Sunday 13 March 2011

Great shakes

Nothing but disaster in the papers today: flick, flick, pages 1-5 Japan, 6-8 Christchurch. We're sending a team of 48 USAR people, keeping back enough in case we need them here again. (There's an aircraft carrier from the US on its way to Japan too - what a difference 70 years makes, eh?) The scale of the Japanese quake is just phenomenal, the numbers huge, the destruction hard to believe - and on top of all that, there's a looming nuclear meltdown too. If it were a movie, you'd call it over the top; because it's real life, it's impossible to get your head around, despite being glued to all that horrifying video.

This earthquake, I read, is ranked 7th in the list of Great Quakes, and at the top is the 9.5 one in Chile in 1960 which generated a massive tsunami. I was too small then to remember it, but a few years ago I was in Maketu, a small Bay of Plenty town south of Tauranga, talking to a local historian, and he pointed out the garden where he was sleeping in a tent as a boy when the tsunami rolled in during the night. It could have been tragedy, but instead it was farce, because the water stopped just short of where he was sleeping soundly, and he woke in the morning astonished to find a huge pile of logs washed up against the fence.

Quaint little place - very good pie shop - and quintessentially sleepy and bare-footed, daily life revolving around the beach, river and estuary. "No-one could beat a Maketu kid at swimming," Niven claimed - because the school swimming pool was the river, and they were always having to fight the tide as they swam.

I wrote about it for the NZ Listener, and the editor queried the tsunami bit. I sent him proof, but he cut it anyway. Pft. What did he know - he rejected another story that subsequently won the Travel Writer of the Year award. (Ahem. Travelskite.)

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