“Good, good, good, good vibrations…” The sound of the Beach Boys emanating from the wind-up emergency radio made me smile. I bopped to the music, learning then that the best way to weather the aftershocks was to keep moving. Knowing then that my relationship with the earth had fundamentally changed.
I was sitting on the floor in the middle of my dark living room. Just a few minutes earlier, at 4.35 am. We had all been jolted out of bed by a M7.1 earthquake centred about 20 km away. The rest of the family had all gone back to bed, but I knew I couldn’t. I would have been up at five anyway, and the excitement of such a large quake wouldn’t let me sleep.
And so, when National Radio broadcast the Beach Boys minutes after the quake, I was there to hear it and smile.
Memories of the first quake and the nearly 15,000 aftershocks since are still fresh. Just the other day, one of my daughter’s friends was recounting how they had had little food in the house when the quake struck. With power out and shops closed, they subsisted on Weet-bix for four days.
We were more fortunate. It had been a good winter garden, and though it was only early spring, there were plenty of vegetables to eat. And with a gas stove, we were able to cook those vegetables in spite of no electricity.
As for water, we might have been worried, if we’d known what the quake had done to our well. But until the power came back on, we were blissfully unaware that the well had filled with black silt. We confidently used the many litres of water I had stored for this very possibility—a week’s worth of drinking and cooking water. More, if we were frugal with it. The rain barrel behind the shed provided water for the toilet.
We circled the wagons and waited. The family was together. It was spring, and there was much to do in the garden. We spent the days outside in the sun, and the nights eating by candlelight, and riding out the aftershocks. What little we knew of the extent of the damage came through the wind-up radio, which we listened to eagerly. It was an oddly peaceful time—the aftershocks were frightening through the nights, but the sun shone during the day, and we went for walks as a family and played board games.
I am by no means a “survivalist”, but I do believe in being prepared. Though we had no idea what a major earthquake was like, we were prepared. And being prepared, we weathered it well, even when we did discover that our well was destroyed, and when it was another five months before we had regular, reliable water. Even when we were subjected to thousands of aftershocks, some even more destructive than the first quake.
Life has changed since the quakes. I cannot enter a room without assessing safe areas, hazards, and exits. I store even more water, and make sure I always have over a quarter tank of petrol in the car. I keep a torch by the bedside. I expect to get lost every time I venture into the centre city—another building will have been demolished, another will have sprung up, another road will be closed for repairs. More fundamentally, I now understand, in an intimate and visceral way, the dynamic nature of the planet. I know the vast power of the earth, and how insignificant my own is by comparison. I am in awe. I am in love. I am honoured to be allowed to live on this amazing world.