I’m writing this post while flying from Sydney, Australia back home to New Zealand. Having spent 36 hours or so in Sydney has allowed me to step back from this crazy week and (to a certain extent at least) get my head back in order.

For those who haven’t caught up with the news – at 12:51 on Tuesday afternoon, Christchurch was hit by a large earthquake – it’s second in six months. While September’s event certainly jarred nerves and caused a degree of damage, this weeks event was far more tragic. Hundreds of people are dead or missing. A huge percentage of the CBD has been turned to rubble and a good proportion of Christchurch’s 400000 residents are living without running water, electricity, sewerage or, in some cases, even a roof over their heads.

Many of you will have caught up with my particular earthquake experience, and many of you will not be overly interested – coming here as you do to hear about technology and the like. My story absolutely pales in comparison to that of many others – however in my own little act of catharsis – I thought I’d record my last few days.

I’m involved in a business that owns a four story commercial building in the heart of the CBD in Christchurch. After being damaged in the September quake, we had recently had word that the building was to be demolished. Only a few minutes before Tuesday’s quake struck, I was in the top floor of the building talking with builders. I left the building to take a Skype call from the Founder of Nimble, Jon Ferrera (thanks Jon!) and so was in a “safe” single story modern building when the quake struck.

Having grown accustomed to the earth moving, the four of us in the office knew what to do when the quake struck for, although we’re used to aftershocks, we all could tell that this was something different. We hurled ourselves under our desks (during which I suffered my only, and laughable, earthquake related injury – carpet burns to my knees) and waited in terror as we saw laser printers hurled across the room and light fittings swaying wildly.

Once the shaking stopped, we emerged and left the building to witness a surreal scene – the city was shrouded in dust, reminiscent of a scene from 9/11. Along with the dust there were hundreds of car and building alarms wailing, along with the altogether more palpable wailing of the injured, the dying and the panic stricken.

Given my history as a firefighter and paramedic, I decided to venture out and help people. Finding an ex-colleague from the Ambulance service, I borrowed a protective vest and started to set up an emergency triage area in a local carpark. Our visitors in the first hour or so were an assortment of cases – from the elderly gent who was unperturbed having come through the war (“This is nothing compared to the blitz”), to the construction worker who had an open fracture of his arm and simply didn’t know where to go for help. All the while the screams continued from people stunned by the crushed bus that sat just around the corner – it’s occupant’s lives snuffed out as they went about their daily commutes.

After a couple of hours we relocated and helped set up the mass triage area on a public square just alongside the CTV building, the multi story building that we’ve all seen on our TV screens, collapsed and little more than a pile of burning rubble. It was not until later that I found out that a distant relative of my wife, who also happens to be a health professional who treats my son, was in that building – missing and presumed lost. One of many, but close enough to bring the reality of this event back to home.

Once things were set up in Latimer Square, and seeing the huge resource base that was there, I decided it was time to make my way to the south of the city where my wife and youngest son were sheltering at school. I spent an hour or so walking the streets to Opawa – and begin to realize the enormity of the event – the battered and broken historic buildings, the many crushed cars, the sandy mud all over the roads and footpaths from liquifaction. Gaping holes in the streets that had swallowed cars whole – this is the Christchurch we now know.

And that was our day – for the next day or two we, like many others, were glued to the computer following progress with the rescue efforts. This was especially hard for me as a volunteer firefighter – for years we have trained for incidents like this and yet we had to remain on standby in our own area to cover incidents that might occur. While in Sydney however I had word that our brigade has been mobilized to run 12 hour rolling shifts helping with the rescue efforts, thanks to my friends at Air New Zealand I was able to get the first flight home and, as soon as I land in Christchurch, I’ll be picking up my gear and heading in to join my colleagues in their endeavors.

I’ve been touched and humbled by the outpouring of love and concern from all around the world. Hundreds of tweets, emails, phone calls and Facebook messages asking if me and my family were alright, and asking if there is anything that people can do. While there are many opportunities to donate to relief organizations (this one would be a good start), my answer to people has been similar since day one. Just knowing that you’re all there and thinking of what Christchurch is going through at this time is hugely important. Our city has been bought to its knees. Physically it is wrecked – torn and twisted. Emotionally it is broken – there is a pervading sense of despair whether we have the will let alone the viability to rebuild our town.

There’s a hundreds of individual stories already told, and yet to be recorded from February 22nd – the day the earth roared. In a few weeks I’m sure most of you will have moved on to the latest topic du jour – maybe the new version of the iPad, or perhaps the latest incarnation of Farmville. Meanwhile, and much like those in Haiti before us, Christchurch will be only starting on a process of healing that will take years to go through. My wife said something on the day of the earthquake – she suggested that the children she teaches in the kindergarten will forever be known as the earthquake generation. All I know is that Tuesday is indelibly written on my mind, and on the mind of those who went through it. I don’t know what lies ahead for our city, and the enormity of the task at hand overwhelms me.

But for now, it’s time to head back to work. Normal service will resume shortly….

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Hi Ben,

    Good to hear that you made it out ok. My first sight upon racing out of our offices in Leftclick House was the bricks fallen off your old C4 building – scary that you were actually up there moments before.

    Here’s to the future of Christchurch, whatever it may be…



  • Kia kaha, Ben. A terrifying story from a terrible day. All the best for the future, Oli

  • Good to hear you and yours are well Ben. Big ups for your initiative on the day.

  • Relieved to know you and yours made it through the disaster safe and well.

    Best wishes as Christchurch’s recovery process unfolds.

  • Thank you for sharing (and helping those in need).

    I’m amazed by the coverage created by user generated content creating devices – Christchurch will always be remembered as one of the first quakes in a place with serious device and camera penetration.

    It also teaches us that the Richter scale as a metric is as questionable as a Klout score – you need other data and context!

  • Geraldine Grau |

    I think about you and all my virtual colleagues and Bib, Grant and Sinead and Pete and all my other friends and I am so glad that everyone is safe and sound.
    I am so sad for all the people who have lost loved ones in the devastation.
    I am so happy and relieved for the small acts of kindness and humanity that have come of this.
    Lastly, I am looking forward to my visit towards the end of the year.

  • All my best wishes to the people of Christchurch during the long recovery period. New Zealand folks are strong and resourceful — it won’t be easy but you will bring your city back!

  • Thank goodness you are ok… And that you thre yourself in to help!

    Thinking of all of you down there in chch!


  • @benkepes that’s so so cute! That’s about as good as it gets! Well done

  • Hi Ben, what an amazing story you have. My home town is in ruins. I live out east and just hope that we can recover.

    My cloud application Mango (www.mangolive.com) has survived the Christchurch earthquake remarkably. Our data centre Unleash kept the application up without skipping a beat. They ran for over 5 days on diesel till the power was reinstated. I know these are extraordinary circumstances but our customers (particularly in Christchurch) have been pleased to have moved to the cloud. Currently I’m hearing of a mad scramble to get desktop applications up and running while the cloud apps just keep on functioning.

    Remarkable times!

    I think “munted” is the word for the day.

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