A couple years ago, I watched the silly world destruction film 2012, which was meant to be the end-all and be-all of this sort of entertainment. "World go Boom!" a friend grimly joked as we left, entertained, but also subdued and somewhat depressed. The problem was, instead of models of world landmarks being blown up, sunk, or monster smashed, the detailed CGI of volcanoes erupting, tidal waves engulfing and earthquakes crumbling on the big screen felt... real. And with cartoonish main characters I didn't care about surviving actually surviving, it didn't feel fair to enjoy it.
In the early afternoon of 22 February, 2011, an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, killing over 200 people and severely damaging over a third of the buildings in the city and surrounding areas. The quake followed a stronger earthquake six months before that had weakened structures and the ground, but as the hypocentre was over 6 miles below the earth's surface, and hit early in the morning, the damage to most buildings was negligible, and there were no direct casualties. The event on 22 February, however, hit at a shallow depth-- around 3 miles-- so the accelerating movement of the vertical force of the shock waves was much stronger than the horizontal force, and shock waves also ricocheted off inland hills. What this resulted in was people and vehicles thrown up into the air, and parts of the ground partially liquefying into momentary quicksand. This is imagery you might only expect to see in a disaster movie, but no amount of visual effects can recreate the feeling of the earth picking you up in its jaws and shaking you like a rag doll.
The quake happening in mid-day was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it meant that many people were outside from collapsing buildings, or in areas of buildings where they could get to safer cover. A curse in that many of the people outside were injured or killed by collapsing walls and buildings. That more large buildings didn't collapse immediately is due not to luck (which is often the case with the direction of an earthquake's tremors) but the seismic retrofitting the structures have had in the last fifty years.
There are still things we don't know about this earthquake. The main thing is if this was an aftershock of the one six months ago. Both earthquakes began from stress on fault lines that hadn't been discovered yet, and the impact of this quake on other fault lines is still being investigated. What is known is that the specific force of this sort of quake shouldn't happen again to the area; it only happened due to certain conditions that statistically are very rare.
The aftershocks, both figuratively and literally, will be felt by residents for some time. Care must be taken to protect people from the buildings and homes still standing, but structurally unsound, which will need to be taken down and rebuilt. The one thing disaster movies never can simulate is the damage to the self after so much of what one calls home has been so easily reduced to a pile of rubble. Every tremor felt afterwards brings all who experienced the earthquake back to those moments: rebuilding the damaged infrastructure of the area will eventually ease this.
As with any natural disaster, help is always needed. If you are able, please donate via the Red Cross or Doctors without Borders. Your place of employment may have a matching donation arrangement in place, so please check, or request this from them. The New Zealand consulate in your country will also have links to who is accepting donations, and who is having fundraisers.
This earthquake, like the one in Chile on February 27, 2010, and the horrificly devastating event in Haiti on 12 January, 2010, always takes me back to a strong earthquake I experienced which crushed the heart of the city I called home. Over 20 years later, there are still holes in the ground where buildings were destroyed. In Santiago and Maule, Chile, tens of thousands of people are without homes and in camps with appalling conditions. Haiti is in a much more dire situation and will take decades to recover. For the people who call Christchurch home, the symbol of the heart of their city is the cathedral--its spire sheared off a third time-- which is substantially damaged. What is certain is that the church will be rebuilt, but it will be quite some time.
There were horrifying and heartbreaking sights from my own experience that I will never forget, but there were also miracles. Whatever you believe, the news that someone has survived in the rubble, that many people were moments/minutes away from where they would have been seriously injured, or even that a pet has returned home: all these things help the survivors come to grips with nature's way of showing that life is brief, and we are on this earth at its grace.
Posmella informs me that at present the NZ Govt's direct appeal: "is the BEST BEST one to donate to, as gets poured directly into helping the affected community, which is where money is most critical." Donations can also be made directly to Red Cross NZ.
Additionally, all current Christchurch noders have been accounted for.