Some personal reflections on the quake

Written By: - Date published: 7:20 am, February 28th, 2011 - 54 comments
Categories: broadcasting, disaster, public services - Tags: , ,

Greetings all, especially any readers in Christchurch and surrounds (though I know that you have better things to do right now than read a blog).

There’s been lots of good stuff written on the quake. I’m not going to try to add to it in any systematic way. These are just a few random personal reflections, big picture and small, all that I can put my head around writing tonight.

• Get used to it. It won’t usually be earthquakes (I hope), but extreme weather events are going to be increasing in frequency, and challenging us in similar ways. So be personally prepared with your physical resources and your skills. And support the country’s attempts to prepare and respond in whatever way you can.

• A general tax to rebuild Christchurch? Good idea.

• Just because it’s a platitude doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Health is everything. In this kind of event the elderly and infirm are incredibly vulnerable. All that material “wealth” around you? 90% of it is junk that you can do without. Health is the thing to have.

• Bloody olive oil. Once it’s fallen from a high shelf into an open draw full of pyrex and exploded onto the remains of a pantry, it’s a real pain in the arse. You try cleaning a litre of olive oil mixed with shards of glass out of the remains of a kitchen, with no water or power, you’ll see what I mean.

• Thank goodness for Radio NZ. When the power goes off, when the phones are down, when the shit hits the fan, there’s RNZ. I’ve recently been able to look at some of the great stuff that is available on the web, and I’m sure that was useful to those with access, but for many of us, radio was the lifeline.

• Thank you guy with a wheelbarrow. Wandering around the neighbourhood with a well used barrow, a shovel, and a big smile, you were out there looking for liquefaction to shift and people to help. Thank you to all of the volunteers and helpers, the professionals working huge hours, and the folk who just checked on their neighbours. Thank you all.

• The emergency response in the first few days was bloody brilliant. I don’t know who to thank here (I haven’t been paying much attention to abstractions). All I do know, from ground level, is that the right stuff happened, fast. Cordon’s up. Water distribution. Portaloos. Good advice on the radio. We had EQC people in the street looking at damage. Orion not only picked up the phone but they acted on the information. People and companies donated food and resources from far and wide. Brilliant.

• Let’s hear it for Big Government. Regulation regulation regulation – I heard one estimate (sorry forget where) that the building regulations, sensibly designed and honestly enforced, just saved 50,000 lives in Christchurch. Planning planning planning – whomever set up the EQC deserves a bloody medal. How would we ever cope without it?

• We were lucky with the season. This would have gone much harder in Winter.

• That amazing community feeling born of shared experience and shared challenge is very real and very uplifting. Will it also be enduring? For most (I am no longer in Chch) this is going to go on and on for days and weeks. Rebuilding will take months and years. From what I have recently seen of media coverage of damage to the city, my gut estimate is 10 years to rebuild. It’s going to be tough.

• Let’s try and see past the disaster for Christchurch, and forward to the opportunity. A chance to re-imagine the city. My vote – a proper light rail transit system, free bicycles and a car-free CBD. Plan now for a post-oil city, a chance to do it right.

That’ll do for tonight. Keep safe, wherever you are, and spare a thought for those in Christchurch. Even better, find some way to help out, if you can.

54 comments on “Some personal reflections on the quake”

  1. lprent 1

    Good to see that you survived it. Time to see where the oil and other liquids live… As you say this stuff is bad enough to clean up with such luxuries as hot water.

    • r0b 1.1

      I managed to miss the quake itself this time, so survival wasn’t an issue for me – I’m one of the lucky ones. Also meant I had a chance to fill the car with fresh water before I hit town the next day, which came in very handy.

  2. the sprout 2

    Thanks r0b. I hope the distress is easing.

    • r0b 2.1

      G’day sprout. As above I didn’t have the trauma of the quake itself this time. Too busy in the aftermath to feel much distress, and I haven’t seen much of the city myself yet. I suspect it will hit hardest the first time I get back to the central regions and see the damage up close. Not looking forward to that…

  3. All the best r0b. Trust things are on the improve.

    Your comments are very unassuming and unpolitical yet at the same time deeply political. I must say that politics becomes so much more interesting when the personalities are avoided and people talk about the things that matter.

  4. todd 4

    What’s in your Survival Kit?

    http://thejackalman.blogspot.com/2011/02/whats-in-your-survival-kit.html

    So you might be thinking that it’s never going to happen to you and you wont ever need to leave your home for an extended period of time and survive on your own.

  5. oscar 5

    Thanks Rob, well written.

    Just on a similar vein to the rebuild tax, EQC levy. Given that the EQC is very much ‘disaster insurance’ and should be used to cover all NZers, does it not make more sense for every Kiwi to pay this via their income?
    The levy is no doubt going to have to increase, and given the relatively few people that bother insuring, if they can get away with it, why not spread EQC levies amongst the population?
    That way, we can look at covering say 10K for contents, 100K for house. Keep contents deliberately low so people have to have private coverage too. No change to the value of house coverage, but again, people will require private coverage to top it up.
    In situations such as this when Eqc is cleaned out, makes sense to build the kitty from all kiwis, for all kiwis.

    • ianmac 5.1

      A figure was mentioned on Nat Radio this morning for EQC levy to increase from about $70 to about $120-170 per house.

    • lprent 5.2

      It is specific to the basic building insurances, eg fire insurance because that is where most of the destroyed value is. I find it rather hard to think that people don’t cover that. Apart from anything else, if you have a mortgage it is usually required along with some life cover.

      Since all buildings should be covered (unless you’re crazy) and everyone has to live somewhere, it seems to me that keeping it on insurance premiums is adequete.

      The EQC actually isn’t “disaster insurance”. It is insurance for specific types of disasters. For instance (taking just one odd disaster type) it doesn’t cover you for meteorite impacts.

      • Sanctuary 5.2.1

        To which the grimly predictable response of the odious Peter Creswell is the hysterically claim that the government is stealing money from your pocket. Perhaps now would be a good time to ask the ACT party and libertarians what their attitude to a EQC would if one did not exist and the government proposed to create it..

        Although I think we all know what their view will be without having to ask.

        Maybe if some good thing does come out of the Christchurch earthquakes it is going to be the exposure of the utter bankruptcy of spirit that lies at the heart of libertarianism and the whole damned neo-liberal project.

        • dave brown 5.2.1.1

          The neoliberal project is not a ‘project’ but a move globally to grap resources cheaply to counter falling profits. The govts that imposed neoliberal policies were responding to falling profits not pure greed.

          The problem is capitalism not some aberration caused by elite greed. NZ has moved in this direction since 1984. The NACTs represent a new gentry of landowners, speculators and banksters – all parasites on the backs of the working class trying to monopolise land, water and cheap labour. Disaster capitalism is the new mode that the parasitic ruling class uses to con us all into letting them grap what is left of nature while we are supposed to feel good about it.

          The quake needs to be seen in this context. Calling it a ‘national emergency’ and saying we are all in it together is cynically exploiting peoples humanity so that the poor pay for this disaster. Of course people want to help, it is instinctive to pull together in an emergency as a matter of self-preservation. But this becomes exploited as free labour in the re-capitalising of ChCh to favour the rich. Taxing everyone does the same thing – a regressive move to get us all to pay for this and the other coming disasters that are caused by capitalism’s drive to exploit nature.

          The quake compounds this process, as the rich will benefit from the rebuilding of ChCh, “support rebuilding ChCh business campaign”, while the poor will suffer big losses in living standards, jobs, education, and be hounded by WINZ to get into low paid shitty jobs or be judged as welfare scroungers.

          To pay for this disaster we have to kick out the NACTs, take back the tax cuts to the rich, imposed a capital gains tax on all the speculators, and borrow to compensate the victims of the quake fully, set in motion a public works building program to rebuild ChCh around the needs of its working class community, in particular its health and safety, and not the interests of the capitalist class. The ChCh working class needs to organise around its union base to build its own response to the quake and challenge the top-down ruling class management of this disaster. Maybe that way there will be a groundswell of a different sort that builds a social movement capable of ending NZs capitalist disaster story and putting working people in power.

          • magic 5.2.1.1.1

            Can you insure against an investment loss? NO. Get a grip on reality and economics my friend. Without organisations who are prepared to evaluate proposed risk, you would not have the funds for the rebuild. Private sector organisations have donated in excess of $5m so far. Its the intention of investment and application that counts. The families who have lost more than can be calculated may find some hope for the future through financial aid…

            It was the vision of those who built CHCH to invest for the future…and they did that so well. I was in CHCH 1 week prior to this disaster and I have never been to a better city. The people of CHCH are an example of my neighbour is my friend. They worked together when building the city; investing time and effort for the good of everyone. The finacial institutions will now have to pay back..and rightly so, as is only fair in economic terms.

            The only true loss is that which is personal and forever…..that is the only tax you face in life. Think on numpty.

    • Lanthanide 5.3

      They were saying on the radio this morning that NZ is actually very highly insured, and that also in other countries it is nigh-impossible to get earthquake insurance, whereas you can here. Those two factors go towards making this probably the largest insurance claim internationally this year.

      Also the way that EQC cover works (which John Key worryingly got completely 100% wrong) is that the fund covers the first $1.5B for a disaster, then overseas re-insurers cover the next $2.5B, and the rest is left to private insurance or the government. There was $6.4B in the kitty prior to September, which will eat up $1.5B, and this quake will eat up $1.5B, so there is $3.4B left, enough to cover 2 more earthquakes with significant damage. This is why it was important that this new quake be considered a separate event for insurance purposes (which it is), because that allows the $4B to come from EQC and re-insurers; otherwise that would’ve been lumped onto private insurers and the government.

      • Colonial Viper 5.3.1

        I hope the insurance industry continues to give earthquake cover to Canterbury. Your comment that its impossible to get earthquake cover in many countries is worrying.

        • Rich 5.3.1.1

          Thats what’s really going to stuff things. If you can’t insure a property, you can’t get a mortgage. That’ll mean that while people will probably be able to stay in their existing houses (the banks could theoretically foreclose on them for not having insurance, but they won’t because of the bad debts), they won’t be able to move unless they can find a cash buyer (and don’t need a mortgage on a new property).

          Which means the government is going to have to intervene somehow and sort this out.

          • Rich 5.3.1.1.1

            Also, does anyone know what happens if one is a tenant on a fixed term and the basic services like water and sewerage have failed. Are you entitled to walk out early?

            • Lanthanide 5.3.1.1.1.1

              If the house is uninhabitable, they can give 48 hours notice and then cease to pay rent.

              The problem arises when the landlord thinks a house is habitable but the tenants don’t. In those cases you need to go through the normal tenancy disputes process.

              The ideal outcome is that both parties agree, or if the house is marginal the tenants may be willing to pay reduced rent.

              • prism

                Rich – some info from google. All the best for solving your problem.

                Residential Tenancies (from lawyers site)
                In the event of a natural disaster, the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 allows both the landlord and tenant to terminate the tenancy. Where a home has been damaged to the extent that it is uninhabitable, no rent shall be payable until the home is reinstated so that the tenant can re-occupy. Alternatively, the landlord or tenant may wish to terminate the tenancy. If a tenant wishes to terminate the tenancy, the landlord must be given at least two days notice. Where a landlord wishes to terminate the tenancy, the tenant must be given at least seven days notice. In situations where the home is partially damaged, the rent may be proportionately reduced or either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for an order terminating the tenancy.

                http://www.saunders.co.nz/when-a-disaster-strikes-know-your-rights/

                Also Citizens Advice Bureau CAB 0800367222 or 0800 FOR CAB
                http://www.cab.org.nz/vat/hle/rt/Pages/Rightsobligationsoftenantslandlords.aspx
                or by landline – CAB Bishopdale contact 03-359 8090
                Hereford St 03-366 6490 – Hornby 03-349 5236 – Rangiora 03-313 8822

                Or – contact Tenancy Services on. 0800 83 62 62

                • weka

                  Yes, but that’s for houses that have been damaged. Houses that haven’t been damaged but don’t have water, power, sewerage currently because of problems outside the property are still apparently deemed habitable.

                  • Lanthanide

                    If you have sewerage coming up on the property, that would probably count as a health hazard.

                    • weka

                      Yes, I think they were meaning houses that were habitable to the property boundary.

                      But if there is sewerage in the property, or there is silt in the road so you can’t drive onto the property etc, those things are fixable. I’m not sure you could get out of a fixed term lease on the basis of one of those. I don’t know what would be considered a reasonable amount of time to fix things though.

                • Rich

                  I should add that I fortunately don’t have this issue, but was wondering what would happen if large numbers of people up and leave.

              • weka

                A friend’s son, whose house is fine apart from no services, has been told by Tenancy that they can’t get out of their fixed term lease just because there are no utilities (the son is moving out). Apparently the utilities aren’t the responsibility of the landlord. I’ve also heard this from another friend who works in the housing sector. She said it probably wouldn’t be a problem because the landlord will easily find other tenants and has a duty to do so.

                • Lanthanide

                  Easily find other tenants, without utilities? Don’t think so. The only real candidates to go into that sort of rental would be those who were renting a house that is now completely uninhabitable. Anyone else who owned property that is now uninhabitable (that they still have to pay a mortgage on) is unlikely to want to move into a house that has no utilities and pay rent on it.

                  • weka

                    True, but there is going to be a shortage of rental houses. There were people still living in substandard houses after Sept, it’s going to be worse this time. Unless there are alot of people leaving town, some people are going to have to live in houses without utilities for a period of time. This is doable in the short term (people are already doing it).

                    My friend’s son is at polytech and Otago have said they will take some of those students so they can keep on with their courses. So he’s gone to Dunedin. His otherwise intact is house is habitable, and legally the landlord has to find other tenants if they can. The son may have to pay rent for a few weeks to cover the interim. Once the power etc is back on, it will be easy to find tenants. That was my point, there is a way out of the fixed term leases.

                    I think sewerage will be the biggest issue, it may take a long time to sort that, and some people won’t want to make do with interim solutions.

                • prism

                  Rich – article today on your problem.

                  The temptation for many renters will be to up sticks and go, claiming the homes they rented are now uninhabitable, but Tenancy Services told the Star-Times the earthquake had not given tenants an automatic right to stop paying rent.
                  Around 80% of Christchurch is without power and water. In that context it would not be possible to claim a property was uninhabitable for those reasons alone, a Tenancy Services call centre staffer said.
                  “If a property is uninhabitable, the tenant can give two days’ notice if it is a periodic or fixed tenancy,” Tenancy Services said. “But if it was [later] judged habitable then the landlord could take action to seek the rent back.”

                  http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/4711768/Tenants-still-have-to-pay-service

                  • ianmac

                    My son’s flat is part of a set of flats not far from Victoria Square and inside the restricted area. They have all been red stickered. He has contents insurance but is not allowed in to get his passport or his precious laptop. His advice from Tenancy Services is that his rent can stop and it has. My worry for him is where can he find permanent accommodation.

                    • prism

                      Does red stickered mean that something is likely to fall on you or a hole open up on the property, or is it that you just can’t live in it because it is too munted – holes in roof, doors on angle, windows out etc. Could some people be able to go to collect stuff from their places if under controlled access in and out? Some responsible people could be in charge and work through areas. People’s precious items will be hard to replace, I wonder if there is a blanket ban applied that is too rigid.

        • Lanthanide 5.3.1.2

          I should also add that the guy (chairman of Canterbury earthquake recovery commission – expecting his powers to be significantly broadened shortly) said that as far as he is aware, EQC is unique internationally. He said a few other countries have schemes that go part of the way, but no one else has anything the same.

      • prism 5.3.2

        Thanks for explanation Lanthanide.

        spambash – misunderstanding – John Key’s apparently. Does he only know how to play with money for gain, not how it is used when doing its real work.

  6. higherstandard 6

    Glad to hear you’re OK rob, unlike you I was in CCH for a conference on the day the earthquake struck.

    Although I’ve been in little tremors before I’ve never experienced anything like that before and hope not to ever again.

    I also can’t speak highly enough of the rescue and support services that sprang into action as well as the rapid offers of help and assistance that have come in from overseas, you certainly know who your friends are both locally and internationally when disasters like this happen.

    • r0b 6.1

      Cheers HS – glad you made it through. I think I know the very conference. Lucky in some ways that so many extra doctors were in town!

  7. ianmac 7

    Cheers Rob.
    Straight after the shock, News clips showed that the people moving along streets were distressed but not wildly panicking or screaming or scrabbling at each other to escape. Instead there were apparent strangers helping each other. People are pretty good when the chips are down. (Disaster movie makers take note!)

    • Lanthanide 7.1

      I’m sure if there were more continuing shocks coming at close intervals, there would’ve been a lot more panic.

  8. Lanthanide 8

    Car-free CBD is not going to work if you except to have any sort of commercial aspect there – people need cars to transport their shopping home.

    Light rail is also unlikely due to population density, but we could have a line going from Lyttleton to the CBD and through to the airport, for tourism purposes.

    We will be able to have a first-class bus terminal and potentially dedicated bus-lanes through much of the city. They were wanting to expand the bus terminal but had no room or other potential locations in the CBD, and so were considering 3 smaller hubs in the suburbs instead. Now they’ll be able to build what they wanted to, somewhere in the CBD.

  9. Colonial Viper 9

    Car-free CBD is not going to work if you except to have any sort of commercial aspect there – people need cars to transport their shopping home.

    Hmmmmm gotta disagree with you there. Many cities have moved their thinking on from that. Hong Kong and Singapore are shopping havens, but everyone uses public transport to take their shopping home. Further, office workers only have briefcases and laptops to transport. Many CBDs do not have large retail malls (which are more in the suburbs), focussing more on commercial office space.

    Sydney is also seriously reconsidering cutting out almost all traffic out of parts of its CBD.

    Reviving Ms Moore’s long-held goal of making Sydney more pedestrian-friendly, the plan calls for cars to be blocked from stretches of George Street, although buses and taxis would be allowed access. Traffic at Liverpool and King Streets would be redirected to Kent and Castlereagh Streets.

    http://www.themotorreport.com.au/50284/sydney-cbd-could-cut-out-traffic-completely-in-premiers-secret-plan

    • Lanthanide 9.1

      Hong Kong and Singapore also have significantly denser population, so can support really good public transport. I seriously doubt that CHCH has the density, especially as there is already an extensive road network in place in the suburbs and we generally have only mild road congestion (when was the last time Christchurch was mentioned on the national radio ‘traffic update’ in the mornings?).

      Sydney cutting a couple of streets to car access doesn’t really rebut my point at all – you can still take your car into the CBD and park it somewhere and walk, much as we already do in CHCH (with car-parking buildings).

      • Colonial Viper 9.1.1

        Perhaps a mixed solution then.

        We should plan for $4/L petrol happening within the next 3 years.

        • Lanthanide 9.1.1.1

          Yes, definitely agree. Electric busses as per Wellington would be a possibility, but having a CBD and public transport based around regular busses is a good option. We already had busses that ran on LPG in the centre of the city (the free yellow Shuttle service) and standard bus diesel engines can be made to run on all sorts of fuels, including biofuels.

          Our bus system was already pretty world-class, with the panels at most bus stops indicating the interval till the next arrival, and online trip planner that would show you the best routes to take and compare the travel time with other transport such as walking, biking or driving and the RFID metro card introduced in CHCH years before similar services in Auckland or Wellington.

  10. prism 10

    I wasn’t in Christchurch this time but feel personally involved, not just because I have family there. Listening to Radio NZ’s helpful coverage – reporting, questioning, informing of facilities, phone numbers, I can only praise them to the highest. I have family in Chch and got their Tuesday evening text message at 4.35 am Wednesday so the phone system was a great help. Nokia I think were offering car battery chargers for cellphones. A must addition to the emergency kit.

    Doing helping things, money donated, sleeping bags donated, and learning things for likely future disasters. I must remember to ensure radio has spare batteries galore – so many Chch people didn’t know the situation, water availability or portaloos. Son wants my spare landline phone. Had bought battery powered radio after last quake. Lesson from Rob’s experience – store oil on bottom shelf.

    People are summoning up incredible reserves of energy and determination to manage now and plan for a different future. The privations are ongoing for many, and lost for many are the memories of the past, the family photos of the dead, the CDs or hard drives wrecked or unreachable. These are the losses that will live on when housing and services are available once more.

  11. Lanthanide 11

    Here’s another tip that everyone here should take heed of – you might already have emergency supplies, gas cookers, water etc, but you might have them stored in your garage.

    This is of very little use if the only access to your garage requires electricity to be working, or alternative access doors to get inside is blocked by fallen objects and you can’t get in.

    Make sure you keep your emergency supplies inside your house.

    captcha: universal

    • weka 11.1

      Or spread them out, depending on the construction of your house. Keep main supplies in the house (or best available building, it might still be the garage depending on your setup – my parents garage would be easier to access than the house if the buildings partially collapsed), and keep the pack that you would have to leave with somewhere else. Hard core survivalists suggest burying it somewhere away from the buildings, but I think that’s OTT for most people. I’m going to put some basics in my car because it’s least like to get anything falling on it.

      • Lanthanide 11.1.1

        Very few houses actually collapsed to the point of being unsafe to be inside. Lots of them are red-strickered with broken foundations or holes in the roof, such that you wouldn’t want to live in them, but general access has been maintained for the vast majority of them.

        Compared to the number of houses that didn’t have electricity immediately after the quakes, for example.

        Sure, spreading your stuff around is definitely the optimal choice, but mainly the idea is not to put all your eggs in one basket, especially if the basket is highly likely to be inaccessible.

  12. DS 12

    The best advice I can have is to never let your car have less than half a tank of gas. I normally run on empty but had fortunately had filled up the week before so could get out of town. If petrol stations are closed then you’re stuck in dodge.

    Back now in Chch. It’s insane. The aftershocks are decreasing in size and frequency but they remind you of those horrible moments on Tuesday. Which is something I wish I could forget. But whenever I close my eyes I see my desk jumping up toward my head, and the blood pouring out of the head of one of guys sitting outside work (non-fatal).

    Stupid earthquake.

  13. Nate 13

    I was in the CBD on Tuesday. Somehow managed to walk/run down Manchester St to get to my wife at the other end, then hitch home for the kids. I do wish more people had left their cars and walked – it would have been easier for everyone than hundreds of 1-person cars blocking up all the streets.

    I totally agree for the forward-thinking of some people. We need decent developments that work for the climate and new landscape – not more shoeboxes that are under-insulated and sub-standard…

    • r0b 13.1

      Manchester St must have been one of the most dangerous places in the city. Glad you both made it OK.

      On the cars – oh yes. An elderly relative being rushed to the Central Hospital an hour after the event got gridlocked about 2km away. Thank goodness for a passing nurse (on foot).

      Stay out of the cars if you can. Leave the roads for emergencies and emergency services.

  14. RedLogix 14

    A fine and perceptive article Rob. In reading it my heart was lifted…. for we are in essence a cooperative species. Events like this have a way of demolishing not only buildings, but our delusions as well, leaving visible the reality underlying our existence…. that our relationships and depth of social connectedness is all that really matters.

    Neo-liberal greed can go fuck itself.

    • Bored 14.1

      The co-operation was a joy to behold, certainly showed a more positive side to people than the base greed that is the basis of market ideology. We are all (wel the vast majority of us) generous and caring toward our fellow people, strangers or known. Touche, neo lib greed trumped, and fucked over.

      Practical things….
      Drinking water
      Washing water
      Disinfectant
      Wet wipes
      Hand cleaning gel
      Heavy gloves
      Battery radio and torch
      Documents and a bag of essentials ready to go if you are evacuated.

    • Armchair Critic 14.2

      Neo-liberal greed can go fuck itself.
      +1

  15. Bored 15

    Bicycles….saw cyclists being very mobile where cars were not.

  16. chris73 16

    To be honest its good to have the distraction of blogs to take my mind off things

    • r0b 16.1

      Well then we’re glad that you can be here to keep telling us the error of our ways. All the best for the hard yards ahead.

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