The people of Christchurch, New Zealand got a heck of a lot more than they bargained on this weekend. Instead of enjoying the first few quiet days of Spring in Christchurch,  enjoying the city’s café culture, gothic buildings, and the public gardens full of color and new life, they were unexpectedly awakened on Saturday morning by a bouncing  7.1 earthquake.

The ornate clock on the Victoria Street Tower is frozen at 4.36, the time that the earthquake first hit, savagely shaking Christchurch and waking up its residents, throwing them around.

But Cantabrians are hardy souls, not prone to hysteria or panic, and earthquake shakes are not uncommon. So while many took cover under tables and beds or doorways, many more just stayed in bed, listening to the sounds of falling objects and waiting for it to end. And end it did, for all of four or five minutes.

But  then it came again.

And this time, no one remained in bed.

This time,  everyone knew that this wasn’t ‘just another shake’.

But there is an upside to this disaster. Its timing (in the early hours of Saturday morning) meant that we are only counting broken building and not broken bodies. Had it been during the day or evening, when the city was alive with people, it could easily have been the other way around.

And as with any disaster, the community spirit which, sadly, is often missing in everyday life, came immediately to the forefront. After the earthquake’s initial violent shakes subsided, people started gathering in the streets, checking on neighbours to make sure they were okay and helping each other out.

And when daylight broke, it was an almost perfect Spring day, perhaps Mother Nature’s way of apologizing for the mess it was creating.

Two days and eighty aftershocks (and still counting) later, the true extent of the damage is only just starting to sink in. The central city looks a little like a war zone, complete with military helicopters flying overhead and police and soldiers standing guard at street corners.

It’s a most unsettling sight.

Tourism New Zealand, by the way, offers updated information for anyone planning on traveling to Christchurch in the coming weeks.

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