Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Human Face of the New Zealand Quake

Remember my friend Glenis Thomas? I blogged about her blueberry cookbook about a month ago. She lives in Wellington, NZ. I emailed her when I learned about the 7.2 quake on the news. She replied that she’d slept through the whole thing! Wellington, you see, is on North Island. The epicenter was near Christchurch, which is on South Island. However, she’s since been sending me links to the local media and sharing eyewitness accounts that you’ll never catch on international news.

It seems that New Zealand sits above an ongoing collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. The country records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, but only about 150 are felt by residents. Fewer than 10 a year do any damage. Now Canterbury University geology professor Mark Quigley (OMG. Quigley Down Under?) says it looks like a new fault line has been ripped in the Earth’s surface. “We saw two houses that were completely snapped in half," he said.

As you can see, the greatest damage and debris is fallen bricks. Glenis tells me almost everything there is brick. Yet only two serious injuries were reported as chimneys and walls of older buildings were reduced to rubble. Prime Minister John Key said it was a miracle no one was killed. "If this had happened five hours earlier or five hours later (when many more people were in the city), there would have been absolute carnage in terms of human life," he told TV One News Sunday.

Then, in spite of flooding from broken water mains and total power and utility disruptions, the miracle stories began coming out. Glenis shared these with me:

One lady heard water running and stepped out of her house in the dark to see what it was. She promptly fell into a deep hole that had opened up and was suddenly up to her neck in liquid sand. Her teenage daughter was following right behind her but apparently offered little help. “The woman broke all her nails getting out,” Glenis reports. “Terrifying!”

A 15-year-old boy was asleep on the 2nd floor, his bed against the outside wall. When the quake woke him, he rolled over just as the outside wall of his bedroom ripped away. He fell to the ground as the interior wall collapsed onto his bed, escaping with only scratches and bruises! The house, a lovely country home, was completely destroyed.

A young woman awoke when her friend, screaming at her to get up, pulled her out of bed just as the outside brick wall collapsed onto the bed. She said she felt the brush of a falling brick go passed her head.

Glenis says the street in a new suburb must be right on the fault line. All the upscale homes there have been moved and twisted from their foundations. They are uninhabitable as are hundreds of others.

Wow, Glenis! I think I’ll stick to hurricanes!

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