September 4: Looking back on the Christchurch earthquakes

In the early hours of 4 September 2010, I was sound asleep in my house on Mount Pleasant hill in Christchurch, New Zealand. At 4:35am I was woken by a deep rumbling sound. Seconds later, the floor and walls began to shake as my house was rocked back and forth on its foundations. I scrambled out of bed and hid in a doorway until the shaking stopped. After checking that my family was okay, I went upstairs and stepped onto the balcony to look out over Christchurch. The city was silent save for a few car alarms, and it was in this relative quiet that I came to understand the significance of this event. I didn’t realise it then, but that earthquake would become a catalyst for change in my life.

The regular aftershocks kept everybody on edge and were a constant reminder that the ground we stood on was unstable. Still, life in Christchurch carried on almost as normal. I was surrounded by friends, had a great job, and was spending lots of time with my younger brothers. There was no reason for me to want to change anything. Then out of nowhere, in the middle of the day on 22 February 2011 a powerful quake hit Christchurch, killing 185 people.

The following months were fraught with hardships — thousands of homes were uninhabitable, roads and bridges were unusable, power outages were common, and water supplies became contaminated. People grieved.

Not long after the February quake I received news that my uncle was seriously ill. My uncle  lives in the UK along with most of my family, so I felt useless being so far away. My mother, sister and I decided that we would fly to the UK to see my uncle for a short time. While I felt guilty for leaving the rest of my family to deal with the effects of the quakes, I knew that the trip would be a welcome respite from the difficulties we faced living in a broken city. I bought a return ticket, put all of my belongings into my father’s garage and made plans to return in 6 weeks.

In the UK I watched as my uncle’s condition deteriorated. Having my family around made it somewhat easier to deal with what was happening. It also made me realise what was most important to me: family. This realisation was what prompted me to tell my dad that my things would be staying in his garage for a while longer, and to (regretfully) inform my boss that I wouldn’t be returning to my job in New Zealand.

It has now been a year and a half since I settled in London. So far I have had two great jobs and still found time to travel around Europe. I see my family more than I ever have before (it had been over 10 years since I last visited the UK). I have met some amazing people and experienced some wonderful things with them. A small part of me wishes that I had gone back to Christchurch and helped with the rebuild effort, but I don’t regret my decision to stay in the UK.

While I grieve for all that the earthquakes took away from us, I am also aware that had they not happened, I would not be where I am —or who I am— today.

Kia kaha, Christchurch. Thank you for reading.

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