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Serviceman's Log

From first-hand experience, I can tell you that being caught in a major earthquake is a terrifying experience. The damage here in Christchurch is extensive and although my house survived, it's had a devastating effect on my business.

by the Serviceman

Items Covered This Month

• The Christchurch earthquake

• Tech tales – all true

• Old monitor repair

• An obsolete TV repair (NEC CP785F chassis)

A scientist, when asked about the aftershocks following last year’s big quake here in Christchurch, declared the city the “safest place on earth”. His reasoning was that it was highly unlikely we would suffer another large seismic event in the near future.

He was very wrong. At 12:51pm on February 22nd 2011, when the city centre was overflowing with lunchtime crowds, a shallow quake shattered the normality. Within 20 seconds, it had stolen the lives of some 200 people and left much of a beautiful city in ruins.

Our family and wider circle of friends all survived but our house was left in a mess. Many of our possessions were tossed about and broken beyond belief but they are material goods that can either be replaced or done without. On a personal note, I would like to thank those people, including many total strangers from Australia, who sent messages of support. They really do make a difference.

Click for larger image

The main casualty for us is our computer repair business. Since the global recession, which disproportionately affected many small businesses like ours, trade has been slow. Until recently though, it had been steadily improving as the recession in NZ faded. The September quake did put the brakes on again but after a few months, the general feeling was that we were over the worst of it – or in one friend’s words, people were putting “the good china back up”.

Our own business was healthier than it had been for more than two years; so much so that I was considering taking on another technician to assist my sole remaining staff member (down from a high of four two years ago). However, at 12.51 on that Tuesday, my 15-year-old business came to a sudden, crashing halt.

I was lunching with my wife across town at the time. When the quake struck, we somehow escaped from the shopping mall we were in and headed straight home. The further east we travelled, the bleaker things looked, with the streets increasingly showing signs of liquefaction and more and more brick fences and homes in ruins.

Frustratingly, most phone systems crashed due to overloading, though miraculously the “minnow” network we use (2degrees) was still working for SMS between 2degrees customers. However, I couldn’t call or message landlines or mobiles on other networks but we could reach key friends and family as well as my technician at the workshop.

After finding that our house and cats were relatively OK, I made my way through the increasingly makeshift cordons towards the workshop, skirting the most badly damaged roads where I had to. Even so, many roads were almost impassable for my small work van. As I slowly passed the collapsed buildings, I saw people being pulled from the wreckage and the huge piles of rubble and grimly feared the worst. It looked very bad indeed.

After the September quake, which measured 7.1 and was located about 40km away (and about the same depth underground), the extent of the damage at my workshop was just a few tools on the floor. We opened the next day and while business was patently slow, it picked up nicely as time passed. We saw a cluster of quake-related problems, mainly damaged hardware due to power surges, as well as the odd broken laptop or desktop due to a machine falling or having something fall on it.

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