– Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

23 February Tuesday night was a sleepless one. Though we’d gone to bed at around dark-thirty, we’d not slept very well at all. I was not awakened even once with the aftershocks from the 4 September quake, though I felt plenty enough of ‘em during the day and evening. This time, however, I found it difficult to sleep, and every time I nearly succeeded, I was jolted awake again.

So, I awoke on Wednesday quite tired, but ready for work around 7am. It’s pretty easy to get ready for work when all you have to do is get up and get changed. No shower, no breakfast, nothing. For a moment, I forgot to put my shoes on, and was horrified when I realised I had walked across the hallway to the spare bedroom in my bare feet. With all the glass that has shattered in our home, I reckon it’ll be months before we’re able to do that without running the risk of impaling ourselves with a sliver of glass. I carefully backtracked and slipped into my sandals.

My husband stayed home to do a tidy-up, and my plan was to go in for a couple or three hours and then come back. I ended up staying practically all day.

Fortunately, I did not have to cross the hill, as the turn-off to Heathcote (just before the closed Ferry Road bridge) was allowing traffic. I scooted over to Brougham and headed toward the motorway, happy that I’d left home early enough to avoid the miles-long traffic jams that are normally so alien to my adopted city. As I passed the petrol station on the opposite side of the 4-lane road, I decided I couldn’t be bothered doing a U-turn; that would be the shortest line I would see at a petrol station for the next few days at least, and I later regretted not stopping.

I learned that our brand-new office in town had been damaged, or at least the details of it, but maybe I had heard the rumblings of that the day before. Anyway, in brief, we had just moved into a lovely building adjacent to the Smith City carpark. We’d been there about a month, and I loved the location, the open plan, the many meeting rooms, and the availability of ‘hot desks’ (computers) for staff who wanted to do some work from there. I’d spent all day Friday there, and all day Monday there, and had parked my car in the visitor’s carpark space both days; during Tuesday’s quake, the car in that space ended up at the receptionist’s desk inside our office. The carpark pancaked and slid into the office building. Fortunately, noone was badly hurt.

The next concern for our organisation is, our server was located inside that building, and we had no real idea how much time we had before it failed. With our server down, every employee would be unable to access basic files and information, including emails. We got to work spreading personal email addresses, in order to allow communications to continue when the inevitable happened. We also did a quick calculation of hours worked and submitted them to an external person in another city in order to ensure staff wages were ready on time.

Fortunately, the electricity at our workplace had come back on the night before, and we also had water; I think at this stage something like 50% of the city still had no power, and 80% were without water. As before, all water from the taps had to be boiled, and everyone was asked to refrain from flushing toilets or using showers, as the strain on the system might be too much, and, to be a bit graphic, noone was sure where anything you flushed might pop up.

Sadly, the sewage was diverted again straight into the river and oceans; they were just coming right from the last quake, although people were still urged to avoid most bodies of water after any rainfall, which tended to wash pollution back into them. Still, those with water and power and flushing toilets felt very blessed – and probably a bit guilty, as well.

I sent a staff member to one of the very few open grocery stores to buy a few items which we knew, from experience, would disappear quickly from the shelves. Bread, water, milk. Simple items to cook on the BBQ (just because they had power, didn’t mean they wouldn’t lose it). The staff member finally found an open store and stood in line for a good hour to pay for her purchases. Another staff member attempted to fill the vehicle with petrol, amid reports of it sometimes taking 3 hours to get through queues. Damn! I should have stopped that morning, as my own vehicle was running quite low with the extra-long trips to and from home.

Finally, I was able to leave work after about 7 hours. This time, I had a roadmap with me, and as soon as I came upon stopped cars, I would weave my way down another road, and then another. I went well out of my way, again ending up on Centaurus, but I travelled more quickly than I would have by staying in the miles-long queues. Often, I would be travelling in a relatively low-traffic direction, but would pass mile after mile of vehicles going in the other direction, stopped, barely inching forward.

The queues at the few open petrol stations were staggeringly long as well, and I decided to wait until Thursday morning to attempt to get into a station before the masses awoke.

To be honest, Wednesday and Thursday are starting to meld together already. I can hardly remember with certainty what things happened which day. I think it was Thursday that I drove past Peacocks Gallop and saw dog handlers searching the rubble for signs of life, but it may have been Wednesday.

Home again. We had tuna with a packet of instant noodles. Again, I just didn’t have an appetite, and barely ate anything at all. It was our second night without electricity, and we were hearing reports that it could be several weeks, possibly a month or longer, before we would get it.

Our constant companion at home was the transistor radio which we had tuned to a station which was all news, all the time. Sadly, it was the same news, much of the time. News items would be repeated ad nauseum. The body count kept rising.

We finally moved the dial a bit and found another station which was more about having people call in, and that was far more heartening as caller after caller requested help with something or offered help to whoever needed it. People offered water and food, places to charge cell phones, places to keep pets, places to stay. If you didn’t have something, and needed it, you’d soon have it. The way people have pulled together – again – has been inspiring.

Back to bed around dark-thirty, but it was another sleepless night with continued, strong aftershocks.

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