the alfmeister

a figment of reality's imagination

Shake, Rattle And Roll…Pt III

Upper Manchester St; liquefaction wasn’t this
prevalent in Sept ’10
So there I was, dumping the car in Sailsbury St, and met a man running towards the scene. He had driven in from Ohoka as his daughter was in the Pyne Gould Building, over the back from my own building. She was due to be married on Friday and he hadn’t heard from her. We convinced a cop at a cordon to let us through, although we had to detour away from Colombo St to Manchester due to a gas leak in the area – just as I was pulling out my smokes to light up for the umpteenth time that afternoon.
As we hit Manchester St, the ‘pin up’ of September 4, the scene was like nothing I have seen. We walked ankle-deep through liquefaction (funny, no one knew the word before late last year, yet it is now a keyword on every one’s lips even if they couldn’t pronounce it!) and the devastation was complete. Where once was road and pavements, was now brick and mortar, water and mud, dust and smoke, and scattered around people in a daze. We walked into Cambridge Terrace, right on the Avon where the PGG Building was (‘was’ being the operative word) and the shock hit me. A building I had viewed from my building, barely 50m away, was a mountain of rubble, barely recognisable. There were rescue workers crawling over it like a swarm of ants and survivors sitting on the roadside, dirty, bandaged and bleeding. Some wept, some stood and stared at nothing in particular. I myself just stood, unable to take my eyes off the scene, unable to comprehend what I was in fact looking at. Sometime in the next couple of minutes, I had finished a smoke, don’t even remember lighting it, and then started to look for things to do. With some young guys I assumed were backpackers we moved some fences onto the grass as a makeshift trauma space, or morgue I even supposed.
Above left; the scene that greeted me as I walked into Cambridge Terrace
Above right; from directly in front of the PGG Building, the concrete cutters and sledges were in full swing
I spoke to a woman holding a St Johns pack, one of those ones you buy for your home or car – she felt she had to bring something, however insignificant it may seem. We chatted about other areas, what we knew. I mentioned the Copthorne, just around the corner, CTV which was on fire (I hadn’t known at this point it had collapsed), the Farmers Carpark, and rumours of the Cathedral, but everyone there didn’t believe a word of that, surely not the Cathedral!

I started to notice more around me, helicopters buzzed around us; TV crews in some came right down and got some verbal abuse from survivors and rescuers; another was doing a round trip of about 2km with a monsoon bucket filling up from the Avon and dumping it on CTV which we couldn’t see bar the black smoke cloud billowing upwards; another chopper was near the Forsythe Barr Building where we had heard the lifts and stairwells were inaccessible, and people waited on balconies awaiting rescue.
Within an hour, more appliances and personnel had turned up, it was obvious that PGG was one of the priority sites for rescue. there was talk of about 200 inside when the quake hit, my guesstimation was barely half of that were being treated on the grass, so that left a lot to be found.

The Avon River, yet another Christchurch icon, was in flood, like nothing I have seen before. It was brown, and foreboding, hardly the place to take a romantic punt.

I got to talking to some other people around me; a couple of American tourists taking pictures who had walked up from Latimer Square; two homeless guys who seemed bemused by the spectacle; a Customs Officer and an Army guy holding cordon – the universal feeling was, was, shit, I cannot express it into words.
Word started to spread that the services were looking to evacuate everyone from the area – I had noted at this point that the concrete cutters and sledgehammers on the rubble had stopped, no one had noticed it. And the rescuers seemed to be leaning into holes, obviously coming across someone or something ready to come out, and as we were cleared further from the makeshift erection I helped build earlier, my only thought was they did not want anyone to see the bodies.

From left hand side of scene – Opposition Leader
Phil Goff on the phone. He just didn’t seem right
being there, it felt like a PR exercise to me. At this
point, the cutter and hammers were silent, the crane
ready to lift a rescue basket to a point just behind
the trees, left
Some of the survivors talked of getting out now, most wanted to wait as they still had friends and colleagues up there, but the Police were now making their presence felt, this was not a place nor time for emotion, it was work. One girl, who had been relatively quiet the whole time I was there, suddenly broke down. She screamed and cried that she had no family here in CHCH, but her cat was alone at home and she must get back to it. But her car was in the no-go-zone and she abused those who told her not to fetch it. I think her name was Lydia. Lydia, I hope your cat is fine. It was at this I suddenly snapped out of my fog. I had to get home, while I knew my family were safe, I had to see them, see our house, see and be with my animals.

I walked, not with purpose, back to my car. People were walking in no particular direction, it was quiet, so quiet. One lady sat in a bus shelter with her son and dog, another elderly lady was cradling her cat. Some people had suitcases and blankets and backpacks – where they were going, I have no idea, it seemed there was nowhere to go for a lot of them.
In my car I drove north up Manchester, into Bealey and then onto Cranford. From this point on, I barely saw a car. The streets were deadly quiet, I felt like I was in that movie Quiet Earth with Bruno Lawerence; why was I the only survivor? Why was I OK? Where was everyone. The streets were pock-marked with holes, subsidence, cracks, and in places a torrent of liquefaction. Dust was swirled up by what cars were driving.
Heading north through Redwood I saw my first ‘life’, the Mobil station had a queue a mile long wanting fuel, and I quickly made a decision, I needed some supplies. But what? The continued drive solved it for me – supermarkets were closed, other fuel stations, but right on the outskirts of Belfast, The Peg, a pub was open. I pulled in, bought a case of Speights and a packet of smokes, and headed home.
the motorway was like driving on waves – not as obviously damaged as the previous quake, it was nonetheless affected, and speeds up to 100kmh made the car jump about, so I slowed it right down…what was my hurry?

Fuck, no other word for it…

I called into my neighbours first, Pete and Sue. I had been told our power was out, and seeing their TV through the window assumed they had their generator on. They invited me in for a beer, said they had been checking on the dogs, but I just wanted to see my girls and then back to my animals. The power was back on, so I was relieved that the fish at least would be OK if they hadn’t been tipped out.
At the in-laws, I hugged my girls, made plans they would both stay there that night and I would go home. While having a beer, I first saw the Cathedral. My first tear..I couldn’t believe it, and still refuse to believe it. It just doesn’t seem right, criminal. The symbol of Christchurch, of its people, of the country almost, lay in ruins. 100-odd years it withstood anything thrown at it, seen people through World Wars, through the depression, through disasters worse than this, and always giving hope, inspiration, and guidance. And now it may end up being the face of this whole damned mess…RIP Christchurch.

I went home, drained, but pumped. I fed the animals, walked the house, cleaned up the mess. We were fine, we were lucky. And as soon as you think that, you feel guilt, shame, depressed. Two friends came by to check up on me, we had a few beers and watched the same scenes over and over, waiting for something new, another survivor, or death, it didn’t matter, we needed to know either way. When they left, I drank some more, conscious of the fact that it is easy to see how people fall into alcoholism, well not me. I went to bed and slept…through a dozen shakes until the 4+ at 6am which got me up. TV on, a coffee, a few TXT to friends and family. My blog, feeding my pets, it seemed all so automated. I was working on habit, still bothered by the fact that there were things to do for others. Finally Katie advised she was booked on a flight, we organised for friends to come and stay and get out of the city…and this is where you find me now, waiting on my love with my kids here watching the idiot box, the fire lit (it’s not that cold, but there is a sense of comfort in a fire-place). I haven’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, coffee getting me by. We wait, and wait…

So now we look to the future, to rebuild. Last year seems so long ago, we coped and we won. Can we do it again? Damned fucken right we can!


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One thought on “Shake, Rattle And Roll…Pt III

  1. >Oh Keith, thanks for writing that all down. I can't believe it at all. Big hugs to you and your family & friends.

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