21
Feb 11

Christchurch Earthquake

Christchurch had another earthquake today—for you non-Kiwis, they had what was supposed to be the Big One, in September, and they’ve juuust started rebuilding. We heard about it at work and watched some of the footage, before anyone knew what was going on in terms of deaths or injuries, and it was already pretty brutal—Christchurch Cathedral, right in the city centre, has lost its top, and lots of buildings have collapsed entirely; like I said they had a major earthquake six months ago. The last time I saw the news on TV (at an outdoor seating area at a pub on Courtenay Place) a couple of hours ago they were starting to pull bodies out of the rubble, out from crushed cars and buses. I don’t have TV at home so I am following the newsfeeds and Twitter and Facebook, as you do. In September everyone kept saying what a mercy it was that it happened at four in the morning when there wouldn’t have been many people on the streets; today it happened at lunchtime on a Tuesday, when people were driving around and going to lunch and doing their errands and doing the touristy stuff—just like I’ve done, several times—right in the city centre, where they still don’t know how many people have died. I can’t concentrate, I can’t think about anything else.

It was sunny all this past weekend but it’s raining now, here in Wellington, where everything is fine, where we’re all safe, and I keep checking my email for no reason at all. I want to be with my family right now, very badly—any sort of of family, blood relation or otherwise. I want someone to talk to. I want someone to cuddle with, for the entire rest of the evening. Instead I am waiting for a call from the airport, where they’ve asked for volunteers to host people stuck there on their way to Christchurch. I keep thinking about what will happen when the big one hits Wellington, we’re right on a fault line, right by the harbour and the Sounds. You’d think that growing up somewhere where we have hurricane season six months of the year I’d have emergency supplies, but no, not a candle, not an extra granola bar. I’m going to the Warehouse tomorrow and buying a thousand batteries and eight hundred bottles of water and six million apricot Bumper Bars and it won’t matter, it will never be enough. I mean at least you know when a hurricane is coming—you can at least try to evacuate. All the extra buckets and pocket knives and camping stoves in the entire Greater Wellington Region can’t make much of a difference with something like this.

Watching it all on TV at work this afternoon I started thinking about the hurricane when I was a kid, right before my senior year of high school. No one remembers Hurricane Andrew anymore I don’t think, but at the time it was The Storm Of The Century. I wasn’t there for it, I was on a church mission trip in Jamaica at the time. When we talk about that hurricane, in my family, what we often remember is that I called my mom from Jamaica to ask her to save my paper journals—because you have a little time to prepare, with a hurricane—and that when we finally could fly back to Miami, of course there were no cell phones at the time and I didn’t really know where my mom was and I don’t even remember how we got in touch. I just remember getting stopped by the National Guard in the church van because we were out after curfew and we didn’t even know there was a curfew. Somehow my mom got me though—and now, at almost-thirty-six, I have a lot more empathy of what that must have been like for her, trying to find me, than I did at seventeen. We’d had another major freaky incident with one of the kids on the mission trip itself and I spent the whole car ride up to the motel where she’d evacuated telling her about that, not even thinking about what she must have gone through to come get me.

Or even 9/11—and that’s ten years ago in September, how weird is that–we had cell phones by then, (even though I personally didn’t) but we couldn’t get a hold of my dad for a whileand didn’t know if he was dead or alive. My cousin Anthony’s dad sped through the city trying to find him, driving on the sidewalks, anything, anything to, to get to his kid. There are all these messages online right now about kids trying to reach their parents, parents trying to reach their kids, videos of people trying to walk out of the city centre, crying and frantically texting, people trying to scream their way from out of the rubble, people trying to find each other, and I can’t stop thinking about that, what it would be like not to know where your partner or kid was, not to be able to get an ambulance, not to be able to go home. And New Zealand, of course, is in a first-world country, where ambulances exist and where evacuation plans exist. My brain does not have the capacity right now to imagine what it would have been like in Haiti, what it’s still like in Haiti.

I don’t know why I’m even typing any of this, why I’m about to hit Publish on this. I don’t know why I am so upset or why I started leaking tears sitting on the couch with a big bowl of pasta right up to my chin. None of this is about me—I am so grateful that we’re okay right now in Wellington, for however long. That hurricane I hardly ever think about was twenty years ago and my freaking out about this at home on my couch doesn’t do any good for anyone in Christchurch–all I can do right now is donate to the Red Cross. I’m just so sad and sick in my heart for Christchurch tonight, and basically for everyone everywhere in the world who is scared and can’t find their people, and I have no one to cuddle, and I feel very far away from everyone.

In between refreshing the Twitter feed and waiting for a call from the airport I can’t help selfishly wondering if (when) something like this happens in Wellington, who will check to see if I’m all right? Who will stop at nothing to make sure I’m safe?