The NZ Earthquake by Alan Calvert

by Hans | February 25th, 2011

Reader of the Tugs Towing and Offshore Newsletter, Alan Calvert, experienced the NZ earthquake at Christchurch and Lyttelton Port this week. Here is his story.

Tuesday 22 February 2011 1251hrs

My job is a manager with a large NZ wide hardware/retail store called Placemakers. We mainly deal with trade builders but do have a retail operation in our store. I head up the plumbing department and help out in other departments as required.

To get to work on the Northern side of the city centre from my home at the head of Lyttelton harbour I must pass thru the eastern edge of the city centre.

At 1251 I had just returned to the shop floor after lunch and was helping a customer to load a Barbeque on to his trailer in our carpark when what we thought was another small after shock struck us. However it turned out not to be an aftershock as the ground continued to shake severely. The customer and I had to hold on to each other to stop ourselves hitting the ground.

As we looked across the carpark we could see the ground moving in waves towards and past us. It seemed to go on forever and the noise was incredibly loud. The exterior of our building was shaking and I could hear the noise of product crashing to the floor inside. I clanked across the road to some residential properties and saw a couple of brick fireplace chimneys collapse and crash thru the hose roof.

Once the quake stopped the silence was deafening and the wait for people to emerge from our building seemed to take forever. In our retail store we have high racking around 3m with stock for sale and in the drivthru we have racking around 6 metres high full of timber products. It was amazing to see everyone come out of the building without a scratch on them although many were very traumatised. Then another strong aftershock struck and again we could hear the remainder of the racking in our drive thru collapsing and some came out thru the side walls of the building. Once we had established that everyone was ok we were sent home.

Heading back towards the city centre to get home the roads quickly clogged up with traffic and progress was very slow. I could see a cloud of dust hanging over the city from buildings which had crashed to the ground and smoke coming from some buildings which had caught fire. One of these buildings was the CTV building which I drive past every day to get to work. Sadly around 100 people have perished in this building due to a total collapse and the subsequent fire. Many of the roads were blocked by fallen fences and burst water mains which had jumped up thru the road surface and were flowing up to half a metre deep. Sewer drains had broken and raw sewerage was flowing across the roads in many places. The one thing that did strike me was the similarity of the event to the images we saw as 9-11 unfolded. There were people running away from the city centre heading for home covered in dust and  blood and some still in business suits and carrying briefcase’s and laptop bags. Many people were hugging each other and just seemed so happy to be alive just as I did.

I eventually made it to the road that heads from the city over the port hills to my home in Governors Bay. Half way up the hill my car emitted a burst of steam from the engine room and the motor seized. A kind passer-by took me the rest of the way home and now I have to borrow my mother’s car (she lives next door to me).My mothers house was flooding after the bottom of her hot water cylinder had ruptured. It took awhile to get the water supply to it turned off and then the job of getting rid of the water began. Her house also suffered damage to two exterior brick walls which partially collapsed and some internal damage to walls where the house appears to have twisted slightly on its foundation. At the present time it is ok to live in until repair work can begin.

By the time I got to my own home I also had a flood after the bottom of my hot water cylinder had also been damaged allowing water on to the floor. My poor Husky dog thought his world had ended again and was sheltering from life on the end of my bed. We had no power and have had to cook on a portable gas stove for a couple of days but our discomfort is small to what many others have suffered.

Yesterday we returned to work for a few hours to get supplies of batteries, tarpaulins and concrete breakers together for the search and rescue teams as well as to open for the public to get much needed building supplies. Most of the public were very grateful and joined us to have a sausage off a barbeque which we had operating and tell their story of their quake experience. It took us several hours to get the shop safe enough to open; there was a lot of stock on the floor including around 100 ten litre pails of paint which had all lost their lids.

Today I kept away from work took a look at the port town of Lyttelton. Considering that the epicentre of the quake was very close to Lyttelton many homes escaped damage and the death toll was only two. The main shopping street of Lyttelton has lost many of its historic buildings (pictures to follow when I get a chance). It is very surprising that there were no deaths on this street. The port itself is still being assessed for damage and will open to commercial shipping on Saturday morning. A number of vessels including the liner Queen Mary 2 have been diverted to other ports while Lyttelton has been closed. The first movement tomorrow will be the car carrier Trans Future 7 which usually calls to discharge new and used cars from Japan. In addition to her usual cargo she will be transporting a large quantity of emergency supplies and emergency service vehicles loaded in Auckland. The ports oil wharf has been cleared to operate and the tanker Challenge Paragon is expected on Sunday to discharge petrol and other fuel products.

Pacifica Shipping who operates two coastal services has both their vessels heading to Lyttelton with containers of food and other supplies. Spirit of Endurance is due on Saturday and Spirit of Resolution is due on Sunday.

The Port Company hopes to start to return to more normal operating procedures during the week ahead.

By chance when the quake struck the New Zealand Navy multi role vessel HMNZS Canterbury was in port and along with another couple of patrol vessels that have arrived since they have been providing meals and security patrols around the township some of the crews were also involved in helping people immediately after the quake struck.

Tomorrow (Saturday) I will return to work subject to any further damage occurring during the night. As I have been sitting here writing this account several very strong aftershocks have hit us and rattled the house, the dog and my nerves. 

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