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Surviving a massive earthquake

On a cold late Winter morning at 4-35 am on Saturday 4th Sept. 2010 we were struck by a massive earthquake – the largest ground shake EQ ever recorded in N.Z.
The EQ was strongly felt over the whole of the South Island & the lower North Island – a radius of 750 kms. We live only 2 kms from the main, previously unknown, fault line which runs E. to W. for 40 kms.

We were awakened by a thunderous noise & the house was shaking & rattling violently with literally everything falling off the shelves & walls. I was sure that the house was going to collapse. The shaking continued for 3 terrifying minutes.

Once it stopped, we got up, preparing to evacuate the house. We had no power, light, heat or phone. We found some candles & a couple of torches that worked & we stumbled around avoiding cutting ourselves on all the broken glass etc.. We sat down in the lounge in total shock – this is the last place in N.Z. you would expect an EQ.

20 minutes later we had another huge shake & then the aftershocks came thick & fast. When daylight came, we could see nothing but a devastated house. Our neighbours all came round to see if the “oldies “ were OK & helped to get our broken electrically operated garage door open. I decided to get the car outside, away from the possibility of falling masonry & sit in it as it would be safer. This we did for 3 hours or so. We were warmer in the car & were able to watch the devastation in Christchurch on the car TV. We had over 100 aftershocks that day, but miraculously no one was killed & there were only a few serious injuries, although 1,000’s had minor injuries.

The next day we had 140 aftershocks & the following day we had a record 341 aftershocks. We were unable to sleep during this period. It was a few days before I could gather my thoughts & clear up the mess. Fortunately our house survived with minor damage, but the whole of the outside concrete had cracked up. Most of our neighbours fared badly with massive cracks in their concrete floors. Many of the houses in our vicinity were damaged beyond repair

Our houses are all ground level, timber framed with brick veneer & galvanized steel tiles. The lightweight structure & flexibility of timber framing saved 98% of us from serious damage. We also have a very strict EQ building code. We found out later that our whole area had moved 5 metres to the mountains, & on the other side of the fault 2 kms away had moved 5 metres to the sea. Aftershocks continued every day & the bigger ones caused more damage, particularly in Christchurch.

At 12-51 pm on 22nd Feb. 2011 [lunchtime on a busy work day] another huge EQ hit Christchurch. It was very shallow & centred only 6 kms from the CBD. The city was severely damaged, buildings tumbled, our iconic cathedral was gone & 184 people were killed & 1,000’s badly injured. I was on the computer & the whole house was on a “ storm wave “ swaying from side to side – this was followed by 3 more large EQs within 20 minutes. We were 30 kms away & I quickly realized we were not “ out of the woods “yet.

The aftershocks continue to this day [23 May 2012] at 5 or 6 a day [mostly not felt by us]. The total aftershocks from the 4 Sept 2010 – 23 May 2012 are in excess of 10,500.
Damage? 12,000 houses will be demolished – 1,200 buildings in the CBD plus 100’s in the City perimeter are being demolished. The CBD is cordoned off. Our golf club sustained 30 direct “ hits “ & once level fairways are deeply undulating – it lies right on the fault. Despite all this, everyone carries on as if nothing has happened. A tough lot these Kiwis.

We have come out well & I am sure that sitting on 50 metres of glacial rubble has cushioned us from the worst, while Christchurch is mainly built on an old river delta with soft alluvial soil, causing severe liquefaction [land turns to “ jelly “].

It will take 10 years to repair all the infrastructure & rebuilding. We look back & say “ Boy ! We were lucky to get out of that “. Despite all that, please don’t be deterred from visiting us. No one has been killed or hurt since 22 Feb. 2011.

Best Regards . Tudor Olsen.

The moment the Christchurch quake hit - as captured by a tourist This is a fantastic photo.. a one in a million !! To think that it was taken at the exact time of it happening. Amazing photo taken from the Port Hills overlooking Christchurch when the quake hit.  


If anyone is interested in our EQs, there is a first class web site updated daily & well worth a look. It is http://www.canterburyquakelive.co.nz/
Another is a government site http://www.geonet.org.nz/

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© Tony Hare 2015