The first 2 seconds you just stop.

September 4th 2012,  2 years since the 7.1 that started major changes in so many lives around me.

At that moment when the earthquake struck, the band Pump had just finished playing at The Southern Blues Bar in Madras Street.  Most had already left.  There were only a handful of people other than band and staff still finishing off their last drinks before leaving the bar.

The first 2 seconds you just stop.  Then when the dust starts falling from the ceiling you suddenly realise “This is real!”  The bar leaners are 2 inch thick solid rimu tops planted firmly on 12 inch diameter posts, 2 people dive under them but most of the others just dash for the door.  I duck down beside the bar, trying to squeeze my XXXL, 6ft, 19st. frame under the 4 inch overhang of the bar top.  It rocks on for what seems like 2 minutes and everytime I consider dashing for better cover it seems to intensify, rooting me to the spot.

45 seconds after it started, it stopped.  There is silence, for an eternal second, followed by a string of expletives from absolutely everywhere.   I would not be at all surprised if the whole city spontaneously swore right at that moment.


In the first few minutes that followed there was no immediate phone access.  The band members decided that going home to check on families etc. was more important than packing up the remainder of their gear (fair enough) so they high-tailed it out the door.  It wasn’t the first “critical” event I had experienced at the bar so I just clicked straight in to “management mode”, checked everyone was ok and started cleaning up.

It was probably 10 minutes before I checked outside the front of the building and realised that most of the rest of town had lost power.  Standing at the corner of our block was like standing in the centre of a pie-chart where 1/4 of the pie is in light and 3/4 is in pitch black darkness.  As I peered in to the darkness, I realised there was a car down the road that had been pummeled by the fallen parapet of the building it was parked beside.  I knew there would be no-one in it as it was the only car in sight and 15 minutes earlier (just before the quake) there were dozens of cars parked that side of the street.  I scanned the top of our building and realised there were also a few bricks missing from our parapet.  That’s when it started to dawn on me that this was indeed a big quake.  I rang home to check on the family, by this time we’d had a few aftershocks, they were all together and ok.  I went up on to the roof to check the parapet, much of it had collapsed on to the building next door and I discovered that I could see down in to the bar.  I rang Nigel and Leanna, (Blues Bar owners) to give them a report on the status of the bar.  Their place got it pretty bad.  I arranged to get some tarpaulins from Bunnings for them and meet up later on to patch up the parapet, then I carried on cleaning and tidying before heading off to my day job.

I would normally go home for a few hours sleep before starting work at 9.30, but considering I’d stayed at the bar nearly 2 hours longer than normal to clean up, I figured there might be some clean up required at Bunnings before I started work.  The sky was just starting to light up as I drove down Madras Street from the bar and I was too focussed on the road (and it’s newly acquired undulations) to notice much of the damage to my surroundings.  I arrived at the store at the same time as the complex manager and the operations manager and the 3 of us entered the building together.  Everyone must have had similar lines of thought because within minutes half the rostered team were there and it was still more than an hour to opening.  We did our best to open, but apart from the logistics of doing sales without power in an eftpos reliant society, the aftershocks were prevalent and the decision was made to close the store for safety reasons.  I was low on petrol and realising that most petrol stations between work and home would have been affected by the earthquake I took the long way home to try and find a service station that was working.  This meant that I circled around town, going through the lesser affected suburbs.  As I surveyed these suburbs I was relieved to see not nearly as much damage as I had feared.  When I got home and walked in to the lounge I was shocked.

The television was showing the damage around the city.  I had been right in the middle of all that and yet somehow oblivious to it all.  I had realised the situation was serious and yet had no idea of it’s enormity and impact.  I don’t know why I was fortunate enough to come through that situation unscathed.  Nor do I know why, when the 2nd major  earthquake struck on February 22nd, I was even more fortunate to survive once again being so close to the centre of all the chaos that ensued.  But I am glad that I did.

Leave a Reply