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When the earthquake struck

Patricia Norriss - 07/04/2011

Patricia's story highlights the problems of so many households in Christchurch after the earthquakes and demonstrates the value of support from family, neighbours and friends at this time of stress and loss..

Sitting in a peaceful spot and listening to the birds singing in the abundance of trees next door is a far cry from the two recent earthquakes. The new neighbours have made us feel very welcome. We are renting this property because our own house was severely damaged.

On the morning of 4 September at 4.35am my husband Keith and I were woken abruptly by the shaking of a 7.1 magnitude quake. I almost fell out of bed. We established that there seemed to be no immediate danger from damage and surprisingly went back to bed and slept.

The earthquake was bad enough, but after finally waking fully we ventured outside and were horrified when we saw the mess. This was the first time we had ever seen liquefaction. It was horrible - thick oozy yucky sand, silt and water which was spread thickly all over the drive, backyard and garden.

The garden had taken pride of place as Keith had gone to a lot of trouble creating a native garden. He had wanted to build a four car garage, but I wasn't keen because of the room it would take. However I was pleased with the garage and the new garden which was far better than I had expected. It was revolting to see this liquefaction everywhere and especially on the garden.

Flowers bloom beside the cracked wall Liquefaction floods the garage
Flowers bloom beside the cracked wall Liquefaction floods the garage
Photo source: Keith Norriss
Click on an image to view a larger version

Our son arrived with a team of men and young lads from his church. They shovelled the filth into wheelbarrows and wheeled it on to the street by the kerb. These mounds could be seen all along Goodman Street, and eventually they were picked up by the Council.

Men soon arrived in the street with big machinery all sorts of machines such as graders, bulldozers, loaders and diggers. It became very noisy and dusty. There was plenty to do and a mess everywhere. Pipes were broken and this was a big job. It was fascinating watching the men at work all very efficient and dedicated.

The whole area was without water, toilets or power. Our thermos flask got a lot of use and was always full of water that was safe to drink.

Reconstruction was going well when the second quake struck on 22 February at 12.51pm. It was classed as a 6.3. Many said it was more vicious than the first and I would agree. The damage everywhere was much worse with many buildings destroyed and lives lost.

I was on my own when the quake started. I quickly headed for the passage as I wanted to go outside. I was having difficulty as I felt as though I was being pushed from side to side. I finally made my way outside and was relieved to manage it as I was feeling as though I wouldn't make it before the house came tumbling down around me.

This time I witnessed the liquefaction seeping out of the ground. It was much worse than the first quake. Once again a yucky mucky mess! Eventually all of the plants in the native garden were covered. I was upset as I thought of all the work that Keith had done and the pride we had both felt. I thought the garden was destroyed.

Where did this liquefaction come from? What was underneath? Could the house with Keith and me inside disappear? My imagination began to run riot. I discovered that I was not the only one who thought this way.

Neighbours gathered on the street in huddles. It just seemed natural to discuss our problems. The streets were a wet muddy mess as it was raining and some wore gumboots. I wished that I had put gumboots on as my shoes were a muddy mess.

Our son Robert arrived again with a team and cleared the liquefaction from the drive and backyard. We were very grateful.

The men and machines were soon back on the streets. Roads are very badly damaged and we wonder how they'll ever be repaired. How disappointed they must feel all their hard work for nothing.

Keith had left for work early in the morning. However at the end of the day it was difficult to find a safe route home. He was stopped at the Gayhurst Bridge over the Avon River. It was classed as unsafe. He had to leave his car and walk the rest of the way.

He worried about leaving his car all night. A neighbour came to his aid and drove him back to the bridge. He walked across to his car and set off in a convoy led by someone who knew the different routes to people's homes. There were many detours because so many of the bridges over the Avon were impassable. Every now and then a car would go head first into a big hole.

A lovely neighbour insisted on coming over every hour to see how I was coping. I was relieved when Keith finally arrived at 11pm, very tired after a big day.

When Keith discovered our house had sunk quite seriously we knew it was time to leave our home. Blocks kept falling out, there was no sewerage because of blocked drains, there was no high pressure water, and our storm water drains were blocked.

Our children, in-laws and grandchildren all pitched in to help us move furniture, clothes and books into the big garage. Then we made our move. First we moved to three big rooms upstairs at our business in Sockburn on the opposite side of Christchurch, and then to renting a very nice house in Spreydon found for us by our daughter-in-law. We were warmly welcomed by our neighbours and this made us feel secure immediately.

We do miss our neighbours from Goodman Street but one day we will be able to invite them for afternoon tea.

We may build again one day and if we do we would like a home similar to the one in Goodman Street. Last week when collecting furniture from the house we had a lovely surprise. The liquefaction had all disappeared and the native garden was thriving.

What will happen in the future we don't know. Will the houses in the liquefaction areas be pulled down to remedy the land? We won't be there to find out. It is not easy leaving not only neighbours but friends and all of the activities that were part of our lives.

Only time will tell what life holds in store for us. The main thing is that we have each other.

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