At 4:35 a.m. on Saturday, the house began to shake. Hard. Like it was a vending machine and a giant had put his quarters in and his bag of potato chips hadn't quite shaken free and he was trying to get them out. We went from a sound sleep to wide awake in a matter of milliseconds. I thought about diving for the floor beside the bed -- having read that, in the event of an earthquake, you want to be somewhere where a void could be created when things start falling -- but my husband yelled, "Get to the doorway!" and that's what we did.
There is a very limited protocol for earthquakes, "get to the doorway" pretty much summing it up. I can attest, however, that this supposedly secure location does not in fact feel secure in any way. The noise is deafening. The world seems to be shaking itself to pieces. And as long as it continues (which, of course, feels like hours), there are no additional steps you can take and nothing further you can do.
The shaking went on. The darkness was absolute. I knelt on the floor and hugged my husband's legs. He stroked my hair. "At least I will die with him," I thought.
Finally, of course, it stopped. He told me to stay where I was and went to get headlamps. The aftershocks began. I was gripped by the terror of separation. He came back. We put clothes on -- it's incredible how much stronger you feel when you're dressed. We went out to the car and turned on the radio. It was useless; the announcer was reading a series of essentially identical text messages that had come in: "I felt it too, my whole house was shaking."
We checked on our elderly neighbour and started making cups of tea out of our campervan for the people wandering around, dazed. The aftershocks continued, but the sun came up and, like clothes, gave us all a new layer of strength.
And the reliance on technology began. We had cell service, and started calling and texting: mother-in-law, friends, loved ones. We called my sister in Denver, who hadn't yet heard about the quake; she Googled it for us and gave us additional information about magnitude and location. 7.2, she said, and 5 miles SSE of Christchurch, a relief because that meant no risk of tsunamis. The magnitude has since been revised down to 7.1, a tenth of a point stronger than the Haiti quake. That we had no loss of life is nothing short of a miracle, attributable partly to more stringent building standards and partly to the time of day it occurred.
As soon as we were back online, we were tweeting and Facebooking. New Zealand Civil Defence should be admired for attempting to use Twitter to communicate with the public, although their lengthy #ChristchurchQuake hashtag failed against the instantly popular #eqnz. I asked my tweeps how they got info in the immediate aftermath. Twitter, Facebook, Geekzone forum, even a windup flashlight/radio made the grade. No "traditional" search engines, I wanted to know? Google News, said one, while others just confirmed that they had gone straight to Twitter.
It's no surprise that Twitter owns the real-time search space, but there's an element to this that I think often goes overlooked. In a crisis, we're not just looking for information. We're looking for connection. We were 400,000 terrified souls seeking reassurance, and that comes not just from a blue link but from knowing that we are not alone. Twitter didn't just trump Google in instantaneous information; it trumped Google in solidarity.
And it still does. We've had over 100 aftershocks since Saturday morning, many of them measuring greater than 5.0 on the Richter scale. The ground continues to betray us. Our houses continue to sway. And we continue to reach out to each other via social media, exchanging news, tears, laughter, and virtual hugs.
Thank God for Twitter.
Affected by the quake? I'd love to connect with you, here or via @kcolbin.