Shake out!

Few weeks ago I was standing in the middle of the room, writing a text message, when I suddenly felt dizzy. Wow! Am I drunk? Do I feel sick? I soon realized it has nothing to do with me. The coat hangers in a wardrobe were shaking. Curtains were moving side to side. The whole house was rocking. Subtly, but still the strongest I have ever felt. Aaaaaaaaaaaa, it’s an earthquakeeeee! Poooooos, what do we doooo? 6.5 quake hit Wellington region and it could be felt all the way in Raglan, about 400 km away.

Soon after I started working on an Emergency Management Conference. The conference isintended for emergency management practitioners, advisers and decision-makers to reflect, learn and discuss New Zealand’s journey towards recovery and greater resilience when an emergency or disaster occurs. For past few weeks I have been studying what happens when the earthquake hits, what to do in the case of flood or tsunami, how to prevent major loss and how to successfully recover after a disaster. I have realised that I have been pretty ignorant to all this: earthquake won’t happen to me; tsunami is something I read in news about; I live in my perfect little world. Stupid!

Last Friday I flew to Wellington. I had a meeting at the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. For two hours I have been talking to New Zealand top level civil defence practitioners discussing issues and challenges the country is dealing when a disaster occurs. The main problem are the people, who think earthquakes happen only in the South Island and tsunamis only hit Asia. Hm, how stupid can people / WE be…

I returned back to the airport. As I had some time left before the flight, I went to the Koru lounge. I started laughing – the last time I was here was when the storm hit Wellington, all the flights were cancelled and I got stuck here for about 24 hours. I bet there is still an imprint of my ass on one of these seats 🙂 I sat down, when it started…

Do I feel dizzy again? No, it’s not me. It’s an earthquake! The building was visibly swaying from side to side, the pillars were literally moving, chandeliers were swinging and glasses were rattling. Our reaction? The room got quiet. What do we do? Drop, cover, hold (I’ve learned by now…)? Shaking hasn’t stopped, instead it’s got stronger. I felt like I was in some kind of a giant train. Or maybe on the airplane experiencing the worst turbulence. Everyone got a bit lower. Anticipating. How strong it will be? How long it will last? What will happen? What do we do? Drop, cover, hold. There is nowhere you can run. There is nothing you can do. Just wait. And hope. Please, stop now! This is not reading the news. This is not happening somewhere in Asia. This is here, where I am. And I have absolutely no control of it. 6.6 quake just hit, followed by range of aftershocks. Each of them stronger than I have ever felt before. The epicentre was somewhere in Wellington. Few houses were damaged, the airport was fine.

Our flight has been delayed. Oh no! Few flights have been cancelled. Oh noooooo, not again! I didn’t want to get stuck at the airport again. Even more I didn’t want to be on the ground, I wanted to go as high up as possible…

Interesting experience. I will be happy if I don’t feel another earthquake again. But now I’m aware. Now I know that disasters are not something that happen only far away from my little perfect world, they can happen anywhere and anytime, even to me. My cupboard is full of food, there is enough toilet paper for the whole army and I have a torch with brand new batteries in it! (whatstheplanstan.govt.nz)

PS: I found this page (geonet.org.nz/quakes/all), measuring all the earthquakes that could be felt in New Zealand. 30 of them in just past 5 hours…

 

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