Two weeks ago I had just returned from a two week stint in Christchurch for my job. While there, we experienced a couple of aftershock jolts from the big 7.1 quake on 4 September 2010, but everyone was pretty much used to it and getting on with life. Following the locals’ lead, we regarded them as minor and ‘novel’ events – nothing to get excited about. After all, they’d soon be gone.
Then the shattering 6.3 quake hit at 12.51pm last Tuesday. I’d just got back to the office from a meeting and went to access a server in the Christchurch office – nothing. I assumed it was a power outage that had gone on long enough to sap the UPS batteries – until I saw my Twitter stream start to fill up with the awful news.
Those first few hours were horrible as we tried to get in touch with friends and colleagues. Some text messages got through, most didn’t. We relied almost exclusively on Twitter for news of what was happening. Fortunately, everyone was fine. Yet that’s turned out to be the least of it. Some of our staff have resigned and left the city immediately, and possibly permanently – they can’t endure any more, and who could blame them? Our plant there is crippled, with much of the work having to be transported to other cities for processing. Without water and sewerage, that’s how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Everyone’s under huge stress, not just about their jobs and all that that entails, but what the future might hold for them and their families. Of course, everyone’s doing the best they can, but the fact is that the future is very uncertain and not terribly bright.
Today, just one small week later, the country came together to observe 2 minutes of silence at 12.51pm. At work, we gathered in the lunchroom and boy, it was hard to keep from bursting into tears as we watched people on TV, paused and still, just like us. The feeling of being connected to fellow Kiwis in this moment was powerful, moving and yet oddly heartening.
In a lot of ways, it still feels pretty surreal, as if part of me still can’t believe that it was Christchurch of all places that has been devastated. But it really has. The city I strolled through to restaurants after work just two weeks ago, in warm summer sunshine, is irrevocably changed.
Yet with all the heartache, there are some extraordinary heartwarmers. The huge outpouring of support from around the country and the world, the incredible kindness and humanity shown between people, and the extraordinary hope for the future embodied by the likes of the Student Volunteer Army.
When the tears are close, these thoughts bring a smile.