Three years ago today, on 22nd February, 2011, I was sitting in an upstairs movie theatre in a shopping mall watching “The King’s Speech” with a friend.
Halfway through the film, at 12.51pm, there was a mighty roar and BOOM! The lights went out. The world rocked and rolled, sideways and up and down, on and on. Sirens started whooping. We held on to our seats because the force of the angry earth was lifting us up and hurling us down again.
We began making our way out of the theatre. There was no screaming or crying, just people walking quietly towards – what? We had no idea. We found a staircase going down but when we reached the bottom the door was locked. Or jammed. We went up again, through to the car park, where we joined slowly moving vehicles and pedestrians, all making for the outside, somehow.
At ground level we picked our way through rubble, glass, debris. By the time we got outside the road was a river of muddy water, ankle-deep and flowing steadily. We took off our shoes and started wading. We couldn’t see beneath the water so had no idea where the kerbs and hazards were. We waded three blocks to my friend’s house, passing knots of shocked, shattered people. We stopped and talked to them all.
By the time we reached the house the water was knee-deep and there were fountains of water gushing out of burst water mains. We saw a bewildered labrador, water up to its belly, just standing there. We saw an old Chinese man marching resolutely down the middle of the road pushing an empty supermarket trolley. The only way we could tell if it was safe to cross was to look for somewhere the water wasn’t swirling around a hole that we couldn’t see.
At the kerb my car was already axle-deep in mud. The house was a mess of fallen debris but still standing. There was no power. The only news came through a battery-powered transistor radio. That was just the beginning.
Not quite the beginning. The beginning was five months earlier with the first quake. But that one, hefty though it was, did little damage and killed no one. Other quakes followed that we hardly noticed. But 22nd February 2011 was the beginning of three years of catastrophic damage to our city and 185 deaths.
This morning, at 2.12am, we had earthquake no 13,991. It was tiny, and no one would have noticed. We still have a small quake roughly once a day. Dear Lord, enough is enough!