Wednesday, November 16, 2016

An uncertain living

Flying supplies north from Amberley
For the first 39 of my years, earthquakes were not a part of my experience. Then I moved to live in New Zealand. My first real experience of an earthquake was around 1990 on the 13th floor of a Wellington office building. To find a concrete building swaying from side to side like a young sapling in a gale was disconcerting, perhaps even a little frightening. But all was well and everyone evacuated the building safely.

The 2010 and 2011 quakes in Christchurch were a different kettle of fish - buildings collapsed, people died. Five years later, the effects on the city are still plainly evident in the many vacant city blocks. Now, in 2016, we have another massive quake and, while it’s centre was not near a big city, it has left devastation in its magnitude 7.5 wake.

There has been structural damage in central Wellington even though the initial quake was centred in North Canterbury. Some Wellington buildings will have to be demolished - though not on the scale of Christchurch. More significantly, transport routes in the north of the South Island have been completely cut. One estimate is that there are over 200 significant land slips blocking both road and rail links. In at least one case, the rail line and sleepers are now a buckled mess sitting on the adjacent highway.

The town of Kaikoura is completely cut off and those needing evacuation are being ferried out by air and sea. It is thought that it will be at least a week before a twisty inland route to Kaikoura can be reopened. The main road and rail links north and south of Kaikoura will take months to reopen, such is the extent of the damage. At a smaller scale, many individuals in North Canterbury and Marlborough are now homeless, and some communities are without power, water or sewerage services. The area impacted by this earthquake is huge, covering the eastern side of the country from Cheviot in the South Island north to Wellington.

And yet, this is not the overdue ‘big one’ - a rupture of the Alpine Fault which, we are told, will produce a magnitude 8+ quake when it happens. That’s life in New Zealand; our noisy neighbour is the earthquake. Other places have different risks, like tornadoes, flooding, drought, famine or war. Put in context, earthquakes are not such a high price to pay for a beautiful country, and I have the feeling that the earthquakes make this land and its people more beautiful than they would otherwise be.

Kia kaha.

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