Unless you’ve been living in a cave (or rely on Guardian Live for your news) you’ll know that last night, a big quake (6.5) hit central New Zealand. The epicentre was in Cook Strait, with the nearest town being Seddon in Marlborough (South Island), and the next being our capital city, Wellington.
You poor buggers. I really wish I wasn’t able to say this, but welcome our club. There are heaps of sources of information out there, so I’m not going to insult you by sending you links. Just know that Cantabrians are feeling for you. I’ve got a couple of suggestions from my “what I wish someone had told me before our trip on the seismic rollercoaster” files, but that’s it.
Some things it might help to know.
- Your hot water cylinder is full of clean, safe, drinkable water right up until contaminated water from the mains goes into there. So turn the water off at the mains, turn power off to the cylinder, and fill every clean container you’ve got. (Not milk containers though – it’s almost impossible to get them completely clean, and they will taint the water. Only use them if you’ve got nothing else.)
- There will be lots of aftershocks. Some of them big. You are going to get mighty sick of the sound of your cupboards rattling. Unfortunately you can’t do anything to stop them, so be careful. Stay off ladders etc as much as possible. If you’ve got valuables on shelves, take them down and store them somewhere safe. If you haven’t already done it, get heavy furniture strapped or fastened to the walls.
- It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to scream. It’s ok to be scared. It’s even ok to fall apart – just try and make sure no-one needs you right at the moment, and have someone on standby to pick up any pieces. Seriously. Scream, wail, rant, rave, weep, kick pillows, do whatever you need to do. It’s ok. You will come through this.
- Don’t judge anyone else because of their reaction. There is nothing in our evolution or our biology that can prepare us for the ground turning into jelly. It is a profoundly and fundamentally terrifying thing. Some people will be fine, and take it in their stride. Most people will be somewhere along the spectrum from frightened to completely panic-striken. Where, will depend on a million factors. If you find someone else’s reaction offensive or out-of-proportion, then that’s a sign that you too are feeling the strain, but that it is manifesting itself in denial. Or maybe you’re just immune, in which case, congratulations! How about helping those that aren’t?
- You may find yourself hallucinating aftershocks. While it feels a bit like the first stages of insanity, it is a normal response. Your body is still trying to make sense of things. Think of it as the seismic equivalent of getting your sea-legs. It might help to try and work out what the first actual quake-indicator is in your house. In mine it’s the medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom, or the western window of my study. If you hear them, then yep, it’s another shake. Otherwise it’s just your body being over-responsive. It will fade.
- Get plenty of sleep. While the aftershocks are dying away, you’ll quite likely find yourself jolting awake through the night. It’s a bugger, so do what you need to to make sure you get enough sleep. Alcohol is tricky – believe me when I say that there is nothing about a hangover that is improved by an aftershock. Or vice versa.
- Have a go-bag ready, and within grabbing distance of your bed. You want a torch, your wallet, keys, a change of undies, socks, and any medication that you need on a daily basis. Stick them in a shopping bag, if you have nothing else suitable. (I know lots of us who still sleep with this by the bed. It’s remarkably comforting.)
- Write about it. You don’t have to show anyone else, but it will help, even more than talking about things will. Conversation is freeform, but when you write something down, you have to shape your thoughts much more. It really will help. It gives you control over an aspect of what’s going on. Write it here, if you like.
- Ask for help, if you need it. Don’t, for the love of all that is holy, do the typical staunch Kiwi thing and try to tough it out. If you are having a bad time, speak to someone. Phone a friend, or a relative. If you need help clearing up, ask someone. Family. Neighbours. Whoever. You are going to be dealing with the aftermath of this for a lot longer than is comfortable, believe me. Don’t waste your energy trying to keep up a facade of nonchalance.
- Be good to yourself, and to each other. Everyone around you is going to be tired, stressed and anxious. So be gentle. Bend. Soften. It’s not going to be easy to do, but it will make it easier to survive.
Hope some of the above helps. You’ll get through it. You really will.