Despite years of being warned that the “Big One” will strike one day, Tina McDonald and Rick Carabetta never used to worry about being prepared for a natural disaster such as an earthquake.
But the White Rock couple is looking at things differently since returning home from a recent trip to New Zealand, where a 7.8-magnitude quake put them among nearly 1,000 tourists stranded for three days in the small coastal town of Kaikoura.
“The amazing thing to us (was) there was no sound to it. The only sound was this building creaking,” Carabetta said this week, recalling the eeriness he and McDonald listened for 120 seconds, as the quake shook their motel room.
“It’s quite frightening.”
McDonald and Carabetta were in the middle of a four-week trip with friends Glen and Denise Harry of South Surrey when they arrived in Kaikoura on Nov. 13. They planned to enjoy a whale-watching tour the following morning then head on to Nelson and eventually the Cook Islands.
Their plans changed without warning, however, just after midnight Nov. 14, when a powerful quake struck the South Island, fracturing the roads and triggering landslides – damage that cut all land access.
“We couldn’t get out,” Carabetta said. “The road on the coast was taken out on both sides of the city.”
After the shaking stopped, the couple threw clothes on over their pyjamas, connected with their friends – who were in a room in another wing of the same motel – and climbed into their rental truck to head for higher ground. They spent the next several hours parked at a school ground with hundreds of others who had also sought sanctuary on the ridge; learning what had happened through radio reports, and wondering if each shaking of their vehicle was the start of another earthquake or just an aftershock.
Around 6 a.m., they returned to town, checked in with Red Cross officials and began the task of trying to connect with family in Canada – between them, Carabetta and McDonald had three children and six grandchildren “panicking” for several hours, not knowing if the couple had been anywhere near the quake zone, as news channels reported two fatalities.
Two days later, on the Wednesday, they were among some 450 tourists – including luggage and pets – evacuated by the New Zealand navy; transported aboard the frigate HMNZS Canterbury south to Christchurch, where they altered their flights for the final leg of their journey, a much-needed week in the Cook Islands.
Reflecting on their longer-than-expected stay in Kaikoura, McDonald and Carabetta said they were so impressed by the kindness of those who offered assistance expecting nothing in return. From food and accommodations at no charge, to the understanding of the rental-car company that simply accepted they would not be able to return the vehicle to the pre-arranged location.
Even more impressive, they said, was how prepared everyone was to deal with the situation – food and water was at the ready, plans were in place to evacuate and assistance was provided in priority order, organized first at the local marae (meeting-place courtyard), then onboard the Canterbury and again at an arena in Christchurch.
“They did a really great job,” McDonald said of all involved.
At the same time, having to depend on those emergency services was also a “reality check,” the couple said. At home, they’ve never stockpiled water or worried at the prospect of having to go a couple of days with minimal food supplies.
“I’ve always just been like, it’s not going to be that complicated,” McDonald said. “But when you’re in it…”
Monday, they were awaiting delivery of earthquake kits they ordered for themselves and their kids within days of arriving back home.
Carabetta described the expense – $150 for a basic kit that will carry two people through the first 72 hours of a disaster – as “pretty cheap insurance.”
McDonald said she now appreciates the value of being prepared. If a similar event were to happen on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, “I don’t want to be the person in the lineup asking the Red Cross to help us,” she said.
“We won’t be a burden.”