Friday, February 25, 2011

Most Definitely Munted

Munted is a polite way for NZers to say f*cked, destroyed, wasted. It's typical of the understated way that NZers describe big things.

This has been the assessment over and over the last few days. I received an e-mail from a friend who works at the Port of Lyttleton, at the epicentre of the quake. His e-mail said "Family fine, port is munted".

The Mayor of Christchurch described the water and sewerage systems as "most definitely munted".

You see buildings on TV and say "Wow, that one's munted".

Watching the news is a little like watching your life go by - "There's where I get my hair cut." "There's where our pictures are being framed." "That was my favorite restaurant." (All true - we saw the place where we left some pictures to be framed last month - the awning in front of the store was on the ground covered with bricks. It will be weeks before we find out whether there is anything left of the shop). PGL, you won't recognise the place you visited a few years ago. It was pretty bad after September, now it's just - well, munted.

I planned to come home for the weekend, I would have arrived last night. However Wednesday morning they put on more flights in and out the the city, so I changed my flight to be home with the Kiwi.

The Kiwi was on her way to Rangiora to see a client when the big one struck. Driving. She says that the car and the occupants were rocking so violently that she really thought the car would fall over. As a result, she has something like whiplash. Not surprising since they said that the location plus shallowness of the quake created a ground accelleration equal to 1+ G. That's more than one time the force of gravity. I was able to talk to her just after the big one struck, before we knew how big it was. Then she called me back a few minutes later to tell me what she was going to do. That was the last time we spoke for several hours.

Everyone is an expert at keeping an eye on the Geo Net and Canterbury Quake Live sites ( After 4000 + aftershocks, people are pretty good at guessing magnitudes too. There's a Twitterfeed called #aftershockpoker just for that purpose - guessing the magnitude. Since I wasn't here to feel it first hand, I could tell how big it was by the activity on Twitter. Normally the tweets in #eqnz are fairly benign - "Felt that one out in Hornby, cat jumped off the bed". These tweets were scary from the beginning - "Cathedral spire is on the ground", "CTV building on fire". They just got worse.

I spent about an hour with a couple that are from Christchurch and have family here - we all sat in an office watching the news feed and trying to call and text people, but by then the phone lines were completely jammed. They were so jammed that 111 (Emergency) calls weren't going through at one point. They were telling people to stop using their phones all over the country to try to alleviate the strain on the networks.

Anyway, it took the Kiwi four hours to drive what normally takes about 25 minutes, to get back to the office to get her car, and then another couple hours to get home. The roads were flooded, broken, traffic terrible. And the whole time they are driving there were really big aftershocks every few minutes. She said you could see the road moving sometimes.

This wasn't as big as the September quake, which was much closer to our house, and which terrified us. Because it was shallow and closer to the City, it has brought down dozens of buildings already, many of which were already significantly weakened from the big one and months of aftershocks. The streets are flooded with liquefaction, which is where the sand and water in the ground form into volcanoes and shoot up to the surface. You'll see grey mounds of dirt in fields, that's the result of liquefaction. They say it's like quicksand. And there are tons of it in some neighborhoods.

Our house is fine this time because we are pretty far from the epicentre. We never lost power or water. Yesterday a friend came over to have a shower and get some water as they don't have much in the city and it has to be boiled before you can drink it.

Today the Kiwi is at work at the hospital. She normally works in the community visiting people, but now they are helping feed patients and getting them into bed. She's going to be home late tonight and has to work on the weekend as well. They're desperate for staff. The amazing thing is that many people who are working right now have lost their homes, cars, don't know where people are, and they still keep working. It's good to have something to do at times like this I guess.

After the initial worry of not knowing where family and friends are (well some people won't know that for some time) it's starting to sink in how bad this is. It's sad - people have been through a hell of a lot already, lost things, forced out of their homes, etc., and just when it started to seem like things were getting better, the worst possible thing has happened. There are only 350,000 people in Christchurch - it's a relatively small town. No one will be unaffected. The next few months are really going to suck. This quake will have its own series of aftershocks. Yesterday at midday there had been 65 quakes in the past 24 hours.

We have been lucky. We have been through a lot of things in the past year besides earthquakes, and we often say to ourselves how lucky we truly are. We're ok, we have a house we can live in, our family is ok, we have jobs, etc. It's heartbreaking to watch what people are having to go through. Munted.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a Shopping Sky

That's something that Mallory used to say on "Family Ties".

The Kiwi and I are going to Melbourne for the weekend. We leave Thursday morning at 6 AM. While that's a ghastly hour to fly, it means you are in Australia by 8 AM which rocks. It's like having an extra day. And I have booked us into a hotel the night before so we don't have to drive 45 minutes to get to the airport.

I have tried not to over plan (it's an issue - I'm working on it), however we do have some engagements - dinner at a famous chef's restaurant, dinner on the other two nights with friends. A stop at a spa for massages. And shopping. People plan weekends in Melbourne just for the shopping. Mama needs a new pair of shoes. And clothes. etc. PGL will remember the massive David Jones in the middle of the city. You'll find us there!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Call It A Draw

There is a lot to do in Auckland.
That's cool.
All of the stars in the sky are planes.
Not so cool.

I find this pleasing

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guy Fawkes Night

I'm in Auckland, it's Guy Fawkes Night (sure, he tried to blow up Parliment, but seriously, GET OVER IT!. The Warehouse sells fireworks for God's sake!!!!!) And the air smells like gunpowder.

I have a new job. I'm a contractor. I no longer work in Christchurch. My former employer decided that my position was no longer necessary. Am I bitter? No. Here's why.
1. I've known for a year so it's not exactly news.
2. I didn't want to do that job anyway.
3. NZ has these lovely redundancy rules which give you (I kid you not) 4 weeks pay for the first year's employment, plus two weeks pay for each subsequent (including part) year's employment. I was there for 6+ years, you do the math. Plus I had 5 + weeks of vacation.
4. And, as I take pains to explain, it's my position that was disestablished, not me. I could have applied and obtained a job as a PM at the Uni but no, I thought not.
5. It still smells like gunpowder. Me like.
6. Of course, I'm working at another Uni. In Auckland. But I get a lot more money. And it's just until Christmas when we will revisit our relationship. In the meantime, I'm in an apartment. It's a studio. I have a view of the dockyards. And the smell of gunpowder. What's not to like?
7. The Kiwi is home. Keeping the homefires burning as it were. And working on a Master's degree. Placating the cats. Hillary Clinton was there today. Talking about resilience and stuff. We rock, us Cantabrians!!
8. I had to tell my parents last week what was going on with me. It was weird. They're like "what's new?" and I'm like "oh, you know, nothing. Lost my job. Got another one as well as 26 weeks pay". And how about those Giants?"
9. Still smellin' the powder and hearin' the noise. Lovin' it!
10. Probably all I'm going to say right now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Earthquake and Other Disaster Movies

Here's another link to an excellent quake site.
The first aftershock was less than 1km from my house - literally right down the road. In fact, many of the first aftershocks were right around my house. Depending on your source there have been as many as 1000+ aftershocks in just over three weeks.

Damage report:
Drains leading to septic tank have moved and there is some water seeping up top. Waiting for the Earthquake Commission inspector to visit and approve the repairs. Will involve pulling up the concrete pads behind the house and the back deck. I have DVDs of our drains. Come on over to watch them - I'll provide the popcorn.

Several cracks where the ceiling and walls meet that weren't there before.

The house seems (for lack of a better word) "bouncier". We're going to have a builder out again to check the foundations. A lot of damage happens in the subsequent quakes so might be a good idea.

Damage to psyches - extensive. We still haven't moved all of our emergency supplies out of the front hall. There is a moment whenever a truck or train goes by that everyone stops and works out whether it is another quake or just a truck. Sometimes it's hard to tell. The dog has hit his head on the coffee table numerous times as he likes to sleep under there and every time the house starts shaking he jumps up. Formerly aloof lady cat now sleeps on or next to the bed every night. Waking in the middle of the night now involves lots of turning on of lights, and I have to admit I now take a flashlight to the bathroom. And just when you forget...another aftershock pops up.

All in all though, we are extremely lucky. Some people have lost their homes and may be forced to rebuild on the same land, but are afraid that they will lose money because no one else will want to live there. And they don't want to live there either.

At least we're ready for the next big one!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tales from Earthquake Alley

Nothing like a big freaking earthquake to get your creative juices flowing.

We're awakened from a deep sleep at 4:35 am Saturday morning. I stumble out of bed. The Kiwi is yelling at me and I can hear but when I try to respond all I can get out is "get the dog" and a lot of other unintelligible noises. I am trying to get to the door but I keep getting thrown into the walls, the bed, etc. I finally make it to the door and we're hanging on for dear life. You know how on TV you hear people say "It felt like it went on for several minutes" or "It felt like a freight train coming through the room"? I now know what they mean. There was this massive roar the whole time and the house was shaking in all directions, but it seemed mostly side-to-side. Then there were several more really big ones within a few minutes. It was also incredibly dark as the power shut off early in the quake.

Naturally, the emergency supplies are somewhere else in the house. Although my legs are shaking and I'm babbling, I do have an incredible recall for where everything is in the kitchen. So, I head down to the kitchen to get the flashlights. The first thing I do is run smack into the hall door because it had closed during the quake. Then, I get to the kitchen where I run face first into an open cupboard door - most of the contents of all the cupboards ended up on the kitchen floor. So, I grab them and run back to the other end of the house. Then we take turns going to the other parts of the house to get stuff such as the dog leash. This is in between aftershocks. To see how frequent and big they were, check out this page:

Also in between aftershocks we get dressed. We don't take these clothes off for two days. Literally. The dog is hysterical, so I take him out front on his leash. In the days following I wonder how smart that was as we have power lines running along our property and big trees as well. And it was DARK. I can see that our elderly neighbours must be ok as I can see flashlight beams from inside their house.

So, I go back inside and we sit in the doorways and wait. As soon as there is the tiniest bit of daylight, we go to the other end of the house and sit in the doorway of the kitchen. When there is sufficient light, the Kiwi goes out to the laundry and finds the camp stove that we bought a few years ago for when we get snowed in and have no power for many hours. The Kiwi makes coffee with bottled water (yes, we have bottled water. Not because of earthquake preparedness, but because our town water supply has been contaminated with eColi off and on for nearly a year. So, we only use bottled water even though it is safe to drink.). Having a hot drink does help. Then the Kiwi springs into action while I sit blankly in a chair. Somehow we only have two things break - a ceramic cat and an antique beer bottle that was out in the laundry. Everything else just sort of bounced out of the cupboards or off shelves. Even our margarita glasses just bounced on the floor. The Kiwi put everything away.

The office (where I am now) was a mess as all the books fell on the floor. The computer fell over on its side. The TV fell backwards on its stand but just stayed propped up against the wall. One picture fell off the wall. One. It really looked more like the house was ransacked than that there was an earthquake. Bizzarre.

One of the cats took off when I took the dog outside. She didn't turn up for several hours. The other cat came out of the bedroom a little shook up but otherwise wondering why we were up so early.

We walked around the house and checked for signs of damage. Nothing apparent. We decide that we should have someone check just in case, and not to use the fire place inside until it has been checked as well.

I decide that there is no way I want to be in the house all day. It's a gorgeous day, so we drag the chiminea out of the garage (where, again, other than a few things which have fallen over, no damage). I put chairs out in the middle of the lawn and light the chiminea and sit out there all day. The Kiwi decides to work in the garden. Only the Kiwi would be up on a ladder after a 7.1 quake trimming bushes. I busy myself communicating with friends via text and cell phone calls. Our phone only stopped working for a few minutes early in the morning. I was able to call my parents who had already heard to tell them we were ok. We end up getting most of our news from a mobile Facebook application on my crackberry. The kids were posting helpful articles and people were checking in with each other. We sit outside drinking wine and making a list of things that we really should put into our earthquake preparedness kit.

I talked to the neighbour behind us (the taxidermist with the animals) who said he went out to his front yard during the quake and could barely stand up. He also saw the explosions at a power substation and then the subsequent flashes as the power went out through the town. I did make a trip in the car Saturday afternoon to Leeston as I had heard their supermarket was open. It wasn't. Hardly any visible damage on the road to/from there.

We made BBQed chicken and vegetables cooked in a foil packet for dinner. Saturday night we went to bed early as we had no power. We slept in our clothes and put our emergency supplies in the doorway so that we could grab them if we needed to get out. We didn't get much sleep as there were heaps of aftershocks. There were several early in the morning that caused me to sleep on top of the covers with my jacket on they were that bad. Not that I slept much.

One kind of cool thing is that Saturday night and Sunday morning people from the community response team knocked on each door and gave everyone a couple of bottles of water and an update on when the power and water would be back on. I just marvel at how people were able to spring into action right away to help others when all I could do was sit in a chair and watch the world go by.

Sunday morning our water came on although we had to boil it for 5 minutes prior to drinking. We now have an elaborate system of boiling water and moving into approved containers, while having some other containers which have tap water ready for boiling.

The best part was Sunday afternoon when the power came on. The fire siren in town sounded and I said "The Power Must Be On!!" because it didn't sound at all during the original earthquake because we lost power so quickly. We immediately started boiling water on the stove, and I turned on the TV (Yay! TV!!) "to make sure it was ok". We could then fire up the computer and get internet access again. The Kiwi started vaccuming. The Kiwi did remark that my inability to come inside dissolved as soon as I had internet access. I make no apologies for being a nerd.

The Kiwi also started baking bread as soon as the power went on. The Kiwi's bread rocks. I took some over to the neighbour's house Sunday afternoon to check on them. They were ok.

The University where I work didn't sustain much structural damage but there were more than one million books knocked off the shelves in the library (and the shelves are munted - it will be weeks before it will open again). The University is closed all week (and classes delayed for another). I got called into work on Tuesday morning to answer phones in the Security Office. They needed someone who wasn't afraid to say no to Academics who insisted on coming in to their office to feed the tadpoles. I told the HR Director that I had nothing to lose since they had already sacked me the previous Monday (more on that later). I went up into the Registry Building (where HR is located) and had a look around. Just stuff on the floor but not any damage to speak of). Weird driving into town - you can't tell that there is much damage in the areas I drove through, just looks like there was a bad storm really. However, other parts of town are apparently devastated.

Our house and fireplace got inspected Tuesday and we got the all clear. We think the pipe to the septic tank is cracked (as have most others) so tomorrow the plumber is out to see us again to confirm.

One cool thing about NZ (ok, there are many) is that part of your homeowner's insurance goes to the Earthquake Commission. Each homeowner is covered up to $100K for property damage and $20K for contents. So, even if our septic tank has to be replaced it will be covered. Of course, if you lost your whole house that doesn't sound like much but still...

Anyway, hope I didn't bore you too much. It's good to get it all out. We are now very sensitive to loud noises such as trucks and trains (as are the animals who now all sleep with us at night. On the bed) and we dread night time because the aftershocks are scarier in the dark especially when they wake you up. Oddly, the animals all like each other much more now. The cats and dog are very intimate now in a way that they weren't prior to the quake. Even aloof Miss Padma (who only really let me pet her) sleeps with us on the bed all night.

I AM looking forward to having a shower today. But I will wait until the Kiwi gets home. Just in case.