Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 2, 2011

Small Miracles

Filed under: Catastrophes,Humor,Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on March 2, 2011

As my former hometown of Christchurch transitions from response to recovery, people have openly hoped and prayed for a miracle or two to buoy their flagging spirits. Still, it has been days since anyone was recovered alive from the rubble, and the body count continues to climb toward a figure officials now estimate will approach 240 souls. On top of the human toll, some damage estimates peg the economic impact of the disaster at something north of US$12 billion.

The devastation within the central business district and neighborhoods east of it is particularly pronounced. Sand boils and silt pushed to the surface by the force of the earthquake and the mechanism of liquefaction have now turned to unhealthy dust storms as winds picked up over the past day.

Somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the buildings in the central business district will never be rebuilt and 10,000 or more homes may require demolition. Power and water have been restored to a substantial majority of households, but the damage to critical infrastructure remains severe enough to hamper recovery efforts.

Some estimates put the number of refugees fleeing the earthquake ravaged city at upwards of 50,000. Many of my friends like so many other families have sent their kids away to other cities so they can return to school while parents sort out what to do next.

All of this sounds pretty dire, and to be sure it is. But despite all the devastation and the debilitating effects of fatigue wrought by successive days and nights in response mode with little hope of sleep much less the opportunity to do so, people have still found it possible to look on the lighter and brighter side of their predicament.

One aid worker captured the following effort to rekindle the pioneer spirit in fellow Cantabrians while following the efforts of the Los Angeles County Urban Search and Rescue Task Force deployed by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance:

The University of Canterbury’s Student Volunteer Army must be getting slap-happy after days of backbreaking work shoveling silt from suburban streets as they are now working to build the World’s Tallest Leaning Tower of Pizza:

Judging by some of the photos you would not be so wrong to assume that disasters bring out the pre-adolescent in those of us who can no longer take the usual creature comforts of civilized sanitation facilities for granted:

If the earthquake found you unprepared and — pardon the off-color pun — you suddenly find yourself without a pot to piss in, no worries, mate.

People find themselves much more easily amused when the chips are down. Take this checklist for example: “You know you are from Christchurch when …

  1. You use the term “liquefaction” and “seismic design” in casual conversation.
  2. Digging a hole and pooping in your garden is no longer weird.
  3. Your mayor describes the city as munted.
  4. Weaving through car size potholes on the street is no longer weird.
  5. Going to Wellington to escape earthquakes makes sense.
  6. A shower is heaven.
  7. You have a preference of which kind of silt you’d rather shovel, dry or wet.
  8. You see tanks driving around town.
  9. You are always noting what you are under.
  10. Due to frequent aftershocks during the night, you sleep like a baby–every 10 minutes you wake up and sh*t yourself.”

People in Wellington — the national capitol got a little bit worried that they might be next when a M4 earthquake struck the city recently. In response, Cantabrians quipped they don’t even get out of bed anymore for a shake less than M5.

The¬†entrepreneurial¬†spirit remains alive and well in Christchurch too. One enterprising victim of the an earthquake-induced rockfall has offered the boulder that crashed through his house for auction on the New Zealand equivalent of eBay. Bids are already up to NZ$950. If you fancy this oversized relic for your rock garden there’s just one catch: The winning bidder must come and get the item.

If none of this is enough to cheer you up, consider the hope inspired today by the discovery of two relics of Christchurch’s past. Workers found a glass bottle containing a small piece of parchment near the fallen statue of the city’s founder, John Robert Godley, and a metal cylinder sealed with solder amidst the debris of the Anglican cathedral. Both items have been transferred to the Canterbury Museum for conservation and inspection.

Mayor Bob Parker remarking on the find said he hopes the contents of the supposed time capsules will help illuminate the city’s future by telling people, “Why (our forebears) came here, what was their vision. (sic)” Putting Godley’s likeless back upon its perch has emerged as a top priority for leaders like Mayor Parker and Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright who suggested, “(We must) get Godley back onto his plinth and show Christchurch it started here and lets start again, so we can show that we’re not going to lie down.”

In the midst of chaos, death and devastation, it no doubt helps to take heart in small miracles …

P.S.: Christchurch’s own Wizard of New Zealand, no stranger to hardship himself, cast his spell over the city once more shortly after announcing he will stay despite earlier reports he too would flee the devastation … “I call (upon) the nine spiritual hierarchies: (cherubim), seraphim, domination, powers, principalities, thrones and virtues, archangels and angels to protect and cherish Christchurch.” Here’s hoping it works!

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Pingback by A Personal Perspective on Life After a Major Earthquake « Recovery Diva

March 2, 2011 @ 4:00 am

[…] the posting titled Small Miracles, by Mark Chubb, regarding personal life during the aftermath of a major urban disaster. He is a […]

Comment by God Bless the Spirited People of Christchurch

March 2, 2011 @ 4:08 am

Mark, thank you. As soon as I received the call from emergency management personnel informing me of the earthquake, I remembered your affiliation w/Christchurch and while I have been involved in Haiti since 12th January more than a year ago addressing waste water and water purification project development as well as housing and building “earthquake resistant” manufacture representing Canadian and US “expertise” though this already long effort has been often futile to move things along while so many remaining in despair….

Your article and the spirit of the people are sort of refreshing seeing them make best with all that they do have in Blessings….

Still, the losses and the damage will be long remembered. We all send our sincere condolences and prayers as the determined people of Christchurch will rebuild and Life will resume with time….God Bless all!

Thanks for this wonderfully written article – pls keep us all updated….


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 2, 2011 @ 5:39 am

Mark! A nice post and my deepest sympathy to those families who lost members and others injured. Hoping the people of Christchurch are willing to make some tough and heartrendering decisions about further SAR and relocation of facilities. NZ perhaps can set an example of emotional toughness and political will when faced with this kind of devastation.

And of course Chris Tingus counter point on Haiti is also appropriate as the US has allowed a domestic disaster (only 700 miles offshore) turn to tragedy. Allowing over 4,000 additional deaths from Cholera and continuing to pretend that the Haitian government is functioning and not a corrupt step child of US policies. But of course the same appears true of US policy in Libya now. That bloodshed will soon lie inside the WH and its policy makes not just on the doorstep.
A tragic time for many including those without power in the US political system as we watch the FIRE sector continue to manipulate the federal fisc for its purposes.
Charlie Cook of the Cook Report is not off base IMO when he predicts the elections of 2012 and 2014 and not being supportive of the DEMS in their approach to the countries problems. The big problem of course is that the REPUBLICANS have turned into NIHILISTS who think government is still the problem.
Several important decisions out of SCOTUS yesterday on veterans employment rights and employee rights that are surprising perhaps to me since I agree with the results, not necessarily the rationale. Homeland Security starts with the resilience and strength of the American people and its governmental system. The former I have no doubts about. The latter I have tremendous doubts about. But hey at least we can vote occassionally.

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