My First Real New Zealand Earthquake

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

My first “real” earthquake shook me up in more ways than one

My bed was shaking, with me in it, as my senses switched quickly from slumber to scared awake. “OK, this has happened before, it’ll be a couple of shakes, then done.” (Now in New Zealand for over a year, I’ve felt a few light earthquakes, mostly people chuckled and thought I imagined them.) But the shaking continued. “I’m definitely not making this up. What do I do?”

My view when jolted awake.

Copyright, 2020. Heather Markel.

A Newbie To The Earthquake Experience

I panicked as I realized I don’t know what to do. I’m a Native New Yorker. I can recall one jolt, once, in all my life. This time, the shaking didn’t stop. I gathered my thoughts. Someone told me being on the bed is the worst place to be. With the windows shaking and the house moving, I decided to get out of my bed. I heard I was supposed to duck under furniture, but the bed was it, and there was no way to get under it. I scrunched into the corner of the room. As I stood, I was swaying from side-to-side. That’s when I realized the house was swaying, with me in it. “What do I do? What do I do?!” But, really, there was nothing to do but wait. This is quite alarming when you are waiting to see if the house you are in will fall apart, and, if it does, whether you will be dead, damaged, or unscathed.

This was a moment when traveling solo definitely was a downer. Having even a pet with me would have been a welcome comfort. Here’s the worst part; when the shaking stopped, the bed ceased to roll about, and the house became still, I had to decide whether to go back to sleep. It was 2:30am. Nobody in the neghborhood stirred. Maybe I did make it up. Maybe there are cracks and the ceiling will fall down. I crept back into bed. I wondered if the bedroom would hold. I decided to shut my eyes and hope for the best.

Internalizing Danger

I awoke to sunlight and realized I was not just awake, but my mind was thinking, “oh my gawd, that was a really scary earthquake. I can’t believe that happened.” And then I realized, if I’m having these conscious thoughts, I must be alive, and therefore, the house didn’t fall down. Breathe. I got out of bed, took a shower, and then all the messages came in. This quake was apparently so big it even made the news back in the USA. I had booked a tour for the day, but, then I found out there was a tsunami alert. The tour, understandably, was canceled. I couldn’t sit still. The house I’m staying in has a beautiful view of the sea. I panicked wondering will I start seeing huge waves sweeping into the city? I needed to talk, to move, to not be in one place. My body was in a panicked state even while I tried to think good thoughts with my mind.

Maori statue

The view from my window. Copyright 2021, Heather Markel.

It was a strange feeling, knowing that I was powerfully UNgrounded in one sense, and trying to ground with another, and feeling disoriented and as if I were waiting for another earth movement. Can I trust the ground to remain still? Do I have trust issues? There were 3 large earthquakes close to one another. Bizarrely, the good news is that the 3 happened. Hopefully we’d be ok. But what about the tsunami? I called a friend who lives nearby in the town of Napier where I’m currently house sitting. I happen to be in a house that’s about as high as you can possibly get in Napier. My friend told me I’d be fine. The water wouldn’t get where I was, and, in fact, if people had to evacuate, they’d probably be seeking refuge where I am. The house owner checked on me later in the day, and confirmed not just this, but that they are on a list of houses that people can be sent seeking refuge in just this scenario. I also learned the house has been through a lot of earthquakes, including the big one in Napier.

In Tune With The Animals

Throughout the day, the tsunami threat was deterred, and I went for a walk in a nearby park to quell my nerves. I met a woman walking her dog and learned that, though he’s not allowed in her bed, when the quake happened, he jumped into hers. I felt somehow relieved to know that animals were as scared as I was. I met another woman with a dog that let me pet her. Later in the day, I met a cat in my backyard who spent a few minutes playing with me. All of which helped alleviate some nerves. I talked to my mother, I talked to friends, slowly, I began to breathe.

Latin Fit dance class in Kerikeri

But being a world traveller, I know that what happens in one place impacts people around the world, Covid being just one example. The “ring of fire” that New Zealand is on, is shared with some of my favorite parts of South America. As I wondered whether they were in for a quake, I learned the tsunami warning has been moved to Peru. I worry for everyone there, in light of Covid, now having this extra problem, will they be ok? I hope so.

I suppose, as part of my time in New Zealand, it wouldn’t have been complete with a scary earthquake and a tsunami warning. The kiwis I’ve met are pretty relaxed about it. I heard comments from, “there’s nothing you really can do” to “Nice knowing you if we don’t make it!” I also know that others needing refuge found it with kind Kiwis who took them in on safer ground. Once again, kiwi compassion to the rescue. I may have been scared today, but I also feel so blessed for the quality of friends I have around the world who checked on me, for my family, and for being in a country with such compassionate people. 

A few helpful resources I learned about for sometime you may find yourself in an earthquake in New Zealand:

Geonet – find out if you imagined your bed moving or if it was an earthquake

Safety protocol – some general instructions for what to do in an earthquake

Emergency alerts – for keeping track of things like tsunami warnings

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