Kitty Felde |

An earthquake update from New Zealand

With all the news from Japan, news from New Zealand's earthquake has fallen off the news map.  I just got this update from friends Sue and Tim Brown in Christchurch.  We met on our honeymoon many years ago.  They gave me permission to share their story here.

Many of the hardships they're facing weeks after their quake will be in store for those who survived the quake in northern Japan.  And there are lots of lessons there for we Southern Californians.  The story they tell reminds me of hardships after the Northridge quake. 

 Christchurch & Brown Family Update 

We are hearing that outside of Christchurch now the media has turned to other concerns and challenges around the world (not surprisingly!) so here’s the latest from here … sorry not keeping up with you all individually!  In some ways 22nd February seems only like yesterday and in other ways it’s a very long time ago … all Christchurch residents have their own stories but here are some of the facts & figures as we understand it: 

Christchurch City - the Next Steps

extracted from our local MP’s (Member of Parliament) update a couple of days ago (with comments by Tim):

Civil Defence Update
Canterbury Earthquake – key facts and figures, updated as at 1030 hours 23 March 2011

Building Assessment Statistics (as at 1015 22 March 2011)

Red placards 2544
Yellow placards 5300
Green placards 57,470
(end of extract)

The national civil defence emergency has been further extended to 1st April – and it most likely will be extended beyond this date - legally it has to be extended every 7 days.  Red placards mean that the building has been assessed to be unsafe to enter and may need to be demolished.  Yellow placards mean that the building is deemed safe for short restricted access only (accompanied by an engineer) and Green mean these buildings are safe to enter.  These assessments are however usually based on a look at the building from the outside only and are provisional until  an engineer does a proper assessment before occupation. Building status aside, the location of your building puts more restrictions on your access (if your building is near to one that may collapse you may not be allowed access, even if you have a green sticker) – here’s the latest cordon map (the purple star marks Sue’s old office.): 

Originally the whole area of this central city map was cordoned off, but, as the checking for human remains and demolition of dangerous buildings has progressed the outside areas have been opened for access.

From a Wellnomics perspective, my former office building (prior to 22nd February) we have a ‘yellow’ sticker (meaning we could theoretically get limited access to retrieve some items) but for the fact that we are in the “red zone”.  The city is now starting to be reopened and the remaining orange zones now all have timeframes in which those residents and business owners can start to re-enter their areas (during April) – access to the red zone remains unknown (although as the quote above points out it is expected to be measured in months not weeks).  We had already had some experience in September (of not being able to enter our cordon because of an unsafe building a block away from us) so we knew to act fast as this time was clearly going to be much much worse.  Upshot - we have relocated our business to 114 Montreal Street (just south of Moorhouse Ave) onto the first floor of a two year old, two-storeyed uncracked tilt panel office thanks to Arnold Jensen Electrical (who have squeezed into the ground floor to leave us their upstairs 270m2 for the 22 of us).  We’ve committed to 6 months with the right to renew for 6 months.  The reality is we wouldn’t get our team back into our old office even if we had access so for us the decision was quite easy.  We are also fortunate that we only have another 8 months left on our lease because now the questions are starting as to whether we need to pay rent when the building is unavailable etc etc.  All CBD business are working through the same challenges, some who will have greater difficulties than us with multi-year leases still to run.

We at Wellnomics have of course been replacing everything – servers, computers, chairs, desks and even the pens and pencils … in a city where everybody is doing the same thing so there has not only been a bit of a bidding war on getting alternative premises but even getting replacement laptops for example has become a race to be first.  Fortunately we have been fast out of the starting blocks and are well on the way to recovery with our internet and financial system back up and running (by 23 March) but more importantly we have all of our staff and from 30th March we will all be under the one roof.

My car remains entombed under our office building (see attached aerial view) but the Police have been successful in retrieving some of my colleagues’ cars from surrounding buildings in recent days. 

To put things in perspective there have already been over one hundred demolition orders signed off for unsafe buildings in the red zone (mostly older 2 storeyed brick or stone ones).  The problem is that there are at least 10 big buildings (over 10 stories) which are very likely to have to be demolished (including one 26 storey hotel) - before people can be allowed back into the area.  How do you demolish a 26 storey building (which is clearly broken in half at about the 11th floor) quickly?  Apparently we have experts from the US and Europe coming to advise this week to make a decision on how, then we just have to actually do it. The commonest problem with other buildings is that while the building itself is sound the liquefaction has undermined the foundations and the building is now on a lean and in some cases still sinking.  To date 300,868 tonnes of “silt” have been removed from Christchurch streets.  Liquefaction squeezed all of that out from under the city.

Family wise – we are very fortunate indeed.  Riccarton High School is in pretty good shape with all classrooms operational and Rhys was able to return to school 7th March having still managed his camp leader responsibilities the previous week and prior to that being part of the volunteer student army shovelling silt in the areas most affected with liquefaction problems.  It was marvellous that the school managed to co-ordinate the year 10 West Coast camp so it could still proceed despite the school not being open.  Rhys was one of the four year 12 leaders to accompany the year 10s and support them in their outdoor activities (including an overnight tramp/camp under tarpaulins).  Rhys is also one of the fortunate students in Christchurch that he is not having to double shift any of his classes with another school.  5,000-10,000 students are being bussed from their unusable schools in some suburbs to schools on this side of the city that are largely undamaged.  For one group the school day starts at 7:30am and the other at 1:30pm. .  Rhys is also still on track to leave for his school trip to Vietnam - 12-26th April and he has retained his Sunday job at Briscoes (a homeware department store).  The Salisbury St shop (where he was working, is pretty munted [the official term didn’t you know] so he was then relocated to Northlands (for 27 Feb to 20 Mar) and from today been transferred to Hornby.  Good training in how to be flexible! 

Laura had two weeks off from her office junior role at New Zealand Tax Refunds to recover from the traumas of having to wade through sewerage (for her that seems to have been the most stressful aspect of the whole deal – the filing cabinets falling down around her etc was nothing in comparison it would seem J).  She also had her 4 wisdom teeth out during that period and returned to work on 14th March and is now starting to understand the differences between being a High School Student and a full-time worker …. mmmm she agrees, there’s a difference.  She has also now (after many stop start interview plans) had her name put forward to be a Camp America counsellor and is hoping she will get a call up from one of the Camps in North America in the next month or so.  If so she would probably be away from about mid May to around Sept or Oct.

Apart from working very hard in the period immediately following the earthquake to help multiple businesses get back working Tim’s work has been largely unaffected by it.  For example, the small office building that we part own; now has ¼ of the staff of our Lawyers working from the meeting room, hallway and reception area.  Their offices in the city are green stickered but in the “No Go” area.  So their staff are spread over 4 locations while they wait to be allowed back into their offices, when? Who knows?

Luckily Tim’s major customer was located just outside the CBD and was able to continue operating throughout. 

The phrase of the day in Christchurch is “Who Knows”, there are lots of obvious what and when questions people ask (particularly about timetables) and the only correct answer is “who knows”.  Important things like, When will the red zone be reduced? Who knows?, When will your house be checked for damage? Who knows? When will the last of the bodies be identified and released? Who knows? And less important things like will there be a football season this year? Who knows?  In general we’re getting used to living in a period of high uncertainty; it’s tough for some people. The only thing we really know for sure is that if someone gives you an answer to the question they are almost certainly wrong.  It will happen when it happens.  And of course, if we get another aftershock all bets are off.

For all of us our concentration levels haven’t been great and we are all grieving in our own ways for the loss of our beautiful city and those that have lost their lives but as each day goes past with less violent wobbly aftershocks we are settling into a new norm.

Thanks for your many thoughts and best wishes and rest assured we are a very fortunate family and are going to be very much a part of our reconstructed and resilient community as we move out of disaster recovery mode.

 Sue’s old office, her car is under this building and you’ll see that many of the windows that were broken in the Sept 4th shake and were fixed just prior to Christmas are again broken.