It's been a year since my city was devastated by a series of large earthquakes and I've been thinking all week what to say about it.
The anniversary was remembered with many memorials around the city, everything from floral tributes in the Avon River and in the tops of the numerous orange safety cones and on barrier fences that dot our streets, to official gatherings in Hagley Park that thousands attended. There were programmes on the television about the quake and all that has happened since. I'm sure the talkback radio circuit covered it too.
Whether privately or publicly, we took time to remember lost colleagues, friends and family; to relive that moment just after midday on an average Tuesday a year ago when everything changed. We remembered the hours of waiting and worrying. We conjured back up those awful images of the emergency services people working feverishly in the rubble to find and free people in the days that followed. Of power and water failures, broken sewers, liquefaction, frightened people.
When 12.51pm on 22 February ticked past this year I was on a bus. The driver pulled over to observe the two minute's silence. I watched him wipe his glasses and stroke the tears from is eyes before starting the bus and resuming our journey. I wondered, had he lost someone in the quake, was he grieving for the loss of the city, for the life that we had before, or was he letting himself (just for a moment) give into the weight of that blanket of disbelief and sadness that we've all carried on our shoulders since that day?
Like any momentous moment, those that have lived through it remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. On that day a year ago I was at university, on the second floor of the Geology building. It was the second week of the first semester and my very first 200-level lab. The building swayed and shook and heaved. I remember thinking, this isn't the usual aftershock as I dived under the desk and watched the glass in the windows buckle. It wasn't as violent as the earlier 7.1 Mw September 4th quake, that one was in the middle of the night and really scary, so initially I had no concept how much damage had been done around me - that people had died this time. I remember the big aftershock we had when we were evacuated to the car park, how we grabbed onto each other and the cars around us to keep our footing.
I remember crawling toward home in bumper to bumper traffic in a friend's car, seeing street lights bend and hearing windows crack and fall from buildings around us as shakes surfed the city every few minutes. It took us almost two hours to get close to my street and I walked from there, through knee deep mud and sewage and water.
I remember getting home and my relief at seeing my nephew, who was staying with us at the time, safe and sound. Mobile phone coverage had been sporadic and we hadn't been able to contact him. Inside, the house looked like someone had picked it up and shaken it, like a waterball, but structurally we were incredibly lucky. The neighbors had a mixture of canned salmon and chutney over their floor, but we just had lots and lots of broken stuff. And the cats were missing. That almost undid me.
Loved ones from all over the world started calling and we managed to assure them we were okay. We had no power so we couldn't watch tv and weren't seeing the devastation that people outside Christchurch were. Thank goodness. It was horrific. Our lifeline was the radio. God bless those announcers who kept us informed and played messages of support from callers around the country. I remember being ridiculously relieved when all three cats finally made it home, wide-eyed and scared, but thankfully uninjured.
I remember checking in with local friends and family, finding out they were okay and being so grateful. I remember the visits to the local artesian well for days afterwards, to fill our water containers, conserving the precious liquid, letting the yellow mellow in the loo, and the stressful journey to try to find petrol for the car later that week when it was running low. I remember riding out the constant shaking over the weeks that followed, watching the clock, grabbing catnaps between the jolts and repeatedly sending text messages to friends and family abroad that we were, once again, ok. I remember the images of our city on the tv when the power came back on, and then I wished it hadn't. I remember the army patrolling our streets, the search and rescue units going back and going back and going back into the CBD, hour after hour, and the police and emergency services people turning into heroes.
I remember feeling the soothing balm of the thoughts and prayers of support and strength from strangers and friends far and wide, the beginnings of an endless tide of generosity that we've been drawing from in the weeks and months since 12:51pm, 22 February 2011.
A year on the city is still partly broken, partly torn down, partly the same as ever. No, not the same, it will never be the same as it was - and the aftershocks that are still happening on a daily basis never let us forget it. They say a new city will rise, better than before. I hope so. I have to believe so. Because, in the words of Patrick Stump "this city is my city and I love it."
But I wish it would hurry, the constant reminders of the damage are an open wound as you can see from the pictures below. I'll keep you posted.