Two years ago on this day, 4th September 2010, we here in Christchurch, New Zealand, were woken at 4.35am by a terrifying, booming, rolling noise. Our houses were rocking. Chimneys were crashing down. Roads were cracking. Walls were crumbling. Houses were splitting open. Underground pipes were bursting. Liquefaction bubbled out of the ground and spread. Power poles toppled over. Our city was falling down.
It wasn't until I woke an hour or so later and turned on the radio (yes, I had power – most didn't) that I learned that Christchurch had been hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake and several after-shocks. Gradually the extent of the damage was revealed, and as the day dawned and the stories began coming through, the seriousness of the situation grew clearer.
Amazingly, nobody died that day, and only one person was seriously injured by, I think, a falling ceiling. The damage was dreadful, but nobody died. What we didn't know then is that that was just the beginning. After-shocks continued. The experts said that they would go on, maybe for months. They did. And, unbelievably, they still do. I checked this morning to find that there have been six after-shocks in the last twenty-four hours, and the total is now 11,929.
Some of the after-shocks have been severe enough to be deemed "new events": Boxing Day 2010 and 22 February 2011 and 13 June 2011 and 23 December 2011. The February "event" was a truly black one because it was far more destructive and 185 people died that day when buildings collapsed on and around them.
Today, two years later, we look at our ruined city – and it really is ruined. The central business district is full of empty spaces where 1600 buildings once stood. There is also much to be done rebuilding people's houses, and mending the land and the pipes and the roads and the bridges, and people's lives and livelihoods. If we had known all that, two years ago today, our hearts might have failed us. But we have learned to deal with it all, day by day.
And now there is a new plan to rebuild the city, brighter and better. It will take a long time, and it looks as though it will be beautiful. Kia kaha, Christchurch.