Wednesday, 23 February 2011

They say it is the noise of an earthquake

that people will remember first.
There was a very minor incident here about fifteen years ago and I remember a "crack". Our last cat had been sitting on the windowsill. He jumped into my arms and quivered. It made me wonder what animals understand about such things.
The city of Adelaide is built on a fault line that extends into the north of the state. There was an earthquake which did some damage when I was still a pre-schooler. I can remember waking, probably because of the noise, and seeing the small wardrobe in my bedroom swaying backwards and forwards before my father rushed into the bedroom and carried me out into the night. Nothing else happened but the memory remains.
Since that time we have had a number of minor incidents which have caused minor damage. We have been told that one day there may well be a much bigger incident. Our present house was built so that it rests on the foundations. This is supposed to help.
Most people here are not concerned. Why should they be? They believe that such an event is unlikely. The ground beneath their feet seems solid.
I have no doubt that, despite the events of last year, most people in Christchurch felt the same way. We do not want to believe that anything like that could happen to us. We do not live in the developing world where those sort of disasters are almost commonplace.
There will be very little work, if any, for me as a result of the Christchurch incident. Almost everyone there will speak English. Interpreters will not be needed in the same way. Communication difficulties (and there will be many) will be of a technological nature. I am grateful for that but I know that there will still be people who will be required to do the same sort of work as they do in any disaster zone. Public health, disease control, treating the injured, burying the dead, clearing the rubble etc is just a start. Then there is reliving it all through inquiries and getting your life back into some sort of order. That can take years. Somewhere like Haiti will not recover for generations.
It is all too easy when we see disasters unfold on the news services or, as in my case, they come in through a news feed, to distance ourselves. It does not seem "real". There is a psychological mechanism which allows us to "switch off". It seems we need to protect ourselves, as TS Eliot says, "Humankind cannot bear very much reality."
They say it is the noise of an earthquake but I wonder whether it is the silence beneath that noise.


Rachel Fenton said...

The city will be rebuilt but the people will carry the fear, rubble and heartache for long after that.

Anonymous said...

You are right - the fear, rubble and heartache but, most of all the silence. I never thought of it that way before.

Shauna said...

In a country with such a small population as New Zealand it often feels more of a village, and at such times as this that feeling is amplified. Six degrees of separation can come down to two or three with most people having family or friends who are affected. The silence beneath the noise will be with many people for a long time.

catdownunder said...

Yes, NZ has such a small population but it is a magnificent place and I could weep for it!

Anonymous said...

I switched off the coverage when the cameras were pushed into the faces of injured and shocked people. I hope I didn't "switch off" my feelings for the people at teh same time.

Judy B

Sheep Rustler said...

I will never forget the sound of the strongest earth tremor we have had in Melbourne in the last ten years - it sounded like a semi-trailer rumbling down my small suburban street. And then all the birds stopped singing.

I have a very close friend who is from Christchurch and whose family still live there. They will stay, but I wonder how many people will not return? And the degrees of separation thing - one 'Australian resident' was killed - my husband had worked with him. Two other people from the same firm, whom he also knew, were killed.

The silence - shock, grief, disbelief, and then grim determination ...

catdownunder said...

I see nothing wrong in not wanting to watch Judy!
One of my friends here has family in Christchurch. It was agonising seeing her wait. Her brother worked in a building in the centre of the city and she knew that was destroyed before she heard he was safe.
My job involves dealing with disasters all the time but this one just seemed so much closer to home! It must be even worse when you actually know individuals who did not make it out.