Monday, February 28, 2011

Ken Ring is usually a relatively harmless charlatan, but he's not harmless this time

"20th of March???!!!" wailed my 9 year-old in distress. She had just heard TV3's promotion of an interview with Ken Ring, who normally claims to predict daily weather in advance by copying 18 year-old weather maps. The Moon has an 18 year cycle, and he believes that it's all to do with lunar cycles. He sells books of such mindless weather "predictions", and apart from misleading the public and taking their money, he's usually harmless, but not this time.

This time he has predicted another major quake on March 20th, and added waves of anguish to an already stressed out city. My daughter's reaction was typical, and I have spent plenty of time informing her of just how loopy and inaccurate Ken's weather predictions are. Shame on Ken Ring for adding to distress, for pretending to be a scientist (his earthquake predictions have been found wanting from a statistical point of view), and for making money and notoriety out of other people's misfortune.

Shame on TV3 for giving him oxygen. John Campbell tried to debunk him, but instead of doing a comprehensive job, merely fostered pity for the man by mistreating him at the microphone. He deserves no pity, and definitely no time on TV.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shake, shake shake

The February 22nd quake was much shorter than the September 4th one, but perhaps more violent, or the frequency was more damaging. It definitely felt serious at the time. I was under my desk at the University of Canterbury, and after ensuring all the students were out I set off to look for my 9 year old daughter Rhiannon at her primary school and met my partner Carolyn, daughter Kat & Rhiannon on the way. Our home suffered more damage than during the September 4th quake, with many large cracks in the lounge and new cracks appearing in other places. The front door is now difficult to close and we suspect that the foundations have moved. No doubt the Earthquake Commission will sort it out. Some of our crockery was smashed, and several items of furniture were upended along with the fish tank. Drips from the latter on the first floor were attributed to Oscar, our delightful dog, who suffered the same accusation after fishtank water slopped out in September, and he can now justifiably complain that his people tend to repeatedly accuse him of inappropriate toiletry at the slightest provocation.

I find it distressing that we were not welcome to help in the central city where many people were trapped in buildings, and where sadly many died. This quake was "a bullseye", in the words of a structural engineer, being very shallow and close to the city. Engineers expected that many of the city's heritage buildings would fall, and we have lost such gems as the old council chambers, much of both cathedrals, several old stone churches, and plenty of old brick buildings. The Arts Centre is damaged, but it is apparently recoverable. Some relatively modern buildings came down, such as the CTV building on Madras street, which was reduced to a pile of rubble, and the Pyne Gould Guiness building that pancaked. People were, and some still are, inside. Collapse of more modern structures has been a surprise to the engineers, and they are talking about inadequate earthquake standards during the 1960s and early 70s. The Hotel Grand Chancellor will have to be demolished if it doesn't fall down. Two buses were flattened by falling masonry, and many people were injured or killed by falling bits of buildings. The central city was reportedly littered with bodies.

This devastation became evident to us when reports began to filter through to national radio. We had no power, water or sewers, and used a camp stove on the front lawn to cook our evening meal while listening to a transistor radio. Violent aftershocks rattled our house relentlessly, and we felt safer outside. The house has rattled twice so far while I have written this, and each quake is accompanied by a menacing rumble for a few seconds before the sway and creaking begin.

We called my mother in law Pam in Bexley, where liquifaction was worst last time, and resolved to transport Kat to Pam's so that either she wouldn't be alone or she could opt to come to our place. The trip there was harrowing, and my trip back even more so. Fendalton has been hit by liquifaction, and we had to negotiate our way through a very uneven road with plenty of wet sand drifts. This was nothing, though, compared to Aranui. I had planned to go down Travis Rd then on to Anzac Dr, but the latter was closed. Travis road was severely cracked in places, and we had to be alert to avoid plunging the car wheel into a crack or hole which would have permanently immobilised the vehicle. I went past Anzac Dr and turned onto Bower Ave so that I could cross the river on Wainoni St. Bower Ave, Wainoni, Breezes, and Pages Rds were particularly hazardous. It was like a war zone, with large holes in the roads, some of which had already claimed cars and trucks, interspersed with mushy sand drifts that made a very rough passage. The last few hundred metres of Pages Rd were flooded, and we had 6-12" of water sloshing against the sides of the car. That's particularly hazardous because you can't see below the water surface, and by now it was dark and raining steadily. We stopped in the carpark just before the New Brighton Bridge. It was clear that the road into Bexley was impassable, and so after Pam informed us on my cellphone that she wanted to stay at her home, Kat set off on foot while I negotiated my way back through the carnage. By now people had realised that Breezes, Wainoni, and Bower Ave were the way out, and so it was a bumper to bumper crawl.

On the 23rd I called a few friends and family to ensure they were safe. My good friend Phil Barker, a policeman, is working 13 hour days in the city rescuing people. His wife Sonya and their two children have gone to the West Coast. He had no power or water for several days. I distributed swimming pool water to our neighbours for washing. We now have power and water, although supplies of the latter are limited and so we're using pool water whenever possible. Pam's phone was dead on day 2, but Kat found a spot where her cellphone could reach us and we resolved to transport them both to our house where power and water are very congenial luxuries. I was dreading the trip back through Aranui, but it wasn't so bad during the daytime and most of the hazards had been marked. There was still a slow stream of traffic coming out, and we cut an hour or more off our journey by ducking through Marlow and Hampshire streets, which were negotiable and free of other traffic.

On day 4 Pam wanted to clear out some things and so we went back. The flooding was gone, and much of the sand had been pushed into heaps. Pam's house has dropped at least 6 inches, and her driveway, which used to slope away from the house, now slopes sharply into it. Her deck has a 10-15 degree lean. I helped her clean out the fridge and then raised carpet to let it dry. I came across an old couple in a neighbouring house who were living in their garage because rotting carpet made the house smell so foul. It took quite a while and lots of puffing for me to rip the carpet from their lounge and drag it outside.

The University has some damage, but nobody was seriously hurt on campus. We don't know when it will reopen, but I suspect access is at least a week away and probably longer. Carolyn experienced violent sway on the sixth floor of the History Building, and her office was a total mess. She had to get out rapidly and left her computer there, but thankfully it has now been retrieved by University health and safety staff, and she can work.

We've cleaned up around the house, and apart from creaking and groaning (the house, not me) we're sleeping well. We are fortunate to be well, have lost nobody close to us, and to have more amenities than many in this stricken city. I've put the family on a regimen of cleanup, work, play, and then more work, to help us get back to something more normal. Kat said that she welcomed, "Family planning" - well, we've had that too.

To those of you in town I hope you are safe and that life is not too rough for you.