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home : news : news July 22, 2014

CF student experiences earthquake in New Zealand

(Editor's note: Megan Mason, the daughter of Mark and Kathy Mason of Cannon Falls, is a junior geology major at Beloit College. She is studying abroad in New Zealand, and submitted the following first-person account of the earthquake that hit that country on Feb. 22.)

by Megan Mason

Hello from the southern hemisphere. For the past month I have been living my highly anticipated study abroad dream. I chose a program that was specific toward geology, which is my major at Beloit College in WI.

Prior to the semester starting at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand we traveled around New Zealand mapping and learning the regional geology. My highlight of the first month was climbing Mt. Ngauruhoe, more commonly known as Mt. Doom to any Lord of the Rings fan.

The traveling ended February 20, and new excitement loomed with the start of the semester and settling into my new flat. I had a full day of class on February 21, followed by an interrupted day of classes on the 22nd.

As media reports have shown, there was an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 during the lunch hour in my new town of residency. This earthquake was smaller than the Sept. 4 earthquake (7.1 magnitude), but it resulted in much more damage and loss of life. The buildings were littered with micro fractures from the September earthquake and the current earthquake was the straw that broke the camel's back, or the shake that crumbled the brick buildings.

Here is the story looking through a lens of an American student studying geology that tragic day in Christchurch.

Feb. 22, at 12:51p.m. I was in class on the 2nd floor. The professor was just about finished when a tremendous rumble consumed our attention for a total of 30 seconds. At first everybody shared the same facial expression of confusion and question, then there was a general rush to the floor by the New Zealanders (Kiwis), followed by my uncouth downward maneuver.


While underneath the desks, we rode out the

intense shaking as the floor moved from



While underneath the desks, we rode out the intense shaking as the floor moved from side-to-side. When the shaking and rumbling ceased we watched the ceiling lights sway back and forth.

Earlier in the class, we had all introduced ourselves and where we were from, because it was a small class of 16 students, not typical of an average class size at Canterbury. Once everybody caught their breath the professor said, "How was that Miss Minnesota?!"

Behind my giant grin I answered, "That was definitely my first earthquake!"

We exited safely and began to follow a sea of people exiting adjacent buildings. I was on the grass for the second aftershock. While maintaining my balance I could literally see the ground form ripples and waves. I did not see anybody I knew for a while, but just slowly strolled away from campus with the crowd.

My frame of reference for size of earthquakes is zero, as to be expected growing up in Minnesota. I heard whispers from Kiwi students that the initial quake was a big one, which was my first indication that this earthquake was significant enough to cause some damage.

I finally found two of the students whom I had been with the past month. Collectively, we shared stories and high-fives for how cool it is to be a geologist. We laid in the grass and experienced half a dozen small aftershocks. We were all questioning whether or not we would have lab at 3:30 (we had no clue how big this actually was). Meanwhile, we headed toward the flats (apartments) where we saw people gathering.

About an hour after the initial earthquake, I found out the severity of the situation and how much it had affected downtown. Sam, a masters student, was instructed to find the students in my program. As he approached I greeted him with a high-five, which to this day I wish I could take back. He told us the cathedral was badly damaged, a building crushed a city bus, and some locals had been killed. My excitement quickly wore off as I saw the look of concern in Sam's eyes.

Two days prior to the earthquake I made the 3k walk into town. I did not take a picture of the cathedral because I figured I had ALL semester to snap a shot of it. On our walk back to our flats, we ran into a librarian who had been on the 11th floor.She showed us pictures of the books on the floor and crashed ceiling lamps. I went into the library for the first time earlier that morning because it had just reopened (it had been closed after the September 4 earthquake). I saw another student's photo of the liquor store with lots of broken bottles covering the ground.

All the flats were safe, except for one. I knew two people in that flat. There was a giant crack visible on the outside. The flat has a massive concrete slab on the outside and it looked like it could have fallen any minute. Some students brought out couches and got front row seats- thinking it might tumble down in some of the aftershocks.

I entered my flat and found some books on the ground and drawers wide open. I got in touch with my flatmates and found out that they were all safe. One of them was in town at the time.

I went for a walk into town after things had cleared. I saw a lot of liquefaction - which is sand coming up from the ground as the earth shakes - similar to shaking trail mix when you want more of the chocolate pieces on top. When the earth shakes, the denser material rises (the sand) and the water sinks, reducing the structural strength of the area and resulting in building collapse.

I saw multiple places of road and trail cracks. Also, the river was very brown and sandy from all the shaking. A few houses and such were in bad shape with bricks and fallen chimneys scattered everywhere. I was told to turn around by the army personnel at one point, and could not enter the city center.

I went home. Power had been restored and we were told to boil our water before drinking it. Throughout the night the aftershocks continued about every 30 minutes - some larger than others, but for the most part just a little rumble followed by some shaking. I cannot believe the number of them! No need for an alarm clock the next morning, the aftershocks had me awake at 6 a.m.

As of right now, the University is closed until March 14. This leaves me with some planning as to how I will spend my next few weeks. I plan on volunteering to help with the cleanup process and do some traveling. This experience is unforgettable and has disrupted the lives of many Kiwis.

I am blessed to be safe and part of an outstanding program that has made our lives more than comfortable during this natural disaster.

Cheers, Megan

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