A Shake-up

A Big Wave at Tokomaru Bay

It is now Sunday March 7th. Kia ora katoa.

On Thursday night there was a strong earthquake, the first of several, as it turned out. This woke many people, except for those who, like me, were awake already. Here in Wellington the shaking wasn’t particularly strong, but it seemed to go on for a long time. A quick lookup on geonet.org showed it was centred 125 km east of Te Araroa, on the East Cape of New Zealand.  It is now rated at 7.2 on the Richter scale, at a depth of 12 kilometres (it was initially thought to be much deeper). The initial level of severity varied, this earthquake was out at sea, but our thoughts turned to the possibility of tsunamis around the NZ eastern coast line, which includes Hawkes Bay.  Our two sons overseas were monitoring this situation, too, with some anxiety. We conversed on Messenger.

The advice here is “if an earthquake is long, or strong, get gone”; in other words, get to higher ground. Things were a bit confused initially. Nema, a division of Civil Defence that I hadn’t previously heard of, recommended initially that anyone in a coastal area get to higher ground.  We tried to work out how close our daughter’s home was to the coast – it’s quite a way inland. Anyway, we figured, if her house needed to evacuate it wouldn’t be a big deal to rouse them and move them. Meanwhile, our sons overseas were sending links to twitter feeds which had some people heading to Bluff Hill in Napier; not a great idea, I thought, seeing it had been thrown up in the 1931 earthquake. We thought the Hohepa settlement at Clive would need to evacuate, but a new advice came from Nema: only residents from Cape Runaway to Tolaga Bay in the East Cape should evacuate. We didn’t ring our daughter’s’ home in Napier, figuring they would be quite busy enough doing whatever needed to be done. Fortunately, although there was strong shaking in Napier, there haven’t been any reports of major damage.

I flicked between Stuff, the NZ Herald, and radio NZ websites, trying to ascertain information. At 5:36 am a message came from Hohepa, advising that they had not evacuated, but were ready to do so if needed. As expected, they had the situation under control. But the drama wasn’t over yet. There were several aftershocks during the night, and then a big earthquake (8.1) near the Kermadec islands at 8:30 am. These islands are not inhabited, and are administered by the Department of Conservation. There was a further tsunami warning, this time for the north of New Zealand. There were photos of queues of cars moving away  from coastal zones on narrow roads, and some remarkable photos: someone filmed a large wave coming into Tokomaru Bay, and someone else sent a picture of the Kaipara Harbour, with the tide out, and much more land visible than usual.  The folk at Clive went up to the Hohepa School site at Poraiti, where they had pizza for lunch, before returning to Clive. In the event, there was no tsunami damage recorded – just interesting times, and some strange behaviour by nature during that day, last Friday. I rand my daughter, only to find that she and the other residents in her house had slept through the ordeal!  The wake-over, of course, had woken up.  It was a relief to know there was no damage there. We had several lovely messages from Hohepa during the day.  Exciting times, and a night with very little, if any, sleep. We are reminded that we live in shaky isles.

In other news, New Zealand has returned to Covid 19 level 1, while the Auckland area has moved from level 3 to level 2. No new community cases of Covid 19 have been diagnosed. Vaccinations continue for MIQ workers, and the rest of us, hearing of many overseas who have been vaccinated, are getting a little restless at what now seems the rather slow pace here. Our party, later this year, is looming ever closer, and I fear it will be limited to locals only if our borders are still closed and require 14 days in MIQ – at guests’ expense. JD’s two sisters intend to come from Australia. I hope they will be able to.

I am reading a most interesting book at present, called Hitler and Stalin, by Laurence Rees (an Englishman). Why has my interest been sparked again by this conflict? During our lockdown I read Stalingrad, by Vasily Grossman.  Just recently, I read East West Street by Philippe Sands,  which made a huge impression on me, and introduced me to the city of Lvov, (which I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of), in what is now Ukraine. I’ve also listened to several talks by an American historian, Dr Stephen Kotkin, who is writing a biography of Stalin – two of the three volumes are out so far.  I have read with great pleasure A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.  I see books in Unity Bookshop, and then request them from the library. When they turn up (completely at random), I have to stop and read them. They’re issued for three weeks, and sometimes can be renewed – once only, so that’s generally not enough time for me to get through a big book, especially when several arrive at once.

We watched the US series Winds of War, and then have just finished watching a British series, Fortunes of War, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Guy and Harriet Pringle, based on Olivia Manning’s series of novels (which in turn are based on her own experiences of escaping the Germans through the Second World War. He was a teacher of English Literature, sent to Bucharest, whence they escaped to Athens, and then to Cairo. Guy and Harriet have an unusual relationship, which rather reminds me of my own; or shall I say, Guy Pringle reminds me of my own husband. I don’t at all claim to be like the inimitable, witty and beautiful Emma Thompson. What adventures they have! And how strange their “homes” are, often a room in someone’s house, with close connections to the British Legation. Guy and Harriet are very different people, without familial connections. They have very different friends, but their relationship works, somehow, with a great deal of acceptance on her part. He loves her, of course, but doesn’t seem to need her, until she’s not there, in the background. He thinks her lovely friends are crazy. They think he is, too, and wonder how she puts up with him. She has a certain independence of her own (and of course, her writing including her keen powers of observation). A later novel tells of their going to the Caribbean, and of losing an unborn child. This must have been a devastating and lonely experience.

In all of this, and my re-reading of Roman history, and, of course, the recent pandemic (which has now dominated everything for over one year), I am reminded how tenuous civilisation is. Reading about Hitler and Stalin, I am reminded how unbelievably cruel they were. Human life had little if any value. Before World War II officially began, they were prepared to move thousands of people in Poland. Stalin was the reason behind the Great Terror, and the Holodomor the famine in Ukraine in the 1930’s. Hitler had no qualms about starving the inhabitants of St Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was then called), where the Bolshevik Revolution had started in 1917. They were both strange, quick-tempered, difficult to communicate with, and had no qualms about betrayal. Each was loyal to himself. 

I’m also very aware of the desperate decisions people made, trying too ensure their safety, which often resulted in fleeing for one’s life, splitting up families, and not knowing sometimes for years what had happened to one’s loved ones.

There’s plenty of history here for Americans to be wary of right wing and left wing extremism, but I do wish the Democrats would exhibit something socialist!!! Why does one read history? It’s so interesting, for one thing; it also tells us what can happen in desperate circumstances. Meanwhile, despite right-wing forces’ success worldwide, NZ elected a Labour Government, and for all its failings, I’m happy to be right here. Ngā mihi.

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