Christchurch Earthquake Shatters Sense Of Stability
It is unfathomable in every sense. It is unfathomable in the loss of life, the numbers of the dead that continue to climb by the day, and in the numbers of the missing, who by all rights ought to have been home by now. It is unfathomable in the loss of property, with Christchurch's most iconic heritage buildings, the ones that give the city its heart and its soul, lying in ruins. And it is unfathomable in the economic impact and the scale of recovery the tragedy will demand of us, with insurers putting estimates as high as $16 billion to rebuild.
As in the first quake, technology played a key role as events unfolded. My husband and I are in the States, have been since before the quake. We are suffering from an unbearable emotional cocktail encompassing grief, relief, rage, and impotence. Twitter, texting, and the Internet are our feeble virtual lifelines to our loved ones. I have retweeted messages from people trapped in hotel rooms and people desperate for information about sisters, mothers, friends; within hours, Google had set up a database of the missing and accounted for. On TV, we watched a man receive a phone call from his wife, pinned under the rubble; his frantic yells gave search and rescue teams critical information about where to dig for the living.
Last year, Jack Dorsey commented on how Twitter got its name: "we came across the word 'twitter,' and it was just perfect. The definition was 'a short burst of inconsequential information' ...and that's exactly what the product was." Jack, I hope you're listening: in Iran, in Egypt, and now in Christchurch, your invention has become phenomenally consequential. Thank you.
Between September and now, Christchurch has experienced over 4,000 aftershocks, and I have come to the conclusion that an earthquake is the most psychologically devastating kind of natural disaster. It messes with everything we know about the way the world works, starting with the most basic thing that we all learn right from the start: that the ground is solid. You can rely on it to stay still. This fundamental concept is reflected in our language: we say a person is "rock-solid" when we know we can trust them; they are "grounded," or at least their feet are on the ground. But in Christchurch, the ground betrays us. It may no longer be a desirable place on which to locate your feet.
And to complete the reversal of our elemental reference points, being in the cloud -- formerly the domain of ditzy types -- is now seen as a sign of stability. A local IT company sent out a calming post-earthquake update, saying, "[W]e want to assure each of our clients that their information is backed up in the 'cloud' on secure overseas servers." Please don't worry, they're saying; your data is not stored on this unstable ground.
So here we sit, turned upside down. A large portion of our central business district is either demolished or will need to be. Our infrastructure will need to be overhauled and our housing stock replenished. And our broken hearts will need mending. But make no mistake: mend them we will. The world may have upended and the cloud may be the new ground, but there is no rubble big enough to crush our spirit.
We are grateful to you for your kind words, for your messages of support, and for the solidarity the world has expressed with the people of Christchurch. If you are inclined to help, you can donate via the Red Cross. And if you have a message for us, feel free to tweet it using #eqnz. Believe me, people are reading.