Those of you outside New Zealand are probably not aware of an earthquake that hit Wellington last week. The 6.5 magnitude shake was centered in the Cook Strait, which is the waterway between our North and South Islands, at a depth of 17 kilometers. It struck at 5:09 pm on Sunday night, which was very fortunate, as had it been a workday then I am sure there would have been injuries from falling glass, concrete and bricks. Thirty or so buildings in the central city received superficial damage. On a normal workday hundreds of commuters would have been trekking down to the railway station at that time of the day, but instead the debris fell onto relatively empty streets below. Even so, it packed quite a punch. I have to say that this particular quake was not totally unexpected. It had been preceded a few days earlier by a swarm of fairly large pre-shocks from the same fault line.
It was a very noisy episode. It started as a low rumble then gradually built up to a pretty violent bang which sent a few items rattling off the shelves and popped one of our lounge doors open. The dogs were all barking (we have three), the kids were screaming (we have two – plus a friend of my daughters was staying over). It was mayhem!
Dive for Cover!
We have a large island bench in our kitchen which has three alcoves beneath it. It’s always been the plan to shelter from earthquakes in these alcoves. My wife has always been sure to repeat this plan to kids on many occasions and this must have worked because the alcoves became occupied in about three seconds flat! It was all over after about a minute but the kids stayed under the bench for an hour. I gave them blankets (it’s winter here in NZ) and they busily exchanged earthquake experiences with their friends over Twitter & Facebook.
The Monday clean-up pretty much shut the entire city down for a day – the airport was closed and the trains weren’t running. Several streets were cordoned off after a couple of small sinkholes had opened up. Car parking buildings were off limits. You could have fired a cannon down the main street at lunchtime and not hit anyone. Every building had to be checked by structural engineers so there was a long waitlist. Our building was finally given the all clear on Tuesday afternoon. Not so lucky were businesses housed in one waterfront building which will take eight weeks to repair and eight hundred workers will need to find alternative accommodation.
Wellington has experienced more earthquakes in the past week than in the past ten years combined due to the continuing aftershocks. This has been a big wake-up call for Wellington and many businesses have dusted off their Disaster Recovery Plans and looked to update them. It could have been much worse but it’s a sobering thought that even a small quake can shut a city for a couple of days. It pays to be prepared!