It is winter in Christchurch.
The sky is gray and every once in a while it rains, and in the second half of the day a few blotches of blue sky appeared all of a sudden, and just as quickly disappeared as if worried to be caught. Then the rain started again. This went on for most of the day under 8ºC temperature, so the weather was not the nicest for most people. I didn’t suffer much discomfort, having been busy with instrument work, catching up on loose ends and trying to help the pilots prepare flight plans and monitor the ash cloud progress. The day was not without the usual ration of stress: in the mid day forecast the ash returned to New Zealand and a lot of planning went on that was unnecessary, just causing extra work and fatigue. I have learned many times over already that planning too early is as bad as planning too late: you will have to plan again, and you will be tired and irritated. It is best to do it once at the right time but the temptation of making some progress right now is too high.
We drove on the edge of the downtown. I was going not to write about the earthquakes, there are so many pictures and stories about it that I was not going to try to add my cup of water to the ocean. But the feeling from driving past and seeing flat slabs of concrete where the houses once stood, and the collapsed walls and innards of people’s rooms, exposed to the world with pictures still on the walls, was surreal. I could not help but think that with one shrug of its shoulder, the Earth could just shed every trace of the human effort to create a comfortable habitat, the place we all call home. In a blink of an eye, without warning – just gone, collapsed in a pile of rubble.
I really hope nobody has to experience this. I can’t describe how sorry it makes you feel to see the devastation in Christchurch, and I have not seen the worst of it in the Red Zone. I can only imagine the destruction in Japan, where a stronger earthquake was also followed by the tsunami. Seeing it on TV is absolutely different; the bloodthirsty Hollywood movies taught us to be tolerant of television violence and even seeing a real tragedy feels cynically mundane when viewed on TV. But seeing it in the streets, drive past it is altogether different. It is for real now, and it takes effort not to cry.
There will be no pictures of ruins here. I didn’t feel I can go peering into the rudely exposed lives of other people who can’t defend their destroyed privacy. I suggest you take a look at the links I included above, which were sent to me by a Christchurch local whom I talked with a lot and who described the current life to me as “yeah, it shook again last night some three or four times but it wasn’t bad, it was probably 4.5 or so and it was away along the fault line so we weren’t worried. It just rocked gently and didn’t roar. My house didn’t suffer but at the end of my block the poor neighbors had some nasty liquefaction on their property”.
My heart is with the New Zealanders and the Japanese, the hard working people spending countless days trying to rebuild their turned upside down lives and just hoping to return back to the kind of life we, the unaffected, take for granted.
I invite you to reflect for a minute on how fragile our small happy lives and comfort zones are, and be thankful for them. It can all change any second, just like it did for them.