Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One Year On - 22nd February 2012

A personal count:  I didn't sleep well last night, very restless and I dreamt about February 22nd. Not vivid memories of the day but what the date February 22nd really means. With the 1 year anniversary & memorial of the tragic earthquake (that took over 180 lives) being held tomorrow, it is I'm sure on the mind and heart of everyone.

It's still really, really hard not to be affected by the stories of the survivors and the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch on February 22nd 2011. Tear still flow freely when I read stories, look at photos of past and present Christchurch and sometimes even when traveling through the city, a visual reminder of what has been taken from our city. It's not familiar anymore and it's filled with grief.

I think some people still have a lot to process and a lot to talk about (well I do!), and a lot to heal from. If it was a 'one off' event we might have been able to move on, heal, and restore our lives back to normal - but with constant reminders of wet liquefaction still coming out of the cracks in the ground at our house, constant shakes (some larger than I'd like) and possibility of it all happening again on a larger scale, it's quite hard to forget. I don't want to wallow in it and I don't lie in bed worrying that another one is about to hit, but I don't think it's over.  The morning of the February quake day, I left the house with my baby to meet up with my husband for lunch. As I left the house I 'felt' a quake was coming so I took my box of newly glazed ceramics off the bench and put them on the floor in the hallway. I think they were the only things not broken! (I have done similar things with other larger shakes and was not surprised at all when the 23rd December shake struck)

The DAY: I remember when the earthquake struck one year ago, and how I was holding onto my husband in the middle of a flooring store with 100kg rolls of lino breaking out of the chains that held them to the wall, and crashing to the floor. I kept on thinking why wasnt my husband standing still, he was rolling the baby stroller around the shop, trying to dodge falling things and keep us safe. I just hung onto him for dear life. I grabbed my phone...12.51 pm and my first thought was of my 2 children, then aged 4 & 6 at Kindergarten and School. I did a quick calculation... was it still lunch time? Were they outside? Were they safe? We were about 20 mins drive to pick them up, but it took over 4 hours to get to them, not to mention the scary aftershocks that were rolling in. Seeing people crying in their cars was pretty common.  I got a call from my Aunty in Australia telling us people had died in the CBD - it was hard to believe as I was just in a huge crawling traffic jam in suburbia. If I had known it would have taken that long to get there, I would have gotten out and run all the way to my children. As we got closer to them the roads got worse, the liquefaction, flooding and giant holes in the road were everywhere.... I remember a little bit of rain starting to fall which made it even drearier.

 My husband dropped me of 1/2 a block from my daughters school while he went to get our son. I ran thru raw sewerage, mud and dodged holes in the broken roads to get her - my heart has never beaten so fast as it had been hours since the quake. I fought the panic now I was getting closer to her. I knew she was safe but I just wanted to get her. I remember crossing back over the road gripping her hand and someone pulled over in a 4wd offering to help me, give me a lift somewhere. The disaster made everyone in Christchurch one giant family that day and the months following. We all had the same thing in common and it was a strange thing, you could look into someones eyes and you knew they had felt the terror too. My poor 4 year old had been through too much and had to wait outside by the gate in the cold with a Kindy teacher for 4 hours... there was liquefaction everywhere in the Kindy grounds and inside was very unsafe.

We made the slow journey home in disbelief. We were assessing the liquefaction and wondering what home was like. Unfortunately we were hit hard with the silt, not 100% coverage of our property like others in the eastern suburbs, but pretty darn bad. I remember seeing what was left of my daughters pink bike poking out of a huge silt volcano and I thought oh no... Inside was like a war zone, I shudder to think how well I would have fared if I had been inside when it happened, let alone my wee baby boy who was 6.5 months old at the time. With the upright force of 2.2 G's, our heavy cabinets and big bookshelves just sheared off the earthquake brackets on the walls then were thrown forward. Desks thrown over and other heavy items a metre out from the wall. We went inside the obstacle course and picked up the biggest broken things, the kids played outside in the silt. I tried to stop them but realised they were distracted and happy, so left them to it, unaware of what was inside. We left the house to stay on the outskirts of CHCH at my sister's house and came back a week later to start the clean up. We have a wooden home with wooden floors and it just moves with the quakes - and boy does it MOVE!...which is actually far more frightening than experiencing one on a concrete floor home. The noise gets you every time. Liquefaction flooded under the floorboards on top of the polythene, making it like living above  a swimming pool of silt, I'm thankful at least it wasn't a concrete pad otherwise the house would be no longer. We've got raised and sunken piles but overall I don't think its 'that bad'.
A personal necklace I made to wear for tomorrow's 1 Year anniversary.

AFTER: I am so fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me, but I have friends that lost best friends and family. I cannot imagine the grief they are feeling right now with Wednesday looming closer.

My 2 eldest children seem to have come out ok. My wee baby was only 7 weeks old when we awoke to the confusion and terror of the September 4, 2010 earthquake - he is now 19 months old and all but those first 7 weeks of his life have been filled with earthquakes and aftershocks. He slept through both the September & February earthquakes, but screamed in fear during the 2 earthquakes in June as books and objects fell off the shelves around him. It was heartbreaking to hear. I managed to run and scoop him up outside during the Dec 23rd 6.0 quake so he wasn't too frightened.

It's been a very weird existence... I never thought I'd be part of something like this. I never knew Christchurch was so earthquake prone... but after much research it's actually a very common thing. This is the 3rd time the Cathedral has lost its spire from earthquakes, there are so many reports of violent earthquakes in CHCH city since the 1800's, with reports petering out in the 1940s's. Why didn't we know?

The quakes have become part of life, although they are never ever welcome. There are still the ones that cause your heart to stop and the adrenaline surge in the night as you wait to see if it will escalate, and there are the ones where you have to look at the mirror moving or the trees to see if it was one. We know what magnitude earthquake at what depth causes liquefaction at our home, it's happened 3 times now. After the shock and stress the February mess caused we got rid of it all. But after June I decided to do something positive with the silt and use it in my cermaics.  We even kept a wee corner of it in the property. We'll never run out of the stuff tho, it's all under the floorboards and I just need to dig below the grass to find pockets of it.

 And the rest they say is History! From the business side of my life, The Emerge range was born and then released on July 27th 2011- it was my way of coping, an excellent and therapeutic way to move forward and have a purpose after that tragic day. It became a personal thing also. I wanted to create and give back, in order to help others move forward. I never imagined the positive impact my designs would have on people, not only from Christchurch but all over the world.. to have a little bit of home in their hands - but not as a dreadful reminder, but as beauty, created from the ashes. Mudbird has become quite the appropriate name, altho the name was thought of well before the earthquakes.

My heart goes out to those who have to deal with the enormous grief and loss all over again tomorrow -  Wednesday the 22nd, but especiually to the survivors, the ones who were trapped in crushed buildings and brickwork. I hope they know they are not forgotten, as their lives must be so much harder, bearing physical scars of that day and the memories. We all have stories to tell, we could fill 1000's of pages of our thoughts, tears, feelings, emotions and experiences that day, and sometimes I think the rest of NZ must be so sick of it all by now - but it was a huge thing to live thru, something so shocking it's hard to forget and its still raw. It was a tragedy that rocked the whole country, and the country came right in behind us with support which was amazing.

Kia Kaha Christchurch, stay strong  xoxo


  1. Thinking of you Gill and especially tomorrow, the 22nd. xx

  2. I'm so sad reading this post, and feeling such grief and sadness for all that has been lost in dear Christchurch. I am continuously amazed at the courage and strength of those affected, and the bravery of sharing their story - thank you Gill. NZ's heart will be aching tomorrow alongside you x

    1. Today was an amazing day, in a positive way. Being able to pay respect at the Memorial to those 185 people who died was a great step forward. I think we are only getting stronger.