Carry On Speaking-even if you have the shakes

September 19, 2010

“Keep calm and carry on”   London Blitz poster in the front window of an earthquake closed photo restoration store in Colombo St, Sydenham

We had organised a SmartNet breakfast session in Christchurch for Australian speaker Steve Simpson* five days after the Canterbury Earthquake and the day after he was a big hit as wrap up speaker at a national local body conference in Queenstown.

A state of emergency was in place, but the earthquake was a tale of two cities: part functioning almost normally, part like a time warp trip to bomb blitzed London 70 years ago.

Having checked out the venue, the NZIM building in Madras St, and the routes to it we decided to keep calm and carry on, even if Steve’s organisational change topic had taken on a new tectonic tone: Cracking the Corporate Code-Understanding the  Unwritten Ground Rules™.

Exactly half the 110 people who had booked for the session turned up after an email from us saying that we would understand if they couldn’t make it, but for those who could the session was still on. It was a chance to catch up with other people, swap quake stories and start to restore a little normalcy to the shaky and shaken city.    

5 minutes after Steve had started I realized that I’d forgotten to brief the audience on the evacuation procedure in the event of another jolt. I interrupted him, apologized and pointed out the emergency exits and the outside assembly point.

Within 3 minutes we were evacuating according to plan. The most severely felt aftershock, a violent 5.1 at 7.49am on Wed 8 September, with an epicenter near the Port of Lyttelton and  only 6kms deep, shook the building fiercely and knocked the power out.

After a quick check of the building and time for people to check in with home and work Steve resumed his presentation and shed more light on UGRs, initially in the semi-gloom, before the power came back on. UGRs were temporarily renamed Underground Giant Rumbles.

Queensland-based Steve Simpson is going to run a free webinar for those who couldn’t make the session or had to leave early. Either way it was a memorable session and we didn’t make any Julia Gillard jokes for at least an hour.

Footnote: I grabbed some Owen Marshall short stories from the library the other day  for some weekend reading. The irony of the title didn’t register until later: When Gravity Snaps.


 #Lyall Lukey 19 Sept 2010  My other blog


In the Earthquake Zone: Shaking All Over?

September 18, 2010

Counsellor: “So tell me Dave, How are you handling the earthquake?”
Dave:  “Well, I’ve been sleeping like a baby…every two hours I wake up and crap myself.”     Dilbert

The cat came back the other day, rather nonchalantly, 8 days after the Canterbury 7.1 earthquake at 4.35am on 4 September.

 I thought this had to be a good sign: aren’t cats catastrophic early warning devices?  With four pads firmly planted on the floor don’t they pick up pre-seismic waves before the audible waves are detected by the human ear?

 He only stayed one night.

In the fortnight since the Jumbo jet landed right on top of our house at exactly the same time as the goods train ploughed down our corridor there have been more than 700 aftershocks* since the first big shake, many over magnitude 4 and some over 5. Terror Infirma in a newly uncertain city.

My office  in Mancan House (an abbreviation for Canterbury Manufacturers, not a chauvinist affirmation) is on the corner of Manchester Street and Cambridge Terrace, by the Avon. It’s a part of town where vertical occupations by day give way to  briefly horizontal transactions by night. According to a letter to the Editor of The Press this morning the whole street was directly in the centre of the divine seismic scope: “Manchester St was the focal point for destruction within the city centre-Manchester St is the street for prostitution…This is a warning from God to the people of Christchurch to repent and change their ways….”

Our building was spared the wrath of God, with hardly a thing out of place. It’s obviously a goody goody oasis strategically situated between Sodom and Gomorrah. Or perhaps, more prosaically, a post-1975 building code building with many of its rather more historic neighbours, including three churches,  looking sadly awry.  No doubt the landlord will put the rent up.

It took a week for the landlord’s agents to inform us we were allowed back. However, the building had been greenstickered from day 2 and we’d  been back into gear since then although initially inside the cordoned area. When it came to getting back to work in non-emergency occupations there was quite a different public/private sector imperative. The supply lines are shorter for SMEs.

The shocking thing for many-but not for geologists well aware of the potential earthquake liquefaction issues of building a city on swamp, silt and shingle- was that all this subterranean activity is happening close to or underneath largely flat Christchurch, not in Wellington, the hilly predestined city of faulty towers, where people were at least conditioned to expect the Big Urban One, no doubt in cosmic seismic recompense for being the seat of government and hosting ungodly politicians.

Earlier in earthquake week the Canterbury province had been hit by the financial earthquake at South Canterbury Finance. The company is now in the hands of receivers. The Hubbard cupboard has been shaken bare like some of our cupboards at home. We await the inevitable financial aftershocks.

The full cost of the Canterbury earthquake could be as high as $4 billion, on top of the $1.6 Billion to cover SCF  it will knock a big hole in the Treasury jam jar. One positive is that with the lateral tectonic movement we’ve closed the gap with Australia by a good 3 metres.

These things come in threes. The road and railway south of Kaikoura have just been reopened having been blocked by a big post-earthquake slip for almost a week, cutting off urgent supplies for the Canterbury region.

The state of emergency in Christchurch was lifted by the city council on Wednesday. Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, whose re-election prospects have got up to 7.1 on the electoral Richter scale, has declared that the city has now moved from a state of emergency to a state of urgency.

I better go and get the washing in- and put some cat food out.


#Lyall Lukey  18 Sept  2010  My other blog