Sunday, February 27, 2011

Despite everything, the Edmonds Challenge continues

I haven't made an entry for a while.  Initially this neglect was due to the four hectic but hilarious days I spent in Picton, celebrating the wedding of my good friends Lauren and Tom. Since then, however, things have been at a standstill for a much more sobering reason.

By now you will all have heard about the earthquake that hit Christchurch on Tuesday afternoon. I was at work at the time, which, luckily for me, is located in Hornby, not in the city centre. It was a sizeable jolt, enough to send us running for the doorways, but there was no damage to speak of. None of us had any suspicion of the devastation in other parts of town.

The first report to come through was that the Cathedral had been badly damaged, and that fatalities were likely. My brain rejected the concept that anyone could have been killed, but early images of the collapsed spire brought me close to tears. Christchurch Cathedral, previously a symbol of Canterbury's will to survive and rebuild after the September quake, was now a ruin.

As the minutes ticked past, we heard more reports of the total destruction of certain buildings, of people trapped in rubble and crushed in buses. With confirmation of multiple fatalities, and I was forced to accept the horrible truth that dozens of ordinary Cantabs going about their daily business, along with a number of international visitors, had not survived.

Soon enough we were told to go home. Traffic was crawling, bumper-to-bumper on any major road, as everyone else tried to do the same. Most unusually, drivers were extremely patient and courteous as they negotiated the packed streets. I stopped by Lauren and Tom's place to check for damage on my way home. As I shut the car door, I realised with a sinking feeling that I'd locked the keys inside. With no chance of getting the AA out, and no public transport, my only option was to smash a window to get back in.

I continued home with a back seat full of broken glass, inching my way through the traffic, waiting at intersections where solitary volunteers directed traffic in lieu of traffic lights. The damage worsened the further east I went. Close to home there was a lot of flooding, liquefaction and potholes in the streets. With the focus on search and rescue in the city, few areas had been officially coned or roped off as they were in the last quake. Residents had done their best to indicate large cracks or potholes by placing their wheelie bins beside them.

I arrived home to find my house still standing. So far, so good. Not so good when I got inside, though - I was met with the sight of my bookcases and TV face-down on the lounge floor. Stepping gingerly around these, I took a look in the kitchen. Jars of my runny plum jam had fallen from the top cupboard and smashed. Jam and tiny shards of glass were splattered all over the kitchen: it looked like a murder scene.

I checked the other rooms: more of the same. But I didn't have time to do much about it; I had to get over to New Brighton to check on Nana. Phone lines were working only sporadically, and we hadn't been able to contact her. I climbed back into the car and started towards Nana's. Every street I tried to go down was flooded: my own street seemed to be a (comparatively) dry island surrounded by flooding. In the end there was nothing to do but drive through it. It took me over half an hour to drive the few hundred metres of Hills Rd: flooded, potholed, covered in piles of silt, and packed with traffic.

The rest of the way to New Brighton offered more of the same. The roads became ever rougher; I was pushing my little Honda over cracks and holes that should only be attempted in a four-wheel drive. I had no option; neither did any of the hundreds of other drivers doing the same. Finally I reached the retirement village: It was flooded.

Picturing Nana standing alone in her villa, watching the floodwaters approach, I had to find a way to get to her. I took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my trousers and began to wade. The water was only knee-deep and I waded through it easily - too easily, as it turned out. Confidently forcing my way through the water, I couldn't see the crack that had opened in the surface of the driveway. I fell into it, getting myself soaking wet and smacking my shin hard on the edge of the crack.

I got up and hobbled to Nana's door. She wasn't there - unsurprisingly, she'd been evacuated as the floodwaters reached her house. Wet and bleeding, I surveyed the deserted village and wondered what to do next. Wherever I went, it was going to mean more wading.

Deciding to check at the office for information, I waded (carefully!) the safest-looking path and found someone to ask. At this point I ran into another relative on the same mission, and together we went door-knocking on the dry side of the village, trying to find where Nana had been temporarily moved to. Eventually we found her and made arrangements to take her away for the night.

I got back to my car and headed home, finally reaching my own door as the light began to fade from the sky. I had no electricity or water, but I managed to clear up the worst of the jam and glass by torchlight, before laying down some old towels over the rest and going to bed.

I spent the next day clearing up the worst of the mess in my house. On finding that several of my neighbours didn't have any means of cooking or heating water, I set up my gas cooker outside so we could all share it. I'd also gone down to the medical centre and got a tetanus jab and a dressing for the cut on my leg, so that was sorted.  Mum and Dad made a trip up to Christchurch to take Nana back to Timaru, and brought me plenty of extra supplies, plus a new window that Dad fitted on the car immediately.

The days since have been very long and tiring. I went into work on Friday, but apart from that, I've been at home, wondering what else I could be doing to help. Theoretically I know that just by staying put, looking after myself and helping my neighbours where I can, I'm doing my bit. I wish I could be doing more, but I don't know what.

Yesterday, just to pass the time, I reached for my Edmonds book. I had only limited cooking facilites available, but I was sure I could find something to make. Sure enough, girdle scones (p29) fit the bill as something I could whip up from ingredients I had, and they could be cooked on the barbecue. As an added bonus, they would act as a bread substitute in a meal or two as bread is a bit scarce at the moment.

It's a pretty basic scone recipe - just flour, baking powder and salt, with butter rubbed in, and mixed to a dough with milk. True, I didn't have any milk, but I mixed some up using milk powder and bottled water. Soon, I had a nice little dough wich I formed into a round, cut in wedges and placed on the barbecue. After about five minutes on each side, they were done.

They hadn't risen very much, and some of them were slightly burnt on the surface. For these reasons, they may not have been the best scones I've ever made, but they were cooked through and tasted ok. And they're certainly the best scones I've ever made on a barbecue, within four days of a major disaster. Interestingly, it's just occurred to me that the first recipe I made after the September 4 quake was also a scone recipe. I guess it's natural to reach for something simple and familiar.

I've now got power and a trickle of water back on, so things are starting to become a little easier. Since it's best to try to go on as normally as possible, I will continue to cook, and to write. I'm well aware that, since I still have my home, my belongings and above all, my life, I can consider myself extremely lucky. I only wish that everyone else could say the same.


  1. I'm glad to hear you're still keeping up with the Edmonds Challenge. I did have an image in my mind of you cooking out on the gas burner with the Edmonds in hand, and it turned out to be somewhat accurate. Good on ya!
    I've made those girdle scones a few times now and they're much better than you'd expect, aren't they? I actually like to serve casserole or stew over them sometimes. It sounds a bit weird, but try it someday! haha

    Very glad to hear that your Nana was ok. I was worried about her.

  2. Woo! So gald to see my sis and the edmonds challenge rocking on :)

    Also; very nicely written entry, in my opinion.

  3. Well done there girl, proud of you.Girdle scones looking just how they should actually.Not surprised you came up with those.
    Very impressed with the summary of a very trying day.c

  4. Baking Edmonds scones in the aftermath of an earthquake is the truest of Kiwi spirits!

    Glad to hear from you and take care :)

  5. It's heart breaking to read this a couple of years on. But it's wonderful to read about it as well - seeing people pull together and help each other is a beautiful thing.

  6. It's actually hard to believe it was only two years ago - things have changed so much that it sometimes seems much longer. Still, despite bureaucratic squabbles and red tape, Chch is starting to climb out of the rubble. It's an interesting place to be these days :)


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