Here in New Zealand earthquakes are becoming more frequent. While not anywhere near as serious as the earthquakes in Christchurch, last night’s shake took me by surprise. The eleventh floor in a hotel was not where I wanted to be.
The lights were out and I was almost falling asleep. Suddenly there was a violent and loud jolt and the room seemed to develop a mind of its own, creaking and swaying in an agonising way. There was no doubt about it. It was an earthquake, stronger than any I’ve ever felt before. What made it worse was I’m currently staying in a hotel in downtown Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Being on the eleventh floor suddenly stopped being an attraction.
Lots of ‘what ifs’ started dancing through my mind. What if the shaking lasted much longer, what would I do? What if I had to leave my room, what would I take with me out on to the street? What if I had to walk all the way down the stairs from the 11th floor instead of using the lift? What if this was the big one Wellington always talks about. The land the hotel sits on is close to the reclaimed land, lifted out of the harbour in an 1880s earthquake. It’s happened before, was it happening again?
Once the major shaking was over and the room seemed to have stilled, I waited even longer for the the tremors in my body to quieten as well. Although late at night, I quickly sent a text to my husband, about 200 kms away. He’d felt it too. In fact, he probably had it worse, as it turned out he was much closer to the seat of the quake. But, he wasn’t eleven storeys up! He was close to the ground, so the swaying would have not been as scary. Next came a text from my son, living only a couple of blocks from the hotel. The old concrete apartment building he lives in was fine. In fact, it seemed the whole of Wellington was fine. Except my nerves that is.
On the advice of my husband, I turned the TV news on. It seemed all was still well with this little old place called New Zealand. Unlike the Christchurch shakes, this was a minor event, even though it was of a 7.0 magnitude. Thanks to the depth of the earthquake, this time disaster was diverted. Tsunami warnings hadn’t even been put into place, because of the quake’s depth.
This morning I was pleased to wake in my bed, as expected. Interesting thoughts were still swimming through my head, more gentle thoughts than the crashing waves of last night, more of gentle ripples. While showering, I noticed a crack in the tiles of the bathroom wall. I certainly hadn’t seen it yesterday. But, yesterday my thoughts weren’t about earthquakes. Maybe the wall had been cracked for some time. Eating breakfast in the dining room, I looked out on morning traffic, going about its usual activity. Had last nights shake been forgotten already, or was it the major conversation of people going about their day?
The most interesting thing to come from this experience has been reflecting on my reaction. At the time it seemed as if in slow motion. Not sure whether to hide under the hotel room desk, or get dressed and evacuate, my thoughts moved slowly, as if paralysed with fear. This earthquake was a big as I want to experience. I cannot even begin to imagine what those living through last years disaster in Christchurch must have felt, must still feel as they continue to experience ongoing tremors from time to time. Last night was enough rocking and rolling for me.