Shocking amounts of shake, rowdy rattles and rather too much roll for comfort

4:35 am Saturday 4/9/10. Camille jumps out of bed yelling “earthquake”. The bedroom is swaying, and not in a good way. I grab my dressing gown and join her under the door frame. Biskits (cat) is faster than both of us and has taken up refuge on our bed. It’s a bit like being seasick — disorientating because everything’s moving. The house is creaking and flexing like ocean swells are running under us. It seems to last a very long time — 40 seconds, it’s said — and then noise stops and we start looking around. No damage at Limestone Hills — a few bits and bobs have got close to falling over — but it’s clear that someone has had a very bad time. Within a few minutes we’ve established that Tim and Emma in Christchurch are OK. Emma’s scared and under the living room table, and Tim’s picking his way through the damage at his girlfriend’s parent’s house in Halswell. Smashed crockery, TV on the floor, water slopping out of the spa pool and when the sun gets up enough to see, some very impressive cracks in the road outside.

Before 5am, the Geonet website is showing a 7.4 Richter earthquake about 30km west of Christchurch (near Darfield, 60-70 km from us), at a depth of 30km. Later this is revised to 7.1 and 10km depth. Radio NZ National (like BBC Radio 4 or NPR) is taking emails and tweets while they work out what’s happened. The presenter plays an oldie up to the news. Good Vibrations was not perhaps the best choice…

When there’s enough light to see, I take a walk around the farm. It’s a beautiful morning, crisp with a slight frost underfoot and a brilliant clear blue sky. No damage to be seen. Puppy cavorts happily at this early liberation from her sleeping quarters.

As the morning wears on, the #eqnz Twitter stream is reporting extensive damage in Christchurch. Pictures of broken roads, cars crushed by falling bricks start appearing. Doesn’t look good. But only two people reported seriously injured. 16 hours on from the quake, we still only have two people seriously injured but some amazing tales of escapes. There’s going to be a lot to rebuild in Christchurch, a lot of heartbreak, lost possessions and hard work, but as the aftershocks rumble on — a 6.0’s likely, so far we’ve had quite a few 5+ — there’s a real sense that today we dodged a bullet. And the faultline at Limestone Hills remains to move another day. Not soon, we hope.

[There’s a lot more I could write, about how Twitter got news flowing quickly, how the GNS web site is a superb resource, about the masterly RNZ National morning show once they got their act in gear, but now is not the time. Now is time for a toast to the health of everyone in Canterbury.]

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