Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beyond why

It's eleven days since the devastating Christchurch earthquake but computer issues have prevented me from writing properly about it until now. It reminded me a lot of September 11th: just like ten years ago I was at home on a Tuesday afternoon in late summer, recovering from a depressive spell and generally minding my own business. Then I switched on the TV and everything changed. Rightly or wrongly I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen.

This time it took me a while to fully comprehend what had happened. Logically I thought, this is New Zealand, a first-world country. We have strict building codes. Yes I know the focus of the quake was only 5km from the surface but any modern building will surely withstand a 6.3, right? Wrong. What I saw on TV didn't look like New Zealand at all.

Just before 4pm my old boss called me. When he offered me a job I just about bit his hand off - that three-month spell after the September earthquake was hugely positive for me. The next morning I found out that the company had been affected in the worst possible way by the quake. They lost three people on the top floor of the PGC building, one of whom had come over from Sydney to work on the September event. Other staff members were extremely lucky to escape after being trapped for hours. The atmosphere at work on 23rd February was understandably eerie. For the first two days work was fairly slow and I followed all the latest news on the internet, hoping that my workmates would find their Christchurch colleagues had miraculously been rescued. The initial low volume of work contrasted with the immediate aftermath of the September quake which caused no loss of life, meaning property was people's number one concern, so clients were claiming within hours of the event. Priorities were very different after the latest quake - if you don't know whether your wife is alive, cracks in your heated swimming pool are some way down the list. On the third day following the quake, however, business picked up rapidly, and last week was pretty busy. It's good being busy and it's good doing real work that matters to real people without it being too stressful. As one of the few people who have benefited from the disaster, I absolutely had to donate something. I've so far given $43 or about two hours' wages.

In the wake of the earthquake I've learnt two important things about the human race. One, we're extremely fragile. One minute you can be talking on the phone to a work colleague and the next you can be under ten feet of rubble. Two, the vast majority of the human race are good people. The amount of goodwill we've all seen in the last eleven days bodes well for the future of Christchurch. It will take the city an awfully long time to recover from this, but I'm confident it will bounce back.

I saw an interesting piece from Jim Hopkins in the Herald last weekend. After a catastrophe such as this, the question on everyone's lips is Why?
Why did Christchurch get hit by two massive earthquakes in under six months? That's almost unprecented.
Why was this insurance worker killed by the quake while his best mate, who sat twenty feet away on the other side of the office, got out without a scratch?
Jim Hopkins isn't religious and neither am I, but he said that sometimes you have to accept that things just happen. In other words, they're beyond why. I'm inclined to agree with him.

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