Thursday, March 3, 2011


 Devastating earthquake in Christchurch... On the heels of the one they had just 6 months ago. Only this time it happened in the middle of the busy day and brought down buildings that were weakened as it was by all the aftershocks.

I was in Melbourne,Australia at the time and enjoying my day off in a day Spa. Didn't watch TV or go on-line. I went to bed early, but woke up only 2 hours later having that "something is wrong" feeling. As if on cue, my NZ cellphone rang and it was my Mom calling from Moscow.

She kept yelling into the phone and all I could make out was "earthquake". I kept asking "where" until she managed to say "church". I still wasn't sure if she is talking about the one that happened in Sept (earthquake).

Little by little she calmed down and told me about horrible news coverage that filled TV screens in Moscow. Buildings crumbling,people wandering dazed and bloodied,smoke everywhere...

Mom kept saying I should go back to US,away from "those islands at the end of the World ",but she seemed to forget that she was actually visiting me in California when The Big One in there hit and we were pretty much in the middle of it.

In CA it happened at 4 am. We were all asleep. I know what people mean when they talk about the noise that precedes the actual quake-I woke up just seconds before it started.

Back then glass-top dining room tables were very much in style as well as china hutches filled with crystal stemware. And,yes, it shook bad enough for china hutch to fall on the top of the glass-top table. You can only imagine the noise... and the mess...

In the meantime,in my Mom's bedroom potted plants were falling off the shelves along with books and knick-knacks. Mom was jerked awake and started screaming. She later told me that because it was dark and she was asleep and disoriented, she thought the war started. Mom was born in 1941 and lived through the air raides and bombings, so that was her immediate reaction.

We ran outside and little kidney-shaped swimming pool in the courtyard was spilling water over the sides. Our building wasn't damaged,but electricity was cut immediately and there was that silence... And then,in a few minutes, the sirens of ambulance and firefighters started in the distance.

I was a manager of Denny's Restaurants then-a wide spread and popular chain of family-style restaurants in America that are just one step above the fast food.

I went to work at 7am and, to my surprise, staff actually showed up: cooks and waitresses. We had no electricity, but the stove was gas and functional. According to emergency manual, I had every right to shut the doors when there was no power, but,after talking with the staff, we've unanimously decided to carry on and do what we could .

Kitchen was in semi-darkness with only light coming through the pass,as it was "exhibition-style" restaurant and  had huge glass windows throughout the dining room.

Very soon customers started wandering in. Most of them were quite shaken and dazed. People just wanted a hot meal,as it was the only comfort available. I believe that we were the only place open for miles.

Before we knew it, it was a frenzy. Restaurant was full and the wait for meals was almost an hour. Yet most people were understanding. But some weren't. I understand about the stress and trauma, but screaming at me and the waitresses because the food takes too long to come out  wasn't going to help and after yet another wanker threatened to "call the home office" and "have me fired" (very American attitude,by the way), I simply shut the doors, we finished serving whomever was left in the dining room and with that we were done for the day.

Of course, with no electricity, my commercial walk-in freezer and chiller were thawing and the delivery truck with a week's worth of food did arrive (had a huge argument with the driver), but in the end, power came back on in just a nick of time.

I didn't really grasp the full aftermath of that earthquake until weeks and months that followed. A lot of freeways lay in ruins and had to be rebuild.. Economy took a serious hit.. Eventually it did affect housing market..

And here I am, in New Zealand,and,like a bad deja vu,its all happening again.. Except NZ is a small country AND an island far away from the rest of the world. We are in trouble.

Estimated cost of clean-up/rebuilding Christchurch is 14-20 billion. That money has to come from somewhere.. Specifically, our (taxpayers) pockets.

In the meantime people leave Christchurch in droves, as a lot of them have their houses damaged to a point where they are uninhabitable and their workplace laying in ruins.

As NZ only has 3 major cities (and one of them is Christchurch), people flock to Wellington and Auckland, where job market is stretched thin as it is.

There would be more as CBD CHCH businesses are not functional and it is estimated that it will take 7 months to clean up and "re-open" CBD.

I read today in Dominion Post that estimated loss of tax revenue is 5billion, which sounds right, when you think about how many people will stop working and NOT pay income taxes.

It's a double whammy,as those people will go on different types of benefits (NZ is great like that,but,again, that money has to come from somewhere).

Tourism will definitely suffer-more loss of revenue..

No, the country will not go under, but we are in for a very rough ride,as this comes at the tail end of a long recession.

I've lived through the war, I've lived through LA riots and then LA earthquake, I've lived through 9/11...

I know it sounds cowardly, but I simply don't want to do it any more. Yes, I can definitely survive and "make it",etc, but I am old and tired-it's that simple.

Besides,although I thought that LA quake didn't faze me, it did. I felt very uneasy when I came back to Wellington last week: we are on a fault line and actually everyone thought that we were gonna get hit BEFORE CHCH.. I can't get this out of my  mind,as Wellington has a lot of mountains with a lot of houses on the hillsides. Major earthquake in here would be even more devastating than in CHCH.

And the 2 days ago we had 4.5 earthquake here! There was no damage, but everyone was on edge and run outside and it's all people talked about the next day.

At the moment, I am actively arranging spending more time in Australia and structuring my life so that I can just pick up in a moment's notice and bugger off.
 I am disposing of whatever little possessions I had (furniture items mostly), so if something happens, I can just grab my bag and go.

Funny as it sounds, these days I feel safer leading "vagabond" life-style.

No comments:

Post a Comment