At 12:02am on Monday 14 November, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near the South Island seaside town of Kaikoura in New Zealand. The quake was felt throughout most of the country, causing massive infrastructure damage, destroying roads, triggering landslides and tsunami warnings.

It started off as a quiet night. My wife, two kids and I were tucked up in a motel room in Christchurch where we’d been living for the past seven weeks. Six years ago, when the devastating 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes hit, our home was one of many damaged. We had minor gib cracking, tiles delaminated, and cracking through the brick veneers. We were left shaken but thankfully unharmed. Now, after six years of living in temporary accommodation and trying to get the house repaired through the Earthquake Commission, we only had one week to go before we could finally move back in. We were excited – a new beginning was in sight!

But, as the two-level tilt up concrete panel motel building started swaying at 12:02am, painful memories of the Canterbury earthquakes came flooding back to me. I was frightened. My first reaction was to hold my family tight and check they were safe. My second was that another devastating earthquake had occurred all over again and what impact this would have had on family, friends, colleagues, businesses and communities.

Within 15 minutes, my phone started ringing with calls and incoming texts, requesting structural building inspections in the Canterbury region. I diverted many of these to our wider structural team, but there was one call that urgently needed my assistance. I wanted to stay with my family, but there were others who needed help and reassurance. It was the least I could do.

At 12:30am I left my motel room. Driving through the middle of the city, I peered into the darkness to see if there was any damage. It looked minimal. I breathed a sigh of relief – maybe we dodged a bullet. But as I saw people standing outside, huddled in courtyards in their pyjamas, with blankets wrapped around their shoulders, the memories flooded back again. Many of these people would have experienced the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes and they were not ready for another.

I arrived at my destination at 12:45am. Everyone was gathered outside – waiting anxiously to find out if the building was safe. After an inspection with the building representative, luckily, there was no new damage and everyone could go back inside and continue their work. The occupants were relieved and extremely grateful for my help. As I walked out, every person I walked past thanked me. I was humbled – it was a pleasure to help them.

At 2:00am, I climbed back into bed and recharged my batteries for what I knew would be a busy day ahead.

I arrived at our Christchurch office at 7:00am that next morning to organise various building inspections with our structural team. Texts, calls and emails had flooded in from clients who we’d provided assistance to over the past six years – seeking help and reassurance. It was humbling to see how willing and eager everyone in the team was to assist with the inspection requests. After a health and safety briefing, they were out the door, doing what they do best.

At 6:35pm, I arrived back at my motel room and had dinner with my family. We were anxious to find out if our home had sustained any damage. Fortunately, everything was fine. I felt very lucky. I was lucky to have my family with me – alive and well, and lucky that our freshly painted wall, and the tiles on our floors and walls hadn’t cracked or delaminated again. After six years and numerous shakes, we’ll be able to go back home in a week.

Samir Govind

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Samir Govind

Technical Director - Structural Engineering

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