs all the image help he can get.

I didn't see any mention of a time limit; earlier this week he hinted that such a scheme may run for a year, but hopefully that's been dropped; we could be two years or more, given the rate the bureaucrats are moving on plans for land remediation.

UPDATE: There is a time limit. I found helpful information on the Rebuild Christchurch site;
"The financial assistance programme will initially run for two years until 17 February 2013 and will be reviewed before then."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A weekend Up North

We fly to Auckland on Friday morning, then drive to Waipu Cove, about 50km south of Whangarei. On Saturday Corin Moss, son of our friends Logan and Pamela, marries his Austrian partner Nicoletta Newzella.

The ceremony will be held on the beach, with celebrant Dame Cath Tizard, erstwhile Governor General and Auckland Mayor in the 1980s. The wedding will be a bit of a reunion for a group of us who met at Otago University in the late 60s, and should be a grand occasion.

On Sunday we will visit friends at Whangaparaoa for lunch, then on to the airport for a 5.30pm flight home, ready for the start of semester on Monday - and hundreds of support calls from staff and students.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

In case we get too relaxed

An interesting week looms ahead; we meet with our bank tomorrow to talk about options, then we'll make an offer for the 2 bedroom duplex in St Albans. If we get it, we'll make a few modifications, but basically we'll just add a bit of functionality and see how it goes. Alice has possible short term tenants at the hospital, and I'll be hunting out the visiting PhD students with similar requests.

On Friday we fly to Auckland/Northland for a friends' son's wedding, returning on Sunday evening. That will be a good break at the end of what looks like a hassly week. On top of the impending start of semester, and the accompanying last minute panics from teaching staff, we'll have banks, lawyers, insurance, and EQC. Deep breaths....

UPDATE: The property is under offer, so we're back to scouting the real estate web sites. Plenty of time...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Plans are afoot

Scaffolding now covers the main entry and the western end of the Library's first 5 floors.
The James Hight building's south side; our office is on level 7. Scaffolding will soon cover the whole building.

The James Hight building, the University's library, is having all its windows replaced. They had to come out to be inspected for earthquake damage, so the opportunity to put in modern double glazed windows was obvious. The scaffolding is going up this week, but it won't be fast.

This work of art adorns the Learning Resources administration area. I think it's a parable of human digestion, but maybe not.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A hot one

Yesterday was a scorcher, as a NW wind flow picked up warm air from the tail of Cyclone Yasi, then accelerated it over the Southern Alps and across Canterbury. At 8.30am it was 27oC, and by later afternoon it had reached 36o in Christchurch. In spite of warnings about broken sewer pipes and sewerage leaks on Sumner and South Brighton beaches, thousands of people swam in the sea; I wonder how many contracted gastroenteritis and were vomiting and pooping their way through the night. I just resorted to repeated showers under the garden sprinkler, followed by lying in the shade. Heather did much the same, then went to QE2 pool for her Sunday swim. The cats lay about looking like they'd been dosed with valium.

In the evening we went to Lyttelton for a concert by Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan, who call their group Her Make Believe Band. I presume there's an interesting story, which I must find out one day. We've known Cy since he was born, as his parents Chris and Julie were good friends when we lived in Wanaka; he and Alice used to toddle about playing together, though the day Alice hit him on the head with his new toy hammer has stuck in people's minds somewhat.

Cy and Vanessa - beautiful singing

Anyway, the concert was lovely, with clever lyrics and beautiful guitar work, plus a depth of tone from Vanessa's double bass that really contributed to the feel. They were joined by an American banjo player for the second set, but although he was good, I didn't feel that his instrument really fitted the style of the music, which was more melodic and thoughtful than a banjo can express. But it was a thoroughly good night, enjoyed by all.

Banjo player Dave Kahn joined in for the second set.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sailing again

We launched Impulsive at 11.30am on Saturday, and headed up the harbour in a 10 knot easterly, warm but overcast. We had our big genoa on for the first time in ages, and we just shot along in the light breeze. We were just one of around 100 boats on the water, as the Naval Point Club was hosting a heap of championships; SI Paper Tigers & Finns, keeler and trailer yacht sprint races, and lots of dinghy class races. It was a spectacular sight from further out towards the heads, as we looked back at a harbour full of sails.

Mark Schroeder steered for much of the upwind trip. Keeler sprints and PTs behind.

We sailed up to Godley Head and tacked in close to look at the gun emplacements, then turned back and poled out the genoa, heading for Purau to meet up with Chris Hutching. He was just at the Purau Bay entrance as we arrived, so we charged around him in circles, trying to get VHF radios working on Ch 23; he could hear us but we couldn't hear him, though all had been well on the public ch16. After giving up on that, we dropped the genoa because the sky had cleared and the easterly had picked up to 15-16 knots, which is beyond the limit for that big sail. We were happy under mainsail alone as we followed Chris to the wharf at Ripapa Island to tie up, finish lunch, and have a chat.
Darren Armstrong, crew member and maintenance guru.

We left Ripapa with genoa and main up, and sailed back to the club in a following sea that gave us some stirring surfing, to join a log queue of trailer yachts waiting to haul out. We tidied the boat up as we waited, with sails furled and cover on, jibs stowed, lifejackets and other gear in place, then we set the speed record for putting a boat on the trailer. It's amazing how long some people can take, but our setup is very quick and easy to use. We were down the ramp, boat on, and back up to the hose-down area in less than 5 minutes.

Then it was off to the pub for a quick beer, pick up fish and chips, and home for tea. (First takeaways for a month or more, so I don't feel too guilty.) I was in bed by 9.30pm, and slept till 6.30am - a 9 hour sleep is a major achievement for me, I must have been really tired.

Now it's 9am Sunday and I'm off to the supermarket for some air conditioning - and the weekly shop-up. We go to a concert by Her Make Believe Band at Lyttelton tonight; Cy Winstanley is the son of old friends in Auckland, and was a great pal of Alice's to the age of 4 or so in Wanaka, so it will be great to see Cy and Vanessa perform.