Thursday, February 24, 2011

"This city is honestly a warzone" A firsthand account of the Christchurch quake

What follows is an email from a Kiwi friend of mine, Becki, who goes to school at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. I knew Becki mostly through Narva, who forwarded me her letter, sent to friends and family shortly after the quake. The descriptions of the devastation in Christchurch are powerful, and yet some of the best illustrations of what's actually happened there that I've yet seen. With her permission, I've reprinted it below.

"Hello to my amazing family and friends. Thank you for your messages and support. Really wanted to let you know what it’s been like, so thought this would be the easiest way. Please forgive that it’s sent in group messages, but explaining it a dozen times over would be too time consuming and emotionally taxing. Anyway, here's the deal.

My flat is standing, but nothing inside it is. The fridge was thrown across the kitchen, ALL our plates and glasses smashed, everything thrown from cupboards and broken on the floor. The fish tank emptied its water all over my uni notes and textbooks. My bedroom is in pieces, drawers smashed and broken picture frames and potplants everywhere. I'm staying with friends because my street is within the boundaries of the city that have been cordoned off by police. Entire cars have been sucked into sinkholes only a few doors down from my place, and the roads are buckled and have splits in them a foot deep.

I was at uni when (the quake) hit, I dove under a table, but the wall beside me split and water and sewage pipes burst. I looked out the window and the seven story building next to us was swaying so much that its windows were exploding – I thought it was going to come down onto our building. We got outside before the next aftershock hit, which was so bad we could see the road rising and falling in waves, and a few trees near us very nearly were uprooted. We've had nearly two dozen aftershocks since then.

The mates I'm staying with and I pushbiked to check on family and other friends, all of whom are ok. We moved much faster on bikes, all the traffic lights are down and the roads were bumper to bumper with cars. Saw lots of traffic accidents as we went – people are scared and driving like idiots. Every sewer grate had liquefied silt spewing up out of it, people’s whole front yards were buried in sand and flooded. Every road has cracked, even in the suburbs, and every crack has sewage seeping up through it. This city is honestly a warzone.

I don’t know when I'll be able to go home. My house keys, laptop, uni work and my car are all trapped inside the university cordon so I can’t go get them until further notice, and I can’t go home because the cops won’t let me. I have my cellphone, my wallet, and a change of clothes. I'm safe though, so that’s the main thing. We're some of the lucky ones who got power back on last night. Over half the city still has no power, and 80 percent are without water. We have bottled water so we should be ok for a few days, and we dug a latrine in the backyard. Power means we can at least watch the news bulletins – 38 confirmed dead, hundreds still trapped. One-hundred and twenty were rescued overnight, but a large number of those needed limbs amputated in the field in order to free them.

I’m still in shock to be honest. Nothing seems real. Major shakes every hour or so snap you back into panic, but luckily the house I’m staying in has suffered no damage – it’s a wooden one so it flexes with the movement. As I type this we're getting another aftershock. Damn them! The main thing is that we're safe and unhurt. It’s a daunting thought, how long it will take Christchurch to pull together again. If it wasn’t for my studies I'd probably be moving. Mind you, it may be time for a holiday; campus is closed until further notice.

Love you all, and thank you again for your support and prayers.xxxx Becs"

Echoing my complaint that the media has given this disaster incredibly short-shrift, one friend I already passed this email onto said, "That was definitely different from how the (Wall Street Journal) described it."

As of Thursday afternoon Becki reported she had left Christchurch and was back in her hometown at the top of the South Island until she has a home to return to in CHCH.

For better coverage than what seems to be available Stateside she recommended

If you have a minute, now would be a great time to make a donation, no matter how small or great. Donate to NZ Red Cross, or donate to NZ Salvation Army's Canterbury Earthquake Appeal. Both have easy online options.

Thank you for your help.

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