At 2 a.m. on boxing day we were awakened by what could be described as a 'heart-poundingly terrifying' aftershock. It was definitely loud enough to be differentiated from the miscellaneous tummy noises that accompany the usual Christmas day overstuffing of fizzy wine and rich cake. Also, some pictures leaped off the dresser - suggesting strongly that this was more than just festive flatulence.
The shaking continued randomly throughout the night, culminating with a cutlery scattering exclamation point shake at 10.30 a.m, after which the shaking dropped off to the normal level. A quick middle-of-the-night squizz at geonet had informed us by that point that, at 3.2 to 4.9 on the richter scale, these shakes were relatively small, compared to the 'big one' (7.1) of September 4th, but that they were all centred within 2 kms of our house. The geonet GPS located one at just 500m from the back door. In other words, these quakes were right under the city centre, on boxing day, when everyone goes shopping. Mother Earth hates capitalism.
In spite of this appalling display of geologic insensitivity toward the retail sector and those with boxing day hangovers, yet again, by some combination of luck + building standards, nobody was injured. In fact, at least one overseas visitor felt he had received real value for money in South Island adventure tourism, recounting breathlessly on the radio how he came within metres of being clonked by some falling masonry in Cathedral Square. We aim to please. Please remember to pay your aftershock experience fee at the nearest cash-strapped clothing outlet or restaurant.
Having been assured by knowledgeable people on the news that this is normal post-earthquake behaviour and that, indeed, these are aftershocks not new quakes (reason: geologic activity has not yet returned at any point to pre-bigone levels), The Programmer and I decided to stimulate the economy by heading into town yesterday to have lunch and take pics. Being in the city centre feels slightly surreal and unfamiliar. The city right now reminds me of a person that has been in, say, a car accident, his skeleton reinforced with metal and with casts on every limb and a black eye. However, this person still gets up every morning and goes to work, trying to appear as normal as possible. So what you have is some shops and cafes open and trying to attract business while pedestrians navigate through corrals of ATF portable fences that are designed to keep foot traffic at a safe distance from anything that is in danger of falling. I hope whoever owns ATF is making daily sacrifices to the gods of the city council that gave them that contract. They must be approaching the point of early retirement to a Greek Island, or perhaps somewhere more stable? A castle in the middle of Europe.
The structural damage is noticeably worse than before the boxing day quakes. Some businesses that were open are now re-closed until the buildings can be re-inspected. The shops in City Mall, fully stocked with christmas stuff, were fenced off and closed; but the square was open, Starbucks packed with tourists and stickybeaking locals (ahem). Although people are trying to be brave and positive, the city looks battered and bruised and like it is going to take a lot of time and money to fix. There is a feeling that people can't really take much more of this. One man sitting on the doorstep of an empty shop on Manchester Street, patting a cat, while smoking a joint. Another man, briefcase in hand, pointing out the damage and talking loudly to his friend about it all. His friend was invisible.
The Programmer and I wandered around, taking photo's and indicating to each other things that were different or damaged, eventually just standing near the empty space where Alvarados used to be, observing the new cityscape, breathing in the strange smell of plaster and parfum de old building wafting off the pile that used to be the Manchester Courts, and not saying much. It seemed like a beyond words moment. Hopefully the pics will say it better than I can (next post).