Earthquakes, Rains, Floods, Winds and a Tornado
When we came to New Zealand to have an adventure, we had a rough picture in our minds of what we wanted that to be. Ironically, there hasn’t been much of that dreamy stuff happening as we’ve been busy with tactical issues of getting settled here. What HAS happened around us though has been nothing short of a wild ride.
Our first experience with an earthquake was actually about 4 weeks ago when we were lying in bed, dead asleep in the middle of the night. Without warning, Divinity and I woke up to the whole world shaking violently! For the sleep addled mind, it seemed like mayhem was raining down on us, and it seemed to last forever! In reality, it only lasted for a couple of seconds, but for such a short time, it seems like quite a violent shake.
I was so excited by the earthquake that I was grinning like an idiot in the dark of night. Divinity wasn’t nearly as amused and we talked briefly about the experience and waited for the children to come running up the stairs screaming and crying. We waited for a few minutes and heard nothing. Naturally, as very responsible and loving parents, we definitely thought about going down to check on them. Instead, we promptly went back to sleep. Kids are tough, they’ll be fine, right?
When I say I slept, I really stayed half-awake for hours giddy with the excitement of my first New Zealand earthquake. Divinity was anxious about the experience all night, and who wouldn’t be? We were staying in a home built into the hill side, supported by stilts. Imagine a watermelon propped up on the top of a water slide being supported by a pair of toothpicks. Would you feel comfortable?!
When we woke up, we checked with a few friends to see if they’d felt anything. Most had and they played it off as though it was no big deal. Good to know! Earthquakes in New Zealand = No Big Deal. Lesson learned.
The Big One
In Utah, where we’re from, they are always talking about the “Big One“, an earthquake of great magnitude that will hit the state and cause a great deal of damage. Salt Lake City has a large fault line that is predicted at some point to shift, ushering in the spectacular Big One.
As it turns out, Wellington is also built on a fault line, but this one happens to be a very active one. While traveling to a different city with a friend, she pointed out to us that the freeway was built on space made available by a large earthquake in previous years and that houses on one side of the road were lower than the other because of the quake as well. Very interesting, and a pretty sketchy design if you ask me.
Well, as we learned previously, earthquakes are no big deal, right?
Early Monday morning, just after midnight, we were lying in bed asleep when we groggily woke up to the house starting to sway and shake. Smiling once again like an idiot, I lay there enjoying the rocking motion and trying to decide if I let it rock me back to sleep or wake up to enjoy the full ride. What was amazing was that the shaking didn’t stop! We weren’t sure how long it lasted exactly, but some reports say that it was 50 seconds to 2 minutes long. The windows shook, the closet doors rattled, the bed swayed, and it was quite fascinating!
Once again, we laid there, me elated, Divinity less so, and waited for the children to come running. After a couple of minutes, I got up and went to the bathroom and came back to bed. No children seemed to be awake. We discovered in the morning that Kaitlyn had been awake and had felt the quake and really didn’t know what it was and apparently stayed awake for a bit and then fell back to sleep. Only after the fact when she found out it was an earthquake did she think it was scary.
I wish I could say we went back to sleep, but the fun wasn’t over. We had aftershock after aftershock. Before morning, I counted 16 aftershocks that shook the windows and doors, and 5 that just wiggled the bed. Official reports counted over 54 aftershocks during the rest of the night. It was both amusing and a little disconcerting.
We got up the next morning and turned on our phones only to have them start dinging like a ships bell on a stormy sea. Text messages, Facebook messages, voicemails and emails came flooding in. It seems that our friends and family around the world knew more about what happened than we did, which raised some alarm in us. Why would my friend in Germany be asking me if I was OK? Steffi pointed out that news of the earthquake was on news outlets all over the world and that it had been a major earthquake.
We checked other messages and found that our friends here in Wellington were checking in on us to see if we were OK. But wait, I thought earthquakes were no big deal, right?
Turns out we were wrong on this one. Apparently a magnitude of 7.8 was a BIG DEAL and the proper protocol is to turn on your phone and check in with people to let them know you’re alright (or not) and look to various sources for information on magnitude, damage, and tsunami warnings and evacuation routes. Oops.
Apparently we were sitting in a Tsunami evacuation zone all night and had no idea. I guess we’re lucky that there wasn’t a major tsunami that hit where we live. There was a reported wave of about 2.5 meters (about 8 feet tall) that hit somewhere on the south island, but overall there wasn’t much danger.
After taking 1.5 hours to respond to everyone, we finally were able to get about our day and continue to endure the Little Ones.
The Little Ones
The next several days we felt a number of aftershocks, some lasting up to 10 seconds in length (more earthquake than aftershock), and others lasting only a second or two. Our little ones haven’t really been phased by the experience a whole lot and don’t really fear them much at all. Evan finally felt one and was intrigued, while to this day Taya still has yet to register having felt one, and being fairly adventurous like her father, she’s frustrated about that.
I went on a trip to Christchurch and while I was gone, two more earthquakes happened of a 5.0+ magnitude which registers in the uninteresting category by New Zealand standards. I was on the south island and didn’t feel them but the family back in Wellington definitely did. They had been forecasting another quake with 95% probability and still seem to believe that there will be quakes and aftershocks for weeks or months to come. It’s very interesting living in the Ring of Fire.
No, not this ring of fire
This Ring of Fire – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_of_Fire
Rains and Floods
One of the things I was very excited about experiencing in coming to New Zealand was the rain. Coming from a desert, we are used to going weeks in the summer time without a single drop of rain (this past summer I think it was almost 6 weeks). I couldn’t wait for a whole day or night of steady or heavy rain. I remember waking up not long after arriving here to the steady pitter patter of raindrops falling on the roof and windows and drifting pleasantly back to sleep to that sound. It was beautiful.
A few days after the Big One, we woke up to the sound of rain hitting our windows so hard it sounded like a gravel truck dumping it’s load onto our windows. It was loud enough to keep us from drifting back to sleep for long and it continued to rain steadily into the next day. After 24 hours of rain, we learned that Wellington had experienced 1 month’s worth of rain in a single day. To put this into perspective for people back at home, it was almost as much rain as Utah receives on average through the entire months of June – September.
We wound up with flooding in our front and back yards, with the flowers in the flower beds literally under water, flower tops and all (albeit beautifully clean and clear water). It took about a day for the yard to drain and things to settle back in to where we could walk around.
Our children affectionately refer to the city that we live in as Windy Wellington, since our friends Sally and Simon have referred to it that way for quite a long time. Even the city sign bears record of this fact.
It has been interesting for us to experience the wind first hand and find that it really does get quite windy down here. Ironically, our biggest experiences with the wind have been while we’ve been peacefully asleep in our beds. A day or two after the big earthquake, we were lying in bed and got woken up to the wind blowing so hard that the whole house shook, making it feel like an earthquake. Combine that with the rain mentioned up above and it’s something to be reckoned with. People here tend to wear hats that have a loop that goes around the chin and to avoid using umbrellas as the wind is known to rip both away faster than you can blink.
The winds here can be extremely fierce here and some believe that the Cook Strait, which sits between the north and south islands, is one of the windiest places in the world. I recently experienced this wind while taking a ferry across from the south island to the north island. We spent most of our time inside the large lounges of the ferry, but close to Wellington I went out on deck to take some pictures. I should have realized that something was off when I tried to open the door to go out and it didn’t want to move. After several attempts, I threw my shoulder against the door with full body force and managed to get it to open. I got through the door and it slammed shut behind me with alarming speed and power. When I stepped to the rail which was unprotected by the ships massive body, I had to grab the rail because the wind threw me back so hard I just about went over the rail. Needless to say, I clung to the rail, took a few shots and went back inside.
While experiencing all of the earthquakes and aftershocks, our children were looking at us trying to gauge how scared they should be. We explained to them that earthquakes aren’t really all that scary (a matter of opinion, I know, but what should you tell children?). In the discussion they brought up tornadoes and we mentioned that tornadoes were far scarier and more dangerous than earthquakes and that New Zealand didn’t get tornadoes.
Apparently, we lied. Days after all of the rest of this happened, we saw a news report that a tornado had touched down just north of us and caused some damage. Upon further research, we learned that 7-10 tornado events happen each year in New Zealand, and that several have killed people over the past 15 years. Oh boy… Please don’t tell our children that we apparently lied to them. They have enough to process after the past month of “moving” experiences. 😉
Adventure is Adventurous
Through all of this craziness, we’ve managed to keep a good mindset and we’re reminded that while adventuring, things will actually be adventurous. You can expect the unexpected and the unknown to sometimes take you past the limits of comfort and safety. It makes the heart beat faster and the senses more intense and it makes us feel alive. And let’s face it, after all of the past month’s experiences, we’re glad to be alive!