This is not a word you want to hear screamed out at 4:25 am on a Saturday morning. I don't remember much of the terrifying 40 seconds that followed, except sitting huddled together in the darkness with my family and elderly neighbour waiting for day break, as aftershock followed aftershock.
That was September 4th last year, in my city of Christchurch, New Zealand - the start of the new 'normal' and almost daily aftershocks that continue to this day.
At magnitude 7.1, many homes and businesses suffered damaged, including our own. Luckily no lives were lost, but a quake of this magnitude was devastating for a community already struggling through a recession.
Christchurch was built as an English city in the mid-1800s. Early settlers surrounded themselves with fabulous stone Victorian-gothic buildings - a constant reminder of home. Our family-run design studio, Hot Pyjama Productions, is located in a 1890s heritage building in a central city pedestrian mall, surrounded by other old buildings.
After September's quake, we began a move to a newer earthquake-strengthened space in an adjoining building. In a move that probably saved our lives, we also decided to work from our home offices over the summer holidays. We took with us our key equipment, with the aim of returning after Christmas to complete the move.
As I sat outside enjoying the Boxing Day sun, checking out the latest aftershocks on geonet.org.nz (a popular new pastime in Christchurch), another large quake hit. The epicentre this time was the central business district – where both our old and new office buildings were located. The authorities soon 'red stickered' them, labeling them as severely damaged, which meant we couldn't go in to retrieve anything.
Luckily, even though this quake happened during the day just as Boxing Day sales were underway, no one lost their lives. But for our small business things were looking bleak. Not only were we unable to complete our planned move, but most of our equipment and furniture, and all of our paper job records and printed samples were out of reach. Fortunately, since we had taken our computers home before Christmas and had all our job and time records in FunctionFox, we were able to continue working.
I wish that was where the story ended, but on February 22nd, as I sat working in my home office with my cat asleep in the filing tray, yet another earthquake struck. I waited a few seconds to judge its severity, and as items started to fall from shelves and smash on the floor, I grabbed the cat and braced myself under my desk.
After checking on my neighbours, I turned on the TV. I was amazed that we still had electricity, but that quickly turned to shock as I saw live pictures of collapsed buildings, and of people wandering around dazed and covered in dust, not knowing what to do or where to go to be safe. I knew then that Christchurch's luck had finally run out - this time lives would certainly be lost.
Although at 6.4 this quake was not as big as the one in September, it was more violent and destructive. Hundreds of historic and modern buildings were flattened (or will be torn down because they are unsafe). Many people, including business colleagues, tourists, students and shoppers lost their lives, as buildings collapsed and verandas toppled. Some bodies will never be recovered.
For our city and our small country, it was the worst series of natural disasters we had ever experienced.
It took a long 24 hours before my family was reunited again and I knew that my pregnant colleague, Abbie was safe. While I could receive phone calls from concerned relatives overseas, it was frighteningly difficult to connect with people locally. Luckily my husband, who was in the centre of town, was unharmed because he was working in a low-rise building. Our older daughter was at school across town, and her sister was away from the city at school camp, and both were quite safe.
Three months have now gone by since the quake. Many homes and buildings have been demolished, and more are scheduled for demolition. People in the worst hit eastern suburbs are still living without running water, sewerage or electricity, in homes that will probably be condemned. Many business offices, including ours in the inner city, remain locked down and inaccessible because they are unsafe. The national state of emergency has only just been lifted. Some business owners have been lucky enough to get in quickly and grab what they can, others will have to start again with nothing, or face closing their businesses.
Hot Pyjama was lucky. We were able to resume business relatively quickly because we had moved our computers and could work from home – and because our essential job and contact records were safely stored with FunctionFox.
I've learned some valuable business lessons from this experience:
This article has been written by Wendy Riley. More information on Hot PJ can be found at www.hotpj.co.nz.