I, along with most of New Zealand, have just finished observing 2 minutes silence for those who have lost loved ones, lost lives and lost homes in the earthquake that struck Christchurch one week ago. As I have previously said, I was not in Christchurch at the time - I haven't been to Christchurch in something like 15 years. It's strange to think of Christchurch, of all places, being hit with such a large-scale earthquake. The place is flat. Flat as the proverbial pancake, and being raised as I was in the Hutt Valley in the shadows of the Eastern and Western hills, I remember being a little freaked out by this flatness the last time I visited.
Again, more of the benefit of any readers based outside New Zealand: Christchurch is one of New Zealand's largest cities. When bands, or international acts come to New Zealand they generally perform Auckland and Wellington in the North Island, and Christchurch in the South (Metallica were recently brought to Christchurch by a fan petition). So, Christchurch is one of our centres. And to have this city be struck so violently, so suddenly, can shake all New Zealanders.
Perhaps it's a bit of survivor's guilt on my part - here I was on Tuesday, at home due to some sort of stomach/gastro infection/inflammation, on the couch watching these raw images stream in. The reporters themselves were still in shock from the shaking, and camera's were capturing whatever footage they could. I had a doctor's appointment and, boy, did I feel selfish going to the doctor's when there were all these people in desperate need of one (on that note, one of the brighter spots of the earthquake was the story of the Melbourne doctor's who happened to be in the city for a conference. They rushed out to aid in any way they could). Also, for as long as I've lived here, people have always talked of Wellington being hit by "the Big One". A major fault line runs right through the centre of Wellington and a decent chunk of the CBD is on reclaimed land - seabed that was brought to the surface in the last big 'quake some 100-odd years ago. But these news reports, constant and streaming live, became too much for me. I had to turn the TV off, I had to get myself away from constant breaking news of injuries, death tolls and landmark destruction. But the people of Christchurch can't turn it off.
The death toll has gone over 150 and is sure to rise. I remember thinking, naively perhaps, after the 'quake had first struck, that deaths would be minimal. I don't think my brain could even conceive it. This is the type of thing you see overseas: disasters and triple-figure death tolls, not in Aotearoa. We're too small, right? Godzone - a great place to raise your kids, yeah? But it has happened. Search and Rescue teams are still going through what remains on the CBD. I don't think they're looking for survivors anymore though.
It may be strange to think of movies at a time like this, but I do. Maybe it's because my brain is almost hardwired to do so now, or because we look for comfort in fiction. I know watching a movie may be the last thing that most Cantabrians would want to do right now, and with most Christchurch cinemas closed they likely can't. On the other hand, perhaps a film is exactly what some people need; an escape for a few hours from the worry. A moment of laughter, catharsis or just a distraction as they pick up the pieces.
That's it from me for now. I felt like I needed to say something: not to add to the dialogue or to act like I know anything about what Cantabrians all over the world are going through, but just to process this myself. To... I don't really know. All I know is, I felt I had to write, to write something, to help explain this unexplainable tragedy, even if it was only to myself.
Tuesday, February 22nd 2011.