31st August 2018

Sam’s Speech

Experiencing and living in the Christchurch earthquake

When I think about my life and the challenges i’ve faced the Christchurch earthquake is a defining part to my story that shapes the life I live today. I will share with you the effect this disaster had on me at the time, what it has taught me and how it changed my life, probably for the better.

Being involved in a catastrophic event in New Zealand’s natural disaster history was petrifying. Saturday, September 4th, 4:35 am, 2010 was the day it all started. Being awoken by the tremendously loud shuddering noise only to hear mirrors falling off walls, china smashing and even a single glazed window caving in. As I sit here writing this speech 8 years later I can visualise and replay these moments in my head so clearly, yet at the time I was unsure of what was taking place. We all see tragic events such as earthquakes causing despair to countries all around the globe, never thinking they’ll hit your home, your house and your school. The mindset of “It will never happen to me” is the very reason my 10 year old self thought It was a dream on the 4th of September, 2010. Taking all of about 7 or 8 seconds for adrenaline to kick in I realised what was actually occurring. I grabbed the covers of my bed and put them over my head. It was like I thought that blocking myself from this terror was going to make it go away and I would wake up from that terrifying nightmare to a normal Saturday morning.

Craters of liquefaction erupted everywhere on that dark spring morning. The seeping Grey mud substance made its way into the house immediately engulfing every inch of carpet. As daylight came the damage to our 20 year old house only became more obvious. It seemed amazing that not only were there know fatalities but our house seemed to be one of the few that had been damaged by the 7.3 magnitude beast. Generosity and kindness of the people of Halswell was on display that day. Half the town was around shoveling liquefaction from our house. Even with all the help there was a part of me that thought why us?

As a 10 year old I considered myself a happy, reasonably positive kid, this was really challenged that day. Fear becomes a factor when you realise these things are out of your control. There’s nothing you can do to prevent, lessen the chances or stop these events from occurring again. As a kid I was scared of the change that might occur as a result of this event.

6 long months living in a dust bowl and waiting for the Earthquake Commission to give us an outcome was frustrating to say the least. Mushrooms were growing out of the cracks in the skirting boards throughout the house. No carpet meant the summer was spent with camping mats in every room. Finally on the 10th of February the earthquake commission deemed our house fixable. Work was to start in 2 weeks time.

February 22nd, 2011, an overcast day. Just like any other year 5 kid I was running across Halswell primary schools Rugby field playing ball tag. The terrifying rumble sound was the first to strike, urging my feet to ground and my attention to shift.

It sounds cliche but it was like everything was happening in slow motion. As I look around kids that were happily playing just 30 seconds previous are screaming, panicking and crying for their parents. Assembling at the our emergency spot, mum ran over to collect us. I will never forget the sickening moment I saw the images coming live out of Christchurch’s city centre. People with blood streaming down their face’s, ears hanging by a thread and crying colleagues looking at that famous Canterbury Television building.

I couldn’t help but think of the terrible deaths those poor people faced. This took me out of my wee bubble and gave me a rather quick snap into reality and the extent of what had just happened. After fishing out all our belongings we went to stay at a family friends house. Our house was now structurally unsafe. At the time there was so much happening it didn’t really register to me that we didn’t have a home.

I remember that night lying unable to sleep, listening to the live radio. Updates constantly came in about the rising death toll and the number of missing. Even though I was only 10 years old I felt like I should be doing something, helping someone facing hardship. An almost sense of guilt creeped in.

Five weeks later we were on our way to live in a new town. A Fresh start and the escape from the devastated city was daunting but exciting. Starting Rugby the day after arriving I made the friends I have to this day.

Experiencing a traumatic earthquake, losing my family home and moving towns has taught me many things. One being the occurrence of good and bad things can happen at any time. Quite often creeping up on you and happening when you least expect it. When these earthquakes struck I was doing well at school, making rep cricket and Rugby teams and hanging out with my friends all the time. Mum and Dads real estate was growing significantly. We were all enjoying life and succeeding, but obviously it wasn’t to be.

Things you consider to be so invincible, so stable, so strong in life can come unexpectedly crashing down in an instance. Like the buildings that surround you in your everyday life. My house, my classroom even my parents real estate office were all deemed structurally unsafe after February 22nd.. I have learnt to not be so certain everything will remain reasonably similar in life. As now I know everything can really change in a day.

As a 10 year old I found the level of generosity and community kindness incredible. It amazes me when people dropped everything in their own life to help others in a worse situation like us. It gives you faith seeing strangers turning up at your doorstep with a shovel to help out.

This sense of comradery made me realise that powerful things can be achieved when humans agree with one another and have the hunger to help, fix or make things better for other people. Experiencing this means when its my day to help people in desperation I will do everything possible to pay back.

Wanaka, I feel privileged to spend a decent chunk of my life growing up here. Skiing in winters, spending countless days halfway down the lake water skiing are opportunities i would have never really come across living in Christchurch. The move to this awesome town was one of the best things that ever happened to me. A decision spurred by earthquakes has provided me with this fantastic life over the past 7 and a half years. Allowing me to learn good things come from bad. Although the earthquake was a horrible time in my life in the long run it has provided me with the joy, fun and privilege to live in pristine Wanaka.

Coming from Christchurch does develop my fear of the alpine fault possibly more than others. Losing everything again would be horrible, but that’s life. You can’t live in fear of bad things happening in day to day life, you just need to be prepared.

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