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The day the earth opened in Garden City

The day the earth- Dr.George Abraham.jpgIt was 435 am on September 4 (Saturday), when I was thrown out of my bed and hit hard on the wall. With an aching head, I heard a massive sound outside.

As a growing sense of panic gripped, I tried to switch on the bedside lamp. It did not work; no luck with the television set either; the entire neighbourhood was in darkness.

I rushed to the kitchen on hearing breaking noise, only to find that crockery, cutlery and other items kept on the cupboard had crashed to the ground, some of them broken to pieces. The house appeared as if it was ransacked.

Hearing people outside screaming, I joined them, wondering what was going on in the City. Some of the wildest thoughts that crossed my mind were (1) There was a bomb explosion (2) We were invaded and (3) The Aliens had landed.

I then saw two houses collapsed. As we ventured into them, we saw an elderly couple running out of one of the houses screaming, while a young couple were rushing out of their house with their children. As we moved along, we saw many other buildings in different stages of damage.

Massive earthquake

It was only when a Police Officer, out in his pyjamas, told us (following a conversation with someone on his mobile telephone) that we realised that Christchurch had been rocked by a massive earthquake.

Being a volunteer of the Canterbury Civil Defence, I received a call at 7 am, seeking my services. As we got along to offer help to those more seriously affected by the earthquake, I realised the enormity of the situation and how helpless we human beings were against the onslaught of Nature.

Three weeks had passed as I wrote this piece for Indian Newslink.

I considered myself fortunate to be of service to the community, although I do not remember having had proper food to eat or time to sleep. Along with a number of fellow volunteers, I was constantly on my feet. Lack of food and sleep did not seem to bother me as I witnessed the magnitude of the disaster and the sufferings of the people of our lovely city.

Thousands of people had to abandon their homes because they were declared unsafe. I realised how helpless we human beings could be at times such as these; all we could do was try to assist those in greater need.

The day the earth- Buildings destroyed.jpgOverwhelming tragedy

I experienced several heart-rending moments while assisting disaster victims in Welfare Centres and other locations.

Catherine, a nonagenarian was crying uncontrollably, having lost all her favourite Bone China crockery, which her late husband had brought prior to World War II. “Those were the only memories of John, who was killed in the War. There is not a single day, when I would look at these as his living memory,” she said.

Who could console Ian, who lost his 35-year old Cafe at the City Centre that became a brick and concrete mess? As well as losing everything, including coffee machines, he is out of business and his three-member staff is out of work.

In the neighbouring Kaipoi, a young couple with a child lost their near-new home and everything that went with it- a garage, driveway and a beautiful garden, damaged beyond repair.

Lawrence Smith, Director of ‘Cabbage Tree Creative’ and ‘Tourism Innovation’ located in Central Christchurch said, “It was like looting your own business.
The building that accommodated his businesses were among several others that were given a ‘Red Sticker’ (indicating that they were unsafe) by building inspectors.

The day the earth- Cracked roads.jpgDisrupted lives

While the initial quake shook the structure, aftershocks damaged the whole building.
Christchurch’s prestigious Willow bank Wildlife Sanctuary, which receives thousands of people every day, lost its tranquillity. The Reserve now features cracked animal cages, irrupted fields, broken pipes and above all traumatised animals.

That is not all. More than 400 heritage buildings, built before 1850 were damaged beyond repair or restoration.

Canterbury University, hard hit by the earthquake, reopened two weeks after the quake but could cost millions to restore the structures, equipment and other assets.

We often overlook the fact that fire fighters, police officers, Emergency Taskforce officers and members, The day the earth- John Key with victims.jpgCity Council Staff and volunteers are also human beings and that they too were victims of the tragedy. Yet, almost all of them were at hand to assist the people of Christchurch affected by the earthquake, forgetting the loss to their properties.

It was encouraging to see that entire Canterbury region, indeed New Zealand as a Nation responded well to the unpredictable natural disaster. Thousands of school and tertiary students dedicated their time and effort in the clean-up operations.

A large number of people lost their homes and contents. At the time of writing this article, the Earthquake Commission had received more than 71,000 claims, many of them estimated at $100,000 each.

The Christchurch earthquake may earn the dubious reputation of being one of the most expensive in the world.

Disappointing media

It was disappointing to see that the Indian media underreported the tragedy. While a few newspapers (grudgingly?) published a small news item in the inside pages, others decided to ignore the tragedy completely. It was a pity that an event that shook the lives of about 180,000 people, including several thousand Indian families living around the Canterbury area did not interest the Indian media.

Some newspapers, after receiving my reports and pictures, responded saying that the earthquake was not ‘big enough news!’

I had mentioned in my subsequent reports that one of the reasons for no human casualty and no fears of outbreak of diseases was the quality of construction and the strict building codes prevalent in New Zealand. I had also said that the Haiti earthquake of lesser intensity in January this year killed more than 230,000 and destroyed more properties.

None of these interested the Indian media.

Canterbury has now moved away from the State of Emergency to State of Urgency.

A number of organisations are accepting public donations to promote relief work and rebuild Christchurch.

They include

Vodafone Red Alert (Text Quake free to 555 to donate $5 or 333 to donate $3)

NZ Red Cross: ASB Account Number 12-3192-0006848-01

Christchurch City Mission (www.citymission.org.nz)

Salvation Army www.salvationarmy.org.nz

Radio New Zealand www.radionz.co.nz

Canterbury Mayors’ Fund www.ccc.govt.nz

Dr.George Abraham is former Christchurch Kerala Association President and is a Canterbury Civil Defense Volunteer. He can be reached on 021-2523373; Email: ge.abraham@hotmail.com

The pictures appearing in this story were taken by him for Indian Newslink ©

Photo :

1. Havoc in Christchurch

2. The earth cracks in rage

3. Words of comfort from Prime Minister John Key

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