Category Archives: Shaky Premises

Earthquake Lesson #2: Biking

It’s more important for a bike to have a basket than gears.

Look, I said to the soldier. Those civil defense guys, with their hard hats and axes? That’s my apartment they’re about to go into. He relented and escorted me to my own door, in time for me to greet the team searching my home for bodies. I apologised for not being able to make them a cup of tea; there was no water or power.

This was February 24, 2011, two days after 185 people had died in the Christchurch earthquake.

Getting a car through the central city at that point was a nightmare (and was for many months to come). Roads were buckled and potholed, the biggest hummocks and cracks marked with spray paint and maybe a road cone. Immediately after the quake, recycling wheelie bins with bright yellow lids served as impromptu hazard markers. It was impossible, from my apartment, to drive north without going south and west.

P1020241I lived in Cashel Street, near the Arts Centre, just inside a Red Zone cordon staffed by police and soldiers. You had to pick your moment. The police were older guys, usually serious and not open to negotiation. The army were younger, more relaxed, and multinational – many countries had sent Search and Rescue teams to help clear buildings, leaving cryptic sigils in fluorescent paint on the front of each. The Army’s transport was light armoured vehicles (LAVs) draped with camouflage netting. In the months to come, I had a couple of particularly eerie experiences when these rumbled past at night on darkened streets.

I’d been camped at a friend’s for a couple of days, and this morning thought I would try my luck at getting back into my flat. It was a solid Art Deco block, probably built after the Napier earthquake. There were some minor cracks in the walls, but Civil Defense had just green-stickered it, so I felt safe being in there. I carefully emptied fridge and freezer, and propped them open with towels, assuming I wouldn’t be back in my home for a couple of months. What could go on my bike? In the end, I packed a backpack of clothes, filled the basket and carrier with food including a frozen rabbit, slung one of my ukuleles and carried the other. Gumboots were the fashion footwear of #eqnz, so I wore mine. And so, biking one-handed, I wobbled carefully back through the cordon towards St Albans. The sentry was trying to suppress a smirk, I think.

The rabbit was from Waimate, bought from a farmer at the tiny French Market in central Christchurch, in a brick lane that’s almost certainly now a levelled empty lot, filled with parked cars.

The rabbit went onto the freezer-emptying earthquake barbecue the next day.

The rabbit went onto the freezer-emptying earthquake barbecue the next day.

I wish I’d biked to work the day of the quake. Trying to get home in the confusion, I got stuck in the interminable snarl and had to ditch the car; a bike proved to be the transportation mode best suited to a broken city, able to navigate kerbs, slip through fence gaps, and weave around cracks in the road. Mine was a used Japanese mamachari with no gears but a sensible chain guard, basket, and pannier.

When my grandmother was little, her family escaped the WWI German invasion of the Netherlands by bicycle. As I wobbled away from my apartment, with two ukuleles and a defrosting rabbit, I imagine them all neatly dressed, ties and overcoats, on sensible black Dutch bicycles. As Marx said, history repeats – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

Greening the Rubble

urbanChchCabbageTreeChristchurch has become a wasteland. Half the buildings in the central city have been demolished and replaced by windswept fields of dusty grey gravel. Recovery will be years away; continued aftershocks and sluggish insurance companies have delayed things, and when a brand-new $4 million building can be seized and demolished there’s no incentive to be the first to rebuild.

In the meantime, that’s lots of empty space. Carparks proliferate. Rotary tries to brighten things up with naff little painted tyres filled with petunias. Volunteer organisation Greening the Rubble has been active building planter boxes, benches, and miniature parks, but doesn’t seem to progress much beyond places to eat lunch. And who wants to eat lunch in a wasteland?

Rotary tyre It seems a waste for an empty lot to sit in limbo, gradually filling up with invasive weeds. People want to plant something. Community gardens, allotments, and urban farms are tremendously appealing, but they can quickly (literally) go to seed after the first flush of enthusiasm has receded. No organiser wants to be saddled with an eyesore and be left with the responsibility for clean-up when the landowner wants to reclaim the property. So high-maintenance projects are out.

There’s a strong incentive for each landowner to turn their empty lot into a car park (although if the CBD becomes nothing but car parking, there’ll be no reason to drive there). How to discourage this? The City Council could reinstate one-hour-free parking, or remove CBD parking charges altogether, at least while there’s bugger-all in the central city. We may need to provide a structure that makes it economic for landowners to allow cultivation: perhaps sponsorship that could pay landowners a percentage of what they might make out of a car park.

There are other possible impediments. Urban lots may be contaminated by lead or heavy metals, so would need soil testing from a friendly lab that would appreciate some repeat business, perhaps with the help of sponsorship. If they’re over 100 years old, the Historic Places Trust might not approve of extensive cultivation. What would be really useful would be a database of every empty lot in Christchurch, with owner’s name, contact details, plans for rebuilding and time frame, and soil type. (The City Council should be taking the lead in compiling this database, and making the information available to anyone—Gap Filler, Life in Vacant Spaces, or any community group—who has a good idea for an empty space.)

Here are some ideas for greening central Christchurch: low-maintenance, low-input, and able to be reversed at a moment’s notice with little hassle.

Sunflower Garden

Sunflowers If you don’t like sunflowers, it might be because you’ve seen one or two scrawny specimens looking sad and lonely, buffeted by the wind. Sunflowers want to grow in an entire field, where they can support each other. A lot fenced on three sides with plenty of sun could be planted wall to wall with sunflowers, with dwarf varieties along any exposed edge to create a windbreak. Sunflowers are sowed in place from September to February, and in good conditions large varieties can grow 2–3 m tall. In autumn, the seed heads can be harvested by hippie granola-makers, or left as a bounty for goldfinches and other seed-eaters. The stalks can be stacked and dried to make a pleasant midwinter bonfire, and the rest of the lot planted in mustard or lupin cover crops to be cut and mulched come Spring.

Swan Plants

swanplant These can be planted a little earlier in the season, and grow well from left-over seed pods as well as commercial seed. There’s more opportunity for kids and parents to be involved, starting seedlings in trays or pots early Spring and bringing them all to the site. The problem with swan plants and monarchs—the perennial problem, that leads to crying kids and desperate trips to the garden centre to buy one or two pathetic little seedlings, out of season, while the nursery-owner cackles in glee—is too many caterpillars and not enough vegetation. If an entire lot is planted in swan plants, at a reasonably high density, and early enough, there is enough vegetation to allow a surprisingly number of caterpillars to pupate. The resulting flood of butterflies will be seen all over the central city. Very metaphorical.

Nettle Beds

nettles Monarchs are introduced butterflies, but we have two native butterflies (Red and Yellow Admirals) that are becoming increasingly rare. The caterpillars of both feed on nettles, both the giant and vicious native stinging nettle, ongaonga (Urtica ferox) and the introduced garden nettle. Nettles are pretty thin on the ground in the CBD. Although their seeds aren’t available from nurseries, one could source large numbers from back gardens by enlisting schoolkids: teachers arrange a field trip to the Nettle Butterfly Reserve, admission price one or more healthy nettle plants in a grocery bag; parents would have no objections to kids removing nettles from the garden. At the site is a volunteer entomologist, who can show the kids the butterfly life cycle, give them woolly caterpillars to handle, and enlist them in planting their donated nettles in rows. Nettles are perennials, grow like weeds, and would eventually fill the lot, providing a source for butterflies to spill out and spread to suburban gardens.

Urban Beefields

Clover One of the most appealing features of C1 Cafe’s new premises is its rooftop beehive. There are enough weeds springing up in empty lots to keep a few hives happy, but Christchurch could support fields of bee-friendly flowers, growing of course without any danger of pesticide drift. Honey bees and even some species of tiny native bees love weedy yellow-flowered compositae; sales of “urban honey” would be both good publicity and a fundraiser. Empty lots could also be planted in clover, both as urban pasture and as feed for bumblebees (which were introduced a century ago specifically to pollinate red clover). Bumblebees in the wild make hives in abandoned rabbit burrows; urban bumblebees could live in hand-made bee houses made of scrap timber.

Urban Pasture

goatIt seems almost criminal to see empty fields of gravel that could be producing clover or ryegrass. There’s a pretty well-developed industry in New Zealand devoted to converting flatland to pasture—Federated Farmers contributed a volunteer army to help shovel liquefaction, so I’m sure they’d be willing to lend a hand. Dairying has an image problem in Canterbury at the moment: perhaps Fonterra would like to sponsor a dryland pasture project to show they’re thinking about the future of Canterbury farming. Urban pasture naturally suggest urban grazing, a flock of sheep or herd of goats, with an urban goatherd moving them from pasture to pasture. Perhaps there would be enough pasture to support an urban horse-trekking business, the most leisurely way to take a tour around the Red Zone.

Other ideas

Native groundcovers—DoC’s Motukarara nursery could showcase different ways to cover bare ground, or create a green roof • A huge pumpkin patch or cornfield • Wheat, oats, and barley to make urban bread • Guerilla gardening in spare corners, or using “seed bombs” to get wildflowers rather than weeds growing in abandoned spaces.

Let’s take the idea of greening the rubble seriously. Every empty space should be growing something. Put that empty land to work, and make the transitional city less of a depressing eyesore.

One Year On

(Appeared in a modified form in the NZ Herald Online)

“Have you signed the Pledge?”, people kept asking me in the months after February. The Pledge was a register of people who were committed to staying in Christchurch; copies were made available for signing in public places, and the whole thing was to be bound and presented to the mayor. Curiously, all the people badgering me seemed not to be in a position to leave: trapped by dependents, job, unresolved insurance, or an unsellable house. One should only pledge to stay if one is free to go; I was, and didn’t pledge, because I don’t like loyalty oaths. This was before the June 13 quakes. And the December 23. And the thousands in between. You don’t hear much about the Pledge any more.

After the first quake shock had worn off, there was an unexpected elation in the air. People were itching to reclaim the rubble and turn destruction into a fresh start. The Gap Filler project screened outdoor movies in an empty lot, and made a book exchange out of an old fridge; Greening The Rubble built parks where there used to be buildings. The urge to help – to do something – filled community meetings and swamped the City Council with suggestions for the rebuild, giving rise to that utopian document the Central City Plan, which painted a picture of tree-lined cycleways, green markets, and inner-city apartments. Not only would the quake damage be fixed, so would decades of urban sprawl and central city neglect. Ponies for everybody. Ponies with free wireless.

Cashel St Victory GardenAfire with the spirit of the Revolution, I approached the owner of the neighbouring empty lot. It was going to be sitting unused for a year or two; could we turn it into a community garden? The Cashel St Victory Garden began with a working bee, adults and kids sowing seeds and planting a bed of lettuces edged with recycled bricks. The quake had uncapped an artesian well, so we had a pond and a trench for growing watercress; our digging unearthed fragments of Victorian crockery. There were grand plans: creating garden beds for all the neighbours, seeking sponsorship, even building a team to help create more gardens around the city.

Three days later it had been paved and turned into a Wilson Parking lot.

Apart from a fortnight when I was barred from my apartment by a police cordon, I’ve been living in the central city since the February quake, watching earthquake tourists circle the Red Zone on sunny weekends, and seeing buildings gradually disappear week by week. I’ve watched the crack in my wall get slowly wider, and energy and optimism leak away, replaced by frustration, cynicism, and a dawning realisation that bringing a heart and life back to the city will take a decade or longer. And that the only people who can speed that up are politicians and insurance companies, not citizens.

We’ve said our piece, and now we wait.

The favoured dismissal for those leaving was “doing a runner”. Cowards fled; they probably never loved Christchurch anyway, or so said people who seemed to be trying to convince themselves to stay. An All Black recently claimed we’re scared and should harden up instead of running. Nobody’s had the guts to tell me that to my face. Those praising us for our supposed “resilience”, or accusing us of cowardice, seem to be projecting their own fears and needs onto ordinary people who aren’t exemplars of anything.

The funny part is, I was planning on quitting Christchurch two years ago, and suspect I’ve only stuck around through bloody-mindedness. I’ve watched my friends and neighbours leave in ones and twos, to Wellington and Auckland, and finally decided I was going too. Who wants to live for a decade in a wasteland, where we’re told we should be excited about shopping malls? The signs on the back of the buses implore us, with a big red heart, to love Christchurch—love it or leave it, I guess. But this is a city without a heart, and I no longer have it in me to stay.

Earthquake Lesson #1: Shoes

Never wear shoes you wouldn’t walk in for an hour.


I ditched the car when I was halfway home. The Riccarton Road traffic was inching along, and walking was looking more and more sensible. I watched a stream of pedestrians straggling away from the shattered central city, where my apartment was. One I suddenly recognised. In fact, we’d broken up the day before. I pulled over and hugged her, these being, after all, exceptional circumstances. She had checked my apartment on the way out of town—it was standing and didn’t look damaged—and then she was off one way, me the other. At that point driving was becoming increasingly nonsensical, so I parked in a side street and set off home on foot. For some reason, I’d decided that morning to wear uncomfortable dress shoes, and soon regretted it. Never again will I wear shoes I can’t walk in should there be a natural disaster.

I was on the ground floor, about to get my photo taken by a university PR person, when the earthquake shook us like a dog. I wish she’d gotten that shot, just to see the expression on our faces. I’m my workplace Health & Safety warden, and through a odd coincidence just a couple of hours before had attended a training session on what to do in case of an earthquake, so was able to busily usher people out from under tables and shoo them outside, checking each office for stragglers on the way.

It wasn’t until we were all milling in the parking lot that I realised I’d left my phone in the building, along with my jacket, keys, wallet, ID, pocket knife, camera, and laptop: essentially, everything I need to exist. The next time evacuation, be it building, crashed aeroplane, or burning car, I ignore official instructions and grab jacket and bag on the way. At this point, there was no obvious damage to the university. One of the students asked me if lectures would be cancelled for the rest of the day. Probably yes, I said. We watched cars wobble back and forth in another aftershock, and I knew, with mounting anxiety, that my family and friends were probably all txting me right now. Getting on Twitter could tell us the magnitude of the quake and the amount of damage.

Some of my workmates also were without keys or phone. After an hour of fruitless standing around, we decided it was worth a crack. “Please, we need to get back into our offices. One of my colleagues needs her medication.” The Facilities Management chap in his hard hat could probably tell I was lying, but, very much against the rules, he let us venture back inside to quickly retrieve keys and bags. The Learning Skills Centre then scattered to the four winds.

An hour later, walking across Hagley Park after ditching my car, I saw the first photos of what was left of the Cathedral on my phone, and realised just how bad things were. The procession of people escaping the central city on foot had eerie echoes of 9/11, except these people weren’t covered in dust; we chatted as they passed, and I could tell some tourists the airport was closed, and also quite a hike, so they might want to stay put. Crossing the Botanic Gardens, a prodigy: the Avon River was flowing backwards from east to west. Signs and portents. I half expected a rain of blood. At that stage, I was ready to believe anything. (A week later I checked a map and realised I’d crossed the river where it looped back around, and this was the direction I’d seen it flowing all my life.) Only the ducks seemed unperturbed by the unusual day we were all having.

There is a feeling of sick anticipation as you first enter your house after an earthquake. Photographing my way from room to room, it was clear that there was hardly any damage. Pictures had fallen down, some of the cracks in the wall were a little bigger, but the place just needed a clean. And, well, electricity. I changed my shoes.

Continuing Aftershocks

Twitter has certainly changed how we deal with disaster: why, journalists used to have to write a whole story all by themselves. It’s a good thing the laws of copyright and politeness are suspended for text on web pages, and that everything on the Internet is thus in the public domain, or reporters would actually have to attribute all their quotes. But if only—if only—there were some means of magically creating a link from the unattributed quote to the writer’s original words… perhaps someone can come up with an elegant software fix. Until then, with newspapers suffering the way they are, it’s good to know that writers on deadline can pluck witty concise quotes from an inexhaustible stream to help make their word count.


In line with Marx’s quip about history repeating itself as tragedy and farce, the three-coloured sticker system used on Christchurch buildings has been adopted by my workplace’s photocopier technicians. It’s not clear exactly what will happen if you try to use a red-stickered photocopier. Presumably it’s life-threatening.


Part of the difficulty in talking about the quake was that the Richter scale isn’t linear. Some people realised that 7.0 is ten times as “wobbly” as 6.0, but thought that meant that 6.1 was twice as much as 6.0. Logarithms aren’t intuitive: 6.1 is about 25% more than 6.0, but 6.3 is 100% more. And it doesn’t help that the Richter scale, despite being widely bandied about by the media and even some of the quake-data services, is not really used by geologists, who like to talk about the moment magnitude or the amount of energy released. Poor Arts majors were getting very confused, so with the help of @kevinpurcell I developed a Qualitative Earthquake Scale™.

5: WTF
6: OMG
7: OMFG!
8: OMG OMG OMG OM


It was interesting to notice people’s decreasing sensitivity to aftershocks, and the increasing accuracy of their inner seismometers. In the 19th century, Galton studied the “wisdom of the crowd”; the remarkable accuracy of averaged non-expert estimates, for example in guessing the weight of an ox. Eventually we’ll be able to average the flurry of guesses on Twitter that follow each tremor and use the “crowd seismometer” to get a pretty accurate estimate. It would certainly be faster than waiting for GeoNet.


We’re starting to see debates in the newspaper and online about rebuilding Christchurch. Some property owners are racing in to demolish unwanted heritage buildings, presumably to build a nice profitable McDonalds, but it’s often possible to save something like the Harbour Light theatre, for which everyone who saw its cracked wall predicted doom. What I hope emerges is an actual Vision for the city, a rebuilding programme with a unified, distinctive Christchurch style that will hold up for another 100 years. Now would be the time to get a group of New Urbanist architects to emulate the success of Napier and create durable, sustainable, beautiful buildings that will not embarrass our descendants. So keep Sir Miles Warren far away from it. Perhaps we could disqualify architects whose own houses fell down.


This is all very high-minded, but I confess to being preoccupied with the more mundane question, “What are we going to do with all those bricks?” Fallen chimneys could be certainly converted into brick paths or patios—walking on bricks seems to be the only safe thing you can do with them. Perhaps an annual brick-throwing festival, as they do in Stroud? The best suggestion I’ve heard is building a Quake of 2010 Memorial Barbecue, so everyone can tell earthquake stories as they burn the sausages. The fire next time.


The most awe-inspiring visuals of the quake for me were the flyover photographs of the fault line near Burnham (well described by Mark Quigley’s home page—start a blog, Mark!). The 3 m slippage showed up as a dent in fences and a kink in shelterbelts; a line of mature trees would suddenly shuffle over, and continue as before but displaced. Long after all the other visible evidence of the earthquake is repaired, these offset trees will remain. If I were a farmer, I’d be putting my location on Google Earth and a donation box on my gate, so the rubberneckers can help fix my fences.


A review of several earthquake simulators:
★★★☆☆: Turbulence on the flight to Wellington
★★★☆☆: Earthquake Room in Te Papa
★★★★☆: Bumpy touchdown at Christchurch Airport


There were of course no shortage of crazy theories about the origin of the quake, which Matthew Dentith has been cataloguing in his conspiracy-theory blog; my favourite is that “perpendicular gravitational waves”, caused by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, travelled right through the Earth to cause mischief. There’s also the persistant idea that divine intervention of some kind protected the good people of Christchurch (while at the same time not preventing the actual quake itself of course). Perhaps Bob Parker was praying too hard for an election campaign miracle? Or did he engineer the quake in the first place?) The most convincing theological statement, though, seems to be the one made by my bookshelf when it fell:

The Aftershock Diary

SATURDAY

Kim Hill is telling us to sprinkle vacuum cleaner dust over our poo. In a morning full of surreal experiences, this somehow takes the cake. Friends tell me they’re peeing in buckets, or digging latrines in the yard. This being Christchurch, talk turns to fertilising lemon trees.

Our city’s message to the world is a stoic, “Thanks, but we’ll cope.” A surprising number of businesses open as best they can, before realising we’ve technically had a natural disaster and you’re supposed to be traumatised. It’s the spirit of the Blitz, except the weather is lovely and sunny, and John Key has all the gravitas of Churchill’s stunt double.

SUNDAY

My seismometer is a small plastic Big Bird, which reliably topples over on about a 5.2. I’ve had to stand him up a couple of times today. He’s calibrated against readings from the New Zealand Earthquake Bot, which tweets details of each aftershock (it has three times as many followers as the Christchurch Press). Because the Bot takes ten minutes to report, people have been playing the guess-the-magnitude game on Twitter. They tend to overestimate.

Advanced seismic activity detection technology

Some people are completely freaked out. Some are just angry, and loudly rain curses on the aftershocks—I don’t tell them these will go on for weeks. Some, like me, are sleeping through everything but a 5.0. Everybody’s waiting for the 6.0, which like Godot is supposed to be coming, if not today, then definitely tomorrow. We’re oscillating like Vladimir and Estragon between boredom and despair.

MONDAY

I visited the earthquake shelter at Burnside High, hearing that they might need water containers. Exhausted volunteers have been deluged with donations and are well-supplied with bedding, food, and everything else. Someone donated a game of Twister, especially challenging in an earthquake. Donated books include The Da Vinci Code (a perfect opportunity to get rid of one’s copy, I suspect), and Angela’s Ashes, in case evacuees need reminding things could be worse.

Good news! Eva Longoria, from the Television, is praying for us. All I can think is that it’s a bit late: Eva, if only you had used your celebrity powers and intervened with God before He smote us with His wobbly wrath. Perhaps God only works the cleanup crew.

Huge diffuse disasters are hard to take in, but little ones hit home. Canterbury Cheesemongers—the best cheese shop in Christchurch—may have to be demolished, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This, curiously, affects me more than damage to historic homesteads or friends’ houses: a bit of the Christchurch I know is going away, as will many other bits, all special to somebody.

TUESDAY

More aftershocks. The Burnside High shelter has been hit hard, and it’s been evacuated of its evacuees. I spontaneously decide to spend the night out of town. Kaikoura is supposed to be quite tolerable at this time of year. Heading North through Woodend, the only things damaged seem to be the churches.

WEDNESDAY

Frustration with the aftershocks is boiling up. Two different people told me this morning’s 5.1 caught them on the loo, which rather ruins your equilibrium for the day. Megan comes up with a potential rallying chant for an organised anti-earthquake protest:

We wake!
We shake!
We don’t want any more quakes!

I’m helping my friend pack up her house for evacuation: cracks in the cinderblock walls, the laundry turned into a water feature by a broken pipe, and a hole I can see the outside through. That could be handy for summer ventilation, I suggest. She is not swayed. We both join the Facebook group to save Canterbury Cheesemongers, knowing it probably won’t help.

Somebody comments in my blog that the lack of fatalities reveals divine intervention. Presumably God didn’t like Haiti as much as Christchurch. Perhaps it’s our pious name. Wellington, there’s still time to rename yourself: forget Wellywood, go with something more devotional. Suggestions in the comments.

Twitter has been an indispensable information source, but it’s also fertile ground for rumours. Within a few hours of the quake, there were fake damage photos and denunciation of the fakes. Now the fuel storage tanks at Lyttelton are supposedly on fire, and there’s a petrol shortage, both also quashed before they’re too widely retweeted. The best news for a while is that we can drink the water again: tweeted within half an hour of the press release. I’ve been brushing my teeth from a mug for days, and am happy to dump the stockpot of boiled water sitting in the laundry tub. It feels like I’m flushing away the unreality of the last few days. Now to see what reality has in store.

[Also posted, essentially as above, on the NZ Herald website, www.nzherald.co.nz, 9 Sept 2010.]

Christchurch Rocks

Thirteen things I learned from an earthquake:

  1. The Southern sky is a beautiful thing, especially on a cloudless night. We forget this when we live in cities, until the electricity is suddenly cut off and you see the stars again. You see them especially well at half-past four in the morning, standing shivering in your driveway hoping the shaking doesn’t start again. Oh look, Orion.

  2. We don’t have many uncontrolled four-way intersections in Christchurch, so our road etiquette gets a bit rusty. This is particularly noticeable when the traffic lights all stop working. Roundabouts then come into their own, as fabulous earthquake-proof solutions; far safer than relying on politeness and common sense.

  3. While waiting for the power to come back on, I took a stroll around the Styx Mill Reserve. I don’t think the ducks noticed there had been a natural disaster. A few boulders fell off Castle Rock, but otherwise the earthquake’s effect was only on things we’d built, often badly. Unlike floods, hurricanes, or volcanoes, the damage from earthquakes is a collaboration between humans and nature.

  4. You imagine buildings reduced to rubble, but so far these are just pictures on the news. Nothing’s fallen down in my suburb. The real damage is cracked roads, flooding from ruptured water mains, the creepy threat of contaminated drinking water, and fire breaking out where gas lines have broken.

  5. Always secure your bookcases to a wall.

    Cunning strategy for securing bookcase against aftershock

  6. Those abstract emergency-kit lists suddenly become very concrete. My wishlist: a flashlight right beside the bed • candles and matches in the kitchen drawer • some way to charge the iPhone: a car charger and a solar panel would both have been useful • a car power socket to 240V three-pin plug adapter, for charging a laptop or camera battery • prepay wireless 3G modem • a dozen bottles of water stashed in the cupboard • cash, for when ATMs aren’t working • a gas BBQ to cook that defrosting meat in the freezer.

  7. The first thing I did after the shaking stopped was tweet. Twitter, especially in the first hour, was well ahead of the mainstream media in instantly breaking news, locating the quake, and reporting damage. Radio also did a good job later that morning, so I’d add a battery-less radio to the emergency stash; the web streaming services of the radio stations did not cope well. TV took all day to catch up and was generally hopeless.

  8. For Twitter to work, everyone has to agree on a hashtag, like #eqnz. Joyce was tracking the clumsy “hashtag wars” different media outlets were fighting. Some people pointed out the correct hashtag wasn’t the most important thing about the quake, which is certainly true if you weren’t using Twitter. But many, many people will be using Twitter or a similar service soon as a primary information source, so the media have to get used to mentioning the “official hashtag” in their stories.

  9. Building things out of bricks is a fine English tradition, but England doesn’t straddle a plate boundary.

  10. Looters in Christchurch will break into a liquor store, ignore the brandy and single malts, and carry out cases of beer. And I would bet it wasn’t even very good beer.

  11. I went for a stroll to look for obvious quake damage, but my part of Bryndwr is so grungy it was, quite seriously, hard to discern. Was that street sign leaning drunkenly last week? Quite possibly. Is that wall newly crumbling, did a boy racer scrape it, or was it just shoddily built in 1955? Look for fresh plaster dust on the asphalt.

  12. It’s actually possible to have an earthquake this severe not kill anybody. So, as Robyn points out, we’re not a third-world country. Hurrah. Not that Christchurch escaped scot-free: billions of dollars of damage, and 90 or so buildings trashed, many grand and historic.

  13. Lucky last: this was not, by a long shot, “the big one”. That would be a magnitude 8.0 or so, which hits New Zealand every couple of hundred years (the last was in the Wairarapa in 1855). The Richter scale is logarithmic, so that’s something ten times as wobbly as today’s—the size of the San Francisco earthquake (3000 dead), or the 2008 Sichuan quake (which killed 68,000). Let’s not get too complacent about our building codes.

[Appeared 7 Sept 2010 on the NZ Herald website.]