On shaky ground

Wellington, where I live, has been knocked around by earthquakes lately. Midnight is not a nice time to be woken up by shivers that turn into rattles that morph rapidly into very frightening shaking. The first one was the biggest earthquake I’ve ever been through – 7.5, and subsequently upgraded to 7.8 by the American Geological Survey. This has provided me with a whole new job experience.

Kris Pearson - hard at work!

This is me in the life I lead when I’m not writing. My husband and I have a curtain installation company and spend our time up ladders playing with interesting metalwork and sumptuous fabrics. On this occasion though, we’re working in a condemned apartment block rescuing curtains for use elsewhere. I’ve just taken down the curtains from behind all those helpful boxes. We’re working our way through many, many, windows. We’re tired and scratchy and hot (and in my case looking very stout and far from beautiful.) That’s my very own hard–hat, with a special sticker saying I’m allowed on site. The building still shakes. Hopefully not with anything close to another 7.8 while we’re inside. We’ve had more than four thousand aftershocks, ranging from trembly to terrifying.

The first earthquake was centred a little south of here, very close to the tourist town of Kaikoura, famous for its whale-watching trips. Kaikoura was basically torn apart. The ground was ripped open, the sewage system wrecked, the water supply gone The seabed has risen several metres in places, and the amazing coastal highway – the main route south – has been blocked again and again by huge rock-falls. Helicopters were the only way in and out for several days. Then they sent naval ships with supplies. Hundreds of visitors were stranded, and had to be fed, sheltered, and eventually evacuated once it became possible. Literally billions of dollars will be needed to fix the area.

I’m glad I wasn’t in Kaikoura. Being in Wellington was bad enough.  Although our hundred-year-old timber house lurched around like a mad thing, nothing came apart and nothing was broken. Some water slopped out of the pool in the conservatory, and that’s all I can complain about. A total miracle.

Elsewhere though, lots of damage. Some of the central city streets have been closed so broken glass and fallen concrete could be cleared up. The port area, on reclaimed land, has been bent and buckled like melted plastic.  At least two major commercial buildings will be demolished over the next few weeks because of structural failures that certainly should not have happened. Others are being considered. One of them has been found to have many people living in it illegally. The stories around town are getting more and more fantastic.

And so we wait – to see if it’s incompetence, or criminal negligence or failed building materials that have caused the problems. And we’re wondering how many more of the buildings we know and love will have to be reduced to piles of rubble. Nothing that I’ve mentioned in my books, I hope!