Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moon Man: or portent of doom

Auckland based Ken Ring, the Moon Man,  uses astrology - the moon, tidal movements and the sun - to predict weather patterns.  More than 5,000 farmers and other weather watchers around New Zealand subscribe to his site Predict Weather.  They swear by him.

He also predicts earthquakes.  He has been sometimes lauded but mainly vilified  for claiming to have predicted the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch 22 February.

On his website he posted a warning in February that conditions were 'potent' for a significant earthquake in Christchurch during 15-25 February.  He also tweeted on Valentine's Day that Christchurch would be especially vulnerable on the 18th - give or take three days.

Of course we now know that on February 22nd at 12.51pm a newly identified fault-line ruptured under the Port Hills at a depth less than 10 kilometres, and less than 10ks away from Christchurch city.

A confluence of factors dictate an earthquake experience - magnitude is but one of them.  At various times during the 30 second quake, peak ground acceleration levels were recorded of more than 2G - or twice gravity - levels four times more than those experienced during Japan's enormous magnitude 9 earthquake this month.  Cantabrians are now beginning to understand that ground acceleration and soil resonance - whether a building is moving/shaking at the same frequency as the ground below - are critical components of whether your city stands or falls. Combine that with our soil type - basically the city is built on old river beds and swamps -  and you get the trampolining effect, whereby the ground layers effectively split and crash (vertically) into each other.  Liquefaction is one of the results - and  toppled buildings, and cracked pipes and roads and other infrastructure, too.

I am not convinced there's a point to my quake rambling here, but that's what I do. I read and research, and find the recitation of facts, albeit inexpertly recounted, calming.

I'm struggling to bring the same process to the vexed issue of Ken Ring's predictions of yet more earthquake activity in and around Christchurch on 20 March and 18 April.  Here's what he has to say about 20 March, or, tomorrow.
... the morning of 20 March 2011 sees the South island again in a big earthquake risk for all the same reasons. This date is the closest fly-past the moon does in all of 2011. The node arrives on the 20th at 9.44am. As that date coincides with lunar equinox this will probably be an east/west faultline event this time, and therefore should be more confined to a narrower band of latitude. The only east/west fault lines in NZ are in Marlborough and N Canterbury. All factors should come together for a moon-shot straight through the centre of the earth and targeting NZ. The time will be just before noon. It could be another for the history books.

He has advised us to stock up on basics and help others do the same.  He has also said that if he lived in Christchurch, well, he'd be staying close to a strong safe structure or getting out altogether.

Many quake weary Cantabrians have done just that, with thousands taking advantage of the public memorial on Friday to make a long weekend of it - anywhere but here.  Small towns and holiday attractions within 200 kilometres are booming.

The vast majority of broadcast and social media comments suggest Ken Ring is a crackpot and worse, a scare-monger preying on a devastated community, shamelessly self-promoting.

I think he truly believes his theories are valid and genuinely wants to warn people for the common good.  As to the validity of his theories, I don't want to dismiss them out of hand because I do not know enough to critically evaluate his system. Besides, history is punctuated by societies that have practically lynched proponents of alternative ideologies.  But I am tending towards the sceptical.  (How else will I sleep?)

Suffice it to say, with a 'bob-each-way', I am staying in Christchurch, but have not re-hung mirrors, paintings or generally righted what's left of our ornaments, photos and other bits that could fall and smash.  I have also ensured our water containers are full to overflowing and there's enough chocolate stored to last three days.

The Moon Man, Ken Ring

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When excitement comes to you

I am not an earth mother.  I struggle at the best of times to be truly in the child-moment.  I am easily distracted by my own thoughts and preferences.  It has been a long haul; all of us, at home, every day from 22 February until Monday.

With our CBD in ruins and under cordon, there are no galleries or museums to visit. Public pools are closed.  You cannot visit the beaches or rivers - contaminated with raw sewage, they are a health hazard. Some public parks, if accessible, are unsafe due to the risk of falling trees.  Parks and reserves in the Port Hills are closed due to instability.  The hills have risen 40 centimetres from sea-level as a result of the February 22 quake.  Rock fall and land-slides now pose significant risk. Organised or formal child-centric activities are like hens teeth.  Besides, who wants to brave the roads to get across the other side of town?

But for the boy-child, there is an upside.  The amount of trucks, diggers, rollers and other heavy machinery in the suburbs has him in raptures.  Workmen in fluoro vests and steel capped boots are everywhere.  He says, 'Hi-ee' to every one.

Yesterday, screams of delight as a Kenworth truck pulled up right outside our gate. Men with socks and shorts tan-lines disembarked and put orange cones about. And then, as if that wasn't beyond excitement, the digger rolled up, and began breaking up the unbroken bits of road.

I am standing behind our main gate.
We were this close to the action!

Needless to say, I tired of the spectacle before the boy-child.  Not only is he heavy, but I felt uncomfortable in such proximity to the three guys standing around watching the one guy in the digger.  (I love that they have such defined rolls: truck driver, cone guy, sweeper.)  There's a point where you feel you need to make conversation or flee.

I left the boy-child hanging off the gate, emitting a different kind of scream. Sweets, chocolate, biscuits - I tried them all.  But he was adamant.  Road works or bust.  I returned to the house, hoping separation anxiety would get the best of him. After some minutes of SILENCE, I high-tailed it back outside.

He had devised a novel solution: using our Council issued recycling bin to ram the gate.

Of course, there were some technical difficulties...

...which he and the Burmese turned into opportunities.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mixed bag

It's been a mixed bag today.  Nuances of normality interspersed with the crushing reality that I don't actually like the new 'normal'.  Wave the wand.  I want our city back.  I don't want to see another pint-sized coffin; I'm over entry after entry in the death notices starting: Tragically taken 22 February...  I want the alternative ending.

Instead, I drive as close as I dare to the cordon's perimeter.  It's one thing to see images of the fallen CBD on the screen or in print, but I feel the need to experience the loss to begin to reconcile the new normal.  Of course, I haven't  a show.  Less than three kilometres from our house there's an army watch - nine uniformed guys ensuring no-one breaches the cordon at the Colombo/Brougham intersection.

At another intersection, an army tank is parked across the road flanked by more army and police uniforms.  Temporary fencing is everywhere, as are sand-bagged neon orange signs: Danger; Keep Out; Road Closed.

Scenes that are repeated over and over, creating a new walled city within city.  It doesn't feel like New Zealand, much less our provincial, parochial little city.

I turn back to Beckenham - our patch of Christchurch.  One side of the village is a dust-bowl after several old brick buildings were razed following the September earthquake.  Two more have succumbed to the February quake.  Opposite, the new shopping centre is relatively unscathed - liquefaction in the car park and some damaged stock.  The 1930s Spanish-styled Baptist church next door, lies in a heap. I almost took a photo of it for my 'Looping the Heathcote' post, but turned left instead of right at my front gate.  The next day, it was obliterated.

I call into one of the local cafes and perch at a reading table with the latest magazines.  Nothing like a bit of escapism.  Asprey's Notting Hill bag catches my eye, pretty in berry ostrich and crocodile trim.

I check the price for no good reason other than it's listed. 7,900 pounds (can't find the symbol). As lovely as it is, the idea of a NZ$15,000 handbag seems especially grotesque right now.

Getting the girls back to school has been a huge relief - for everyone.  Don't be deceived by the feigned indifference and contorted face; they have had a great day.

It's been 21 long days at home.  Littlest Miss T only started school 31 January 2011 following six weeks of summer holiday. She's excited by the prospect of this three weeks on, three weeks off thing.  (In another three weeks, it's end of term.)  Term 2 will herald the harsh reality.

Little Miss T is enjoying spelling homework.  Enough said.

The school's library and hall are off limits but otherwise, it has come through relatively well.  (Nine schools in Christchurch will have to be demolished and rebuilt; closed for up to two years.)  Unfortunately the Monarch butterflies, snails and various assorted insects in jars - gems of newsworthiness - did not.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The dreaded red sticker

The boy-child and I watched an enormous digger on metal tracks rumble past our house, take a wide left at the intersection 20 metres down the road, and manoeuvre itself into the driveway of the lovely triple brick house two from the corner.

Within minutes the sound of twisted iron, shattered glass and crashing bricks as the huge toothed-bucket on a mechanical arm nudged and prodded and raked the house into submission.  One man, three levers and a red sticker - all you need to raze a 100 year old home to the ground.  (The structural integrity of the house was compromised after the 6.3 'aftershock' on February 22.)

The beautiful old brick villa with the deep veranda sold last year after an extensive renovation.  All that money spent on rejuvenating it, all that money paid for it, all that vision, and all those dreams invested in it - gone.

It's such a waste.  And all over Christchurch, there are similar stories.  I know of several properties that were damaged during the September quake and have undergone or were undergoing repairs, only to be flattened in February.  It seems so futile.

My husband's parent's house was damaged by a falling chimney stack during the September quake.  It crashed through the roof into one of the back bedrooms, narrowly missing Great Uncle H, 99 and visiting from Australia.  The crane operator who removed the toppled section of chimney said it weighed 1.5 tonnes.

As a precaution, they removed the remaining two chimney stacks to just below the roof-line.  Each chimney stack housed three flues, one flue for an upstairs fire and two for downstairs.  They were fairly substantial.

Mr T's parents' house minus three chimneys after the 7.1 earthquake, September 2010.

On 4 September at 4.35am the third or back chimney stack fell through the roof
into a back bedroom that was occupied at the time.  The tarp covers the hole. 

During the February 22 quake, the chimneys collapsed internally.   On the right hand side (as you look at the house from the road) the chimney sheered off about one metre from the floor of the first story almost up to the ceiling in one slab, crashing and smashing into a living area that Mr T's sister and her two-year old daughter had left just seconds before the quake.  The other chimneys crumbled at the base, too.

It means the three chimneys running through the second story up to the roof line are unsupported.  Apparently, during aftershocks, you can see the house sway; top-heavy, precarious.  When settled, it lists to the left.

The engineer's report said that if were not for the chimneys, the house would be structurally fine.  It has been 'red stickered' - part of the new lexicon for condemned.  'Munted' is another.

Mr T's parents' house at Peterborough Street, Christchurch
has been  condemned  after  February's quake.
The George Hotel is to the right, and across Park Terrace, Hagley Park.
Fortunately, Philip Trusttum's studio at the rear of the house has been spared.

Because the house is within the CBD - the red zone - it is cordoned off under armed guard.  They cannot go back into the house; it is too unsafe.  And while they took immediate refuge in the garage and studio at the rear of the house, before moving out of the cordon to family and friends, they were told that once they left the red zone there was no going back (in the interim).

Everything they own - the art, books, treasures, clothes, furniture, the things that make a household, EVERYTHING - will go with the house under the wrecker's ball. They have the clothes they were wearing on the day; their cars.  (Although I understand there may have been an adrenalin-fuelled, timed dash for art works, papers, photos and a few, very few, personal effects. But I could be mistaken.)

By comparison, we lost 12 champagne flutes, 12 wine glasses, six tumblers, two high ball glasses, three vases, one jug, two platters, one cake stand, two soup plates, and a standard lamp - give or take.  We dismantled both chimneys after one cracked at the roof-line but did not topple.  (Having bricks and old mortar anywhere above your head is just asking for trouble in this town.)  There are several new dents and hairline cracks about the place - nothing the painters and decorators can't fix.  We are ridiculously lucky.

I don't know how you're meant to watch the demolition gang finish what nature began.  I don't know how you're meant to start again.  But I do know that so many people here in Christchurch (and in Chile, and China, and Japan...) will do just that. They will look around, grieve for what they have lost, give thanks for what they have left, and get on with it.

Photo credits: Hot Wookie, Kete Christchurch: Canterbury Earthquakes 2010 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Flying home to chaos

The Japanese Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team departed Christchurch today for their homeland.  For team members anxious for news of family and friends, it will be the longest flight.

Sixty-six Japanese USAR crew with three specialist dogs were working the rubble in Christchurch's central business district just two days after the February 22 quake reduced our inner city to a third of its original building footprint.  The initial Japanese response team was followed by two 29-crew rotations.

The Japanese teams worked one of the most devastated sites; the six-storied CTV building, home to an English language school (among several other businesses), where up to 30 Japanese students were believed to have been at the time of the quake.  One exceptionally brave and collected young Japanese man guided rescuers to others from where he lay trapped beneath concrete and steel, before undergoing a field-amputation to be freed himself.  All this while the building burned, then smouldered and while the pancaked remains sifted with each aftershock.

Working together at the CTV building site, Christchurch, NZ
Photo via

One hundred people representing many nationalities are believed to have lost their lives in the collapsed CTV building; the greatest loss of life in one place.

And now those incredible Japanese teams that helped pick through the ruins until the CTV site was all but cleared are faced with the resulting horror of an earthquake that was 1,000 times more powerful than the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck Christchurch.

What can you do but wish them well?  They go with our immense gratitude, heartfelt thanks and prayers.

New Zealand's 48-crew USAR team will reach Japan on Sunday.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan's quake

I have been sitting here wracking my brain for something, anything that is not earthquake related which is, undeniably, the new reality here in Christchurch.  I flicked the TV on for a bit of mindless company and saw an enormous fire engulfing an oil refinery in eastern Japan following a massive 8.9 magnitude tsunami-triggering earthquake.

I cannot believe my eyes.

Just as I'm calling Mr T through to watch Japan's state television coverage live, another window-rattling, crockery-chipping aftershock hits here.  What's going on? Seriously!

My thoughts turn to the wonderful Japanese USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team assisting us in our wasteland of a CBD, right now, combing through rubble looking for the missing.  They must be beside themselves to hear the news.

I imagine that many of the USAR teams that came to our aide, and have only just left, are on high alert, ready to mobilise again.  Amazing teams from Australia, the UK, the USA, China, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand - I hope I haven't missed any - joined our fabulous New Zealand crews.  It is exhausting, painstaking, dangerous work.  They are incredible and, unfortunately, they are needed again.

I am overwhelmed by the amount of seismic activity around the world in the past six months.  No wonder some cultures believe we have displeased the gods.  The world over, the earth is bringing us to our knees.

Oh and here's a kicker, I've just heard that one of Japan's nuclear reactors is experiencing problems with the cooling system that is supposed to activate when there's an emergency shut-down.  It's not working.

I think I'll tackle those mouldy school lunch-boxes after all.  We were allowed back into our girls' school this afternoon for the first time since the February 22 quake to collect their belongings.  It turns out neither daughter had eaten those lovingly packed lunch goodies.  That, at least, I can deal with.

Cherry Blossom, Nagoya, Japan
Photo: Achim Runnebaum

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hunters & Collectors

Here's the post I intended to publish Tuesday 22 February, before we were side-swiped by the earthquake.  It seems beyond shallow after such enormous loss in our city, and I have toyed with the idea of deleting it altogether.  But today, I feel shallow has it place.
Certain songs are as close as you can get to time-travel.  If you are an Australian or New Zealander of a certain age, chances are, 'Throw your arms around me' by Hunters and Collectors might be one of them.

I saw them play in Sydney in '87, and again at the University of Canterbury's Orientation Week ('88 or '89 maybe).  The song was never a commercial hit but it is regarded as a classic down-under.  It has been covered by Pearl Jam, our own Neil Finn, and numerous garage guitar bands in Australasia.

I used to think only an Aussie guy would write a love-song about a one-night stand. All I know is that when I first heard it, I only heard the love bit.  I guess that says something about me.

It's one of the unifying songs for forty-something antipodeans, where-ever they find themselves in the world: 'Throw your arms around me' is a call to anthem.  And I guess that begs further analysis, but far be it from me to ruin a good thing.

Early Hunters & Collectors was a little grunge-y; this was their ballad.  But the version I've chosen here is laid-back live in Sydney, with lead singer and song writer Mark Seymour on acoustic guitar.  It's not the best clip in terms of the audio or the styling, and I use that word very loosely (it is pretty old now ), but it's got the feeling.

If you haven't heard it before, give it a chance. Besides, I especially like the end, where band-member Barry wants to take a photo of the audience before the encore.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Baby steps

On Tuesday 22 February at 12.51pm I was leaning into the back of my car unbuckling my darling Sam, when the car rocked and bucked so violently, and with such gathering speed, I was thrown back onto our driveway.  Sam fell, freed from his harness, into the floor well of the car.  Instinctively I prevented the door from slamming on his tiny hand with my head.

I looked up at our house and heard the smashing and crashing, and saw the light in the sitting room swing on its metre long chain up to the ceiling and back, an unlikely pendulum.  The painting over the mantle turned 90 degrees and then jumped off the wall.  Bookcases on either side of the fireplace emptied their contents, top shelf down. The amplifier and dvd player hung over the shelf by their cords.  The speakers broken on the floor.  

At the same time, the earth opened up and starting gushing silt and sand and water at an astonishing speed down our side path.  I could not see how it would stop. Water flowed until the following morning.

Inside was completely tipped up - like a tornado had torn through.  The bedroom doors were jammed closed by the fallen furniture behind.  A double-sash window in our kitchen was shaken so violently, the top sash pulled away from the lock and fell down.  The down-light in the kitchen snug fell from the ceiling.  A free-standing dresser in our kitchen, laden with crockery, jumped across the floor an entire metre, likewise a sideboard.  Miraculously, nothing broke within.

The fridge spewed its contents onto the floor. In the dining room, the floor was strewn with broken glass - every item of stem-ware smashed.  

And while I desperately tried my husband's cell phone, people in our CBD were dying or were already dead. More than 700 buildings fell, another 900 plus have been deemed unsafe.  And in every building there were people, and every person has a story.

I don't know what to say.  I don't know how to find a way back into blogging that isn't obsessed with this tragedy.

The very first funeral of the quake victims was for little Baxtor Gowland - 5 months old.  He was born 13 days after September 4, the day of our magnitude 7.1 earthquake.  He lived through more than 2,500 aftershocks of note and died in the biggest.

While I was hugging my neighbour and reassuring her it was ok, that I had seen one of her middle sons, little Baxtor's body was being rushed by builders towards the hospital, in a city now gridlocked by devastation.  The police took over and then the ED staff, but he was gone.

And as if his death is not so heartbreaking in and of itself, Baxtor was the surviving twin, born prematurely.  Somehow, that completely undoes me.  

So I thought if I got this post out, if I uncorked just a little of the sadness, I would find a way to move forward.

New Zealand's incredible light