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Of earthquakes, books, and hailstorms

Two years ago on this day the first earthquake in the Canterbury quake swarm happened. It was a 7.1M earthquake, described at the time as very close to the city, and very shallow. (Ha! Little did we know then that there would be more major earthquakes, all shallower and much closer than the 4 September shake.)

This evening, when I got home from work, I sat down to finish Towers of Midnight, the 13th book in the Wheel of Time series. Just as I was reading the epilogue, I noticed the sound of thunder in the distance. I went out and stood in the driveway, where I had stood 2 years ago listening to the post-earthquake sirens. I watched an imposing thunderhead approach. I could see the curved, sculpted front edge of its foot, the bulk of the cloud spilling out and above. The lightning lit up the whole sky. It was about sunset, but even so I could see the substantial darkness of the cloud. Lower small clouds scudded around it, attending like pilot fish, brilliant white against the bruised darkness behind. I sat on the ground and watched, wondering how long until the rains would arrive and I'd have to go inside.


I went in when I started to get chilly, even through the coat I had thrown on. I watched the lightning for a few more minutes. Then I noticed a faint sound, like rain. I thought that at any moment the rain would start to fall, but it didn't. The sound grew louder. I stuck my head back out the door. It sounded like a freight train hurling along tracks, but somehow only approaching at a snail's pace. Then it dawned on me that a hailstorm was on the way, and I was hearing hail falling some distance off.


It took another 5 minutes for the hail to reach my place. It hit like a cluster bomb. The media is reporting that the hail was about 15 mm in diameter, but it was bigger than that here, that's for sure. Here is a picture of some hailstones I collected from my driveway.




As you can see, they were more like 20–25 mm (officially a 'severe' hailstorm). The hail that fell on the lawn and therefore didn't shatter was all about the size of the largest hailstone in the picture.

I don't know why I am telling you all this, other than to say it seemed fitting and poignant to me that on the second anniversary of the 4 September earthquake, I finished an epic book (penultimate in a series) about momentous, end-of-the-world events, while an epic storm raged overhead, a storm befitting the book I was reading (although it would have been more fitting if I had been reading the previous book in the series, The Gathering Storm).

I guess I'll try not to finish the last book in the series, A Memory of Light, on 22 February.


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Christchurch City Centre

I went in to the Christchurch CBD today to run an errand. I bussed into the temporary bus terminal, and then walked a few blocks.

It was . . . weird.

When I first got there I thought 'Damn! I should have brought my camera!' But as I walked, I realised that I didn't need it after all. There's not much point in taking pictures of empty lots.

The part of town that you can walk through is the part of town that, apart from insurance issues, has been cleared already. On one block along Colombo Street there is nothing at all standing on one side of the road. I couldn't remember what used to be there. On the other side of the road, two buildings of about twelve are left.

To the north of where I was is the extant Red Zone. Partially deconstructed high-rises are draped in shielding cloth, keeping debris from falling too far from the buildings. Cranes rear into the air, like witches fingers or the legs of dead insects. You can hear the deconstruction – booms, and bangs, and things falling. The noises echo through the crumbling canyons of the city.

And then you walk into a shop, and inside everything is as it was, and you forget for a few minutes about the graveyard around you.

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To all those who say the scientists are making stuff up

Here is a short cut from a 1996 documentary on the earthquake risk in Christchurch. As you can see, it wasn't that scientists were caught unawares by the damage we sustained in the earthquake swarm. Rather, they knew exactly what would happen and tried to tell people, but no one listened.

It's a testament to their knowledge and ability that this documentary was so accurate. Everything they described has happened.

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22/2 - One year on

I thought I'd get to today and feel the overpowering need to comment at length on the Christchurch earthquakes and how I feel about them. But now that I have Blogger open, I find that instead I just feel tired. I guess I've worn myself out; I've spent today watching the memorial on a projector screen in my office's largest meeting room, reading the quake memorial coverage on Stuff.co.nz, and watching a documentary about the quakes on TV. And now I've had enough.

But I do have one thought to share. Ever since 23 December (the most recent large quake event in CHCH) I've been thinking about how even though there are many people who have been suffering greatly for a long time, and those of us who have been lucky cannot even comprehend let alone compare with the trials the less fortunate have been through, every single person in Christchurch, Selwyn, and Waimakariri has been through a traumatic event. So those of us who still have our homes, our jobs, and our loved ones should not feel guilty if we feel a bit stressed by the earthquakes. It's OK. Simply experiencing an earthquake swarm is enough to affect us. We don't need help, and we don't need donations, but we do need to forgive ourselves for not taking everything in our stride.

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Out with the old, in with the new

Goodness gracious, am I glad that 2011 is over, or what? Although some awesome things happened to me personally, in general 2011 was one hell of a year, from natural disasters, to man-made disasters, to civil unrest. Of course, as I live in Christchurch, natural disasters have been the issue of most importance to me. 

Speaking of which, the latest damaging earthquakes we had here on 23 December have basically confirmed that Canterbury is experiencing a rarer 'earthquake swarm'-type event, rather than the normal 'earthquake with a tail of aftershocks'-type event. This means that we will likely have decades of aftershocks rather than months or a few years as is the global norm. Apparently the aftershocks will at some point decrease in frequency and size until they are no longer disruptive, but they certainly aren't there yet. Oh well. I've given up wondering if/when we'll have another large quake now. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm tired of giving it any more though than that.

On the writing front, I have written the first draft of a short story for a competition, and I am half way through tidying the second draft. I also made one of those goofy New Year's resolutions. I've decided I am going to finish at least the first draft of my novel this year, damn it. I've given the novel's Scrivener file a project target of 31 August, including the remainder of the re-outlining. Even if I fail that target, there will still be several months until the end of the year.

I received a Kindle for Christmas. I was not expecting such an extravagant gift at all. I very much enjoy reading on it, despite knowing that I am now part of the 'bookshop decline' problem. It is easy to snatch a few reading minutes here and there on the Kindle, which means that I have been reading much faster than usual since Christmas. I got through quite a few books over the holiday period, which I am hoping to review here in the near future.

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ChristChurch Cathedral added to CERA demolitions list

I can't say I didn't see it coming, but still it is sad to see that ChristChurch Cathedral has been added to the CERA demolitions list in the 'Partial Demolish' category. See the list here: http://cera.govt.nz/demolitions/list



Still, I was half expecting it to be a full demolition, the way they had been procrastinating making an announcement, so the news is not all bad.


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Christchurch now

At the moment, there is a central city walk open to the public of Christchurch. It starts at the Re:START project, the container mall, and heads up Colombo Street to Cathedral Square. On Sunday I decided I wanted to see for myself what the central city is like. It was not a pleasant experience, but I'm glad I went. Here are some photos I took on the walk.


The Re:START project.

It's not too bad for a mall made out of shipping containers. Of course, the shops are mostly high-end and too expensive for most. Trelise Cooper is there, for example. Because a city can't go without its high-end fashion.

Colombo Street. What was there, again? I can't remember.


Corner of Colombo and Hereford. Again, I can't remember what has gone. I think whatever it was, it was renovated not long before the earthquakes. I seem to remember scaffolding on this corner.

Looking East along Hereford.

Looking down High Street. The lovely old building on the corner is long gone. That building with the top stripped bare is the Grand Chancellor Hotel. If you look side-on, the top is as airy as a leaf skeleton now. It's barely recognisable.

Where the Regent Cinema used to be. There was also a nice sushi place on the street level, and some gaudy souvenir shops facing the square. I spent a lot of time at the cinema (it's where the International Film Festival films were played).

Needs no introduction.



Buildings yet to be attended to in the section of the City Mall East of Colombo.

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