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Monday, February 28, 2011

Sleeping in Sneakers

Sleeping in sneakers

Last updated 12:54 25/02/2011
Tuesday night was probably one of the longest of my life. Having lugged some essential supplies and belongings to Linwood with the Silver Fox on Tuesday afternoon, we each decamped to our respective mother's home.

En route between the two "mother-hubs", liquefaction is making the roads treacherous so I'm glad to be on my bike but you still have to be wary.

The conditions continue to change with ongoing aftershocks affecting the terrain. There are cracks and sinkholes, floods, and newly born sand dunes. I've often said that you can tell you're in Linwood when you spy four abandoned shopping trolleys for every 800 metres' worth of road.

It's a common sight on the east side of town. These are now being used to mark road hazards.

We still haven't heard from one of my cousins who was working on the sixth floor of the IRD building in town. Another relative stops by whose daughter, by chance, works on the same floor and tells us that the building is standing and was successfully evacuated.

Still, because it was lunchtime there is still a chance she could be a casualty. Probably it's just the telecommunications issues that are preventing contact but we just want to have confirmation that she is okay.

Her brother comes by later as he hasn't heard from her either but tells us there's no sign of her at home, though there are footprints in the liquefaction leading from her front door so it looks like she may have been there and left.

I resist the urge to call him "Tonto" and agree that this is a good sign.

As I mentioned yesterday, we were out of contact for the most part, though my mum's battery-operated radio became a lifeline and a source of information. Listening to the 3 news broadcast at six (who knew you could listen to that on the radio? Not me) was difficult.

Hearing Hilary Barry's voice commenting on footage of the broken Cathedral that I was yet to see, I found myself trying to imagine what it might look like...but not too hard because I couldn't stand the thought of it.

In the end, when I do eventually get to watch television the following afternoon, it's so much worse than I imagined that it's breathtaking. In the universal expression of despair, I simply bring my hand to my open, gaping mouth and stare.

But on Tuesday night all of that is many hours away. My mother and I pulled a mattress out into the lounge and slept on it, so as to be closer to each other and the exit.

We sleep fully clothed and with shoes on. I sometimes check and make sure I still have my whistle in my jeans pocket. We lie awake listening to NewstalkZB and Radio Live.

People are ringing up, telling their stories. I wish very much for a phone that works so that I can ring in too, just to be able to connect with other people, but we don't have one so we just listen. It's impossible to sleep with aftershocks that rattle through, seemingly, every 10 minutes, sometimes several in rapid succession.

A number of times that night, the exhaustion overtakes me and I nearly fall asleep only to be shunted to wakefulness.

It's good having the radio, though, for company. Most people are lovely but talkback being talkback there are always people who come off sounding like idiots.

One woman actually says, and this is a direct quote, "it's like the earth is actually moving". This inspires me to launch into a fully fledged and quite invigorating rant of the "do you think it was like the earth was actually moving because THE. EARTH. WAS. ACTUALLY. MOVING!!!!???" kind.

I'm sure she wasn't fully aware of what she was saying but I'm grateful to her for providing me with a much needed opportunity to blow off some ranty steam. I felt much better after that.

Unfortunately there were much less fun things to listen to. In the early hours a woman rang up, and in a very dead, unemotional, matter-of-fact manner explained to the radio host, Bruce, how her nine-month-old baby grandson Jayden had been playing on the floor when without warning (Tuesday's aftershock came very suddenly) a television fell on him. He couldn't be revived.

He'd been killed. Her voice was so uncannily flat and without emotion that that in itself was upsetting. She was clearly in shock. As were the rest of us.

When morning came finally, I'd had about 30 minutes of sleep. At some point between 4.30am and 5.30am the aftershocks stopped for long enough that I did nod off for a while.

As a result I spent Wednesday being stupidly tired. As in, I've just turned into a barely functioning moron. I have trouble answering simple questions and become cranky. Questions like, "what do you want to eat?" are met with a confused, furrow-browed expression. I get quite snappy. Another side effect of the long night of aftershocks is that when I first get up in the morning I can't walk properly. It's like I've acquired sea-legs overnight and trying to walk on a flat, non-moving surface is totally messing with my sense of balance. It's very disorienting but it does eventually wear off.

Because I was so tired, much of Wednesday is a blur but I did go over to the Silver Fox's mum's house where he's staying. and having heard there is a water tanker at a nearby school we go off with various bottles. There are five adults and a baby at their place so they need more water than they have.

We've heard that water will be available from 11am but when we get there at 10.30am there's already a queue half a block long. There's a dizzying array of vessels being held by an equally dizzying array of people.

The usual buckets and soft drink or milk bottles are there but also watering cans, plastic storage bins, rubbish bins, thermos flasks. Anything and everything that can be used to carry water is being used. We have plenty of time to catalogue such things as it's nearly an hour and a half before we get to the front of the queue. It's such a relief but also a little scary.

This is only day 2. A lot of people will still have water in their hot water cylinders or emergency supplies. What the hell will this queue be like on day 5? When we leave there the queue has doubled. I can't imagine that all of them will get water.

While we were waiting for water, someone pointed in a westerly direction and commented on a building that looked badly damaged. I scanned the buildings directly in front of me. We're at Philipstown School and the buildings are the usual single-level wooden buildings that you get at primary schools. None of them look particularly wobbly.

And then I raise my view up to the skyline and see the silhouette of the Grand Chancellor Hotel. Its misalignment is clear, even from a couple of kilometres away. The sight is, frankly, nauseating. The Silver Fox mentions that his work building is almost right next door to the Grand Chancellor. It's a truly sickening sight.

In the afternoon we have word from my aunt that her house has power so my mum and I decamp to her house.  As we are loading some bedding into the back of her car, we notice that there are advertising circulars in the letterbox. What's odd about it is that they weren't there earlier. We make confused faces at each other trying to imagine why anyone would bother to deliver them at a time like this. Sorry Bond and Bond, but we don't think we'll be taking advantage of your competitive prices on electronic goods this week. It's a serious "WTF?" moment.

At my aunt's I finally watch the TV coverage in shocked amazement and launch myself on to the internet.

I write my post and email it through after checking in on Facebook and Twitter and touching base with friends. Everyone's okay. We also hear from my missing cousin, who has been trying to get a hold of us without success. She and her little boy are fine. It's such a relief to hear. Later that evening the Silver Fox comes over and we sleep together on the mattress in the lounge. I'm still fully clothed including sneakers (and whistle).

I sleep all the way through from 11pm to 7am and do not wake despite several aftershocks, such is the level of my exhaustion.

Thursday morning SF heads back to his family. I stay at my aunt's house. I think about going back to my house to get some more things but in the end I decide not to bother. It's within the four aves so I don't know if I'll be able to get through.

The stink in the toilet is so ghastly that we decide it's probably time to take our ablutions outside so I gather up a spade and dig a hole in the garden.

I get less than a foot deep before the hole begins to fill with water. I'm unsure if this is because the water table is now unusually high or because there's a burst pipe nearby. It could be both. I stop digging.

Despite it's shallowness I'm quite proud of my hole. I find a discarded piece of plywood that my aunt informs me has fallen off the neighbour's house, split it in two and place the pieces either side of the hole to serve as non-soggy footholds. I find a black plastic bin lid that's not being used and put it over the hole to dissuade flies.

I've dug the hole near the back fence and next to the compost bin so I can rest my roll of toilet paper and hand sanitiser dispenser on the compost bin lid. I then "christen" the hole. It's rather unglamorous and I reflect that I am not a woman who was born to crap in a hole of her own digging but you do what you have to and get on with it. As if to belittle my hole-digging achievements, the infrastructure gods see to it that the water comes on almost immediately after that and we find information online that says we're allowed to flush "sparingly".

Sigh. So I've got my arse out al fresco for no reason. And there wasn't even mojitos involved. Tremendous.

There's a lot more for me to say but I have things that I need to do. I just want to say thank you for all your kind thoughts and wishes. They are extremely heartening and touching. It's wonderful to know just how much people care about what's happening down here.

Right now I have power and phone and running water and for the immediate future that's more than enough. Others are not so lucky and, like you, I wonder what I can do to help.

The days ahead are a blank unknown for many of us. We simply live day to day, focusing on immediate needs, immediate tasks. Little things that we can do to make ourselves and each other comfortable.

And we wait, just like you, to see what the next day brings.

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