We can now add big earthquakes to our list of life experiences after PNG was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the scale.
Every month or two we get little earthquakes and enjoy the whole house wobbling. Many times I’m not sure if it’s an earthquake or just Gerdine walking around (our floor is very bouncy). Then once every half a year or so there’s a bigger one where we think about getting out of the house.
Our team was meeting at our house for our Sunday Church time when the earthquake started. When one starts you have no idea if it’s going to be a big one or not, so we’re all sitting there enjoying the message, but as the intensity quickly builds we figure it’s time to get out.
Alice and Millie had just gone down for a nap, so they were rudely grabbed and everyone filed down the stairs hanging on to the railing like we were on a stormy sea.
When outside we turned to watch the house (which afterwards we decided was a bad idea because our backs were turned to the Hansen house and if it came down we’d be in the wrong place!) and watched as the posts rocked back and forth in the ground, with visible gaps going down into the hole on both sides of the post.
Then we see water cascading down all the gaps in our plywood floor, making us think a pipe had been ruptured.
Poor Oscar was crying away saying, in a panicked voice, “our house is going to break!”
Once the earthquake died down the first thing I did was shut the valve off at the water tank, then it was upstairs to check out the damage. It was a mess. The water all over the floor turned out to be from our water filter. We’ve got a 2 bucket filter where we put water from our tank into the top bucket, from where it drips down through 4 ceramic candles leaving mud and nasty tropical bateria behind, filling a lower bucket with drinking water.
The water filter had shaken itself off the counter and dumped 40L of water on the floor, breaking all 4 candles inside in the process, and to boot it looks like it landed directly on the tap on the lower bucket, which put a big hole in the lower bucket. It took us a while to figure out that the sofa was wet because the splash from it falling went all the way across the house!
Spice jars all over the floor happens every time we have a quake, but this time our computer monitor, laptop and books had all taken a tumble too. The laptop and monitor are still working, which is great!
A glass jar I had put some screws in fell off and smashed (I’m in the process of replacing all our glass jars with plastic ones now).
We decided our church meeting was over for the day and started to cleanup.
Mop up the water first. Then notice the fridge and freezer is off, that’s the next problem before our supplies thaw. That was an easy one though as our DC circuit breaker had flipped during the quake and just needed to be reset. (I think that means there must have been a short circuit somewhere… which is concerning).
Drinking water was the next job which involved using all the Stous family’s and our own spare filter candles, and drilling a hole in a different bucket to work as the botom bucket.
All in all, the tidy up took only an hour and a half.
It was the next day when checking under the house that some more issues appeared. A few of the cross braces had come off because screws had snapped; easily fixed (with bigger screws). Then I noticed our PVC pipes. We have one that takes waste from the toilet and dumps it in an underground hole and a 50mm one that dumps kitchen sink, bath and washing machine water into a ditch that runs down the hill… (or goes downhill for 3m and then enters a swamp… I need to fix that).
The house posts had sunk and now the PVC pipes were carrying the weight of the house. The 50mm pipe was bowing with the weight, so I dug down and dug under it a bit so it could sink.
As I went to do the same for the waste pipe I dug down to find that the 90 degree elbow had broken. The side going to the house had gone down, the pipe in the ground hadn’t.
“Gerdine don’t poop” I yelled as I began replacing it. It’s just mud I told myself as I dug it out, cut out the broken joint and installed two 45 degree elbows instead (just what I had to hand). Putting PVC pipe in when both sides of it are held solid is pretty tricky, but we just about managed – even if the pipe going straight down doesn’t have the length of overlap with the 45 degree elbow I’d have liked (it’s straight down, should be fine).
This led to a bit of measuring to figure out the position of each of the posts. We’ve known for a long time that the back of our house is sinking (always fun to play marbles). Measuring where the PVC was to where it should have been I guess that this quake caused the posts to sink about 3-4cm. After some measuring with a string line, I find out that the back posts are (roughly) 6-9cm lower than the front. So we’re concerned, but at what point does something need to be done?
The worst part isn’t the damage, it’s the discomfort it gives you in your own home. I had to have a talk with Gerdine about what we’d have done if that had happened at night. Who turns the lights on? Who grabs what baby? Making a plan so indecision doesn’t paralyze us if we’ve both just been woken up.
I’ve been working on a new room for Oscar above ours, but now I don’t want to put him up there because it’d take so much longer to get him out of the house if we needed to quickly.
Oscar has recovered from his own panic and as we tucked him in at night he said “I’m happy that my videos didn’t break”. He’s got an imaginary flat screen TV in his bed and he likes to imagine videos to watch while he’s waiting for it to be time to get up in the morning.
For us, every creak of the plywood as we walk around and every time I feel like I’m walking downhill going to the back of the house all play into a fear that the house is going to topple to the ground in the near future. We’re not worried enough that we think any structural work needs doing right now, but it plays into this vague discomfort we feel. Now I have a new fear of being caught in a landslide if I’m on the mountainside during an earthquake too.
We’re not the only ones to see damage. A house in a village 2 hours hike away collapsed, but with Kovol houses being much lighter than ours with all their roofing iron most people were confused as to why were asking if they were ok!
I also happened to mention that the queen of England had died and I’ve had several people say “ah, that’s why there was an earthquake then.”