The Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath have been undeniably tragic. Boston.com’s always impressive The Big Picture has probably the best collection of photos of the devastation, but they’ve been justifiably beamed around the world so many times that you’ve probably seen a lot of them already.
My Mum and Dad are touring New Zealand at the moment and were due to visit Christchurch next week. Obviously, they have had to change their plans and we’re all hoping that their flight from Christchurch airport via Sydney and Jo’burg to Cape Town in a couple of weeks time will still be able to go ahead.
This has obviously been an emotional time for those involved. However, that doesn’t mean – no matter how unreal the situation seems – that you can just make stuff up to describe it.
Firstly, I’m looking at you, 63-year-old teacher’s assistant Kevin Fitzgerald and your
I thought the devil was coming up out of the earth.
quote. Is that really what you thought, Kevin? Because it sounds a bit lunatic ninja to me. Look, I appreciate that it must have been a harrowing experience, but was that really your first thought as your “building undulated menacingly” (love that image)?
Not that there had been, perhaps, an earthquake (one of over 5,000 in the Christchurch area since September), but that a mythical nasty bloke was on his way up from the home of the DA?
And then – once the dust had actually and metaphorically settled – you stood by that thought and told the entire world about it.
Seriously, even in the extremely unlikely event that I had thought that the devil was coming up out of the earth, once I had worked out that there had been an earthquake in this earthquake zone known for its earthquakes and a reporter shoved a microphone under my nose, I’d probably have chosen not to mention it. My quote would probably have been more along the lines of:
I thought it was a really big earthquake.
It might be a lie (it might not) but at least I wouldn’t look as silly as you do now.
And in that vein, Kevin, thank the good lord above (not for the devastating earthquake, the horrendous damage to livelihoods, the needless loss of loved ones and scenes of utter desperation, obviously) but thank him anyway, Mr Fitzgerald, for South African clergyman and Christchurch resident Dr Tienie Bekker. For Dr Bekker and his good lady wife were put on this earth to make your “devil coming up out of the earth” quote seem entirely reasonable.
As Dr Bekker told SAPA:
We were lucky that we could buy food as we were on the outskirts. Many have had to be helped. Drinking water is minimal in quite a few areas. A lot of people are without power.
Which all seems entirely reasonable. But then he describes the actual moment the earthquake hit and that’s where things get a bit odd:
I was just out on my way to an appointment after midday, had just finished lunch, when I felt this wave. My house started moving up and down. My wife compared the experience to a tumble dryer on a roller-coaster.
Wait. What? She compared it to what, Tienie?
My wife compared the experience to a tumble dryer on a roller-coaster.
Right. So she did.
Where to begin? I guess the obvious place would be how does she know?
Is there some weird sub division of roller-coaster fanatics which gets off on taking household appliances on rides?
Is Mrs Bekker one of these people?
And even if there was and she is, how does the seatbelt fit? Surely there is some significant danger in large consumer durables not being properly anchored when traversing several hundred metres of track replete with terrifying bends and gravity-defying loops.
Presumably there is a optimum size for these things. A simple kettle or iron would likely fall out almost immediately, while a mid-size appliance such as microwave might lend itself to being correctly and safely strapped into the seat.
But a tumble dryer is a large item and my fear would be that its uneven weight distribution together with its dimensions would probably prevent it from being adequately affiliated with the carriage of the ride in question.
Where would one plug it in? Because, if we presume that Mrs Bekker’s description is suggesting that a tumble dryer on a roller-coaster moves somehow more violently than any other item on a roller-coaster, then we must surely assume that it is switched on.
I have never seen a roller-coaster with plug points and that fact has never bothered me before because I had also never seen the need for them.
All that has changed.
In addition, does Mrs Bekker’s description merely refer to the motion of the said appliance on the roller-coaster? Or is there heat involved too? Did things suddenly get noticeably warmer as the quake hit? Because that’s part of tumble drying as well.
As is the ubiquitous lint filter. So are we looking at just movement, movement and heat or movement, heat and a mysterious purple-grey felt covering everything in Dr and Mrs B’s house?
I’m not aware of these things, because I don’t live in an earthquake zone – but neither do a lot of other people and they also need enlightening, Mrs Bekker. Should we just expect to feel a bit giddy with a slight sense of elation after an earthquake has hit or should we expect to feel hot and a bit fuzzy?
And could her description help in designing better quake-proof buildings? After all, their house is still standing, they are unharmed. Should all houses in earthquake zones come with a height restriction, a long queue and the need to be accompanied by a large alternative to a washing line?
Because if that is how the Bekkers survived – think how many other lives could be saved.