"News of Melbourne’s earthquake today made my left leg hurt. That’s the leg I
On February 22 2011, there were nine of us on a red bus from Sumner to
Canterbury University in Christchurch. At 12.51, the unreinforced brick facade
of 605 Colombo Street crushed our bus and four pedestrians. I felt brick after
brick land on my left hip, and wondered how long I would last.
I’m the only one left — the lucky thirteenth.
I was taken to hospital on the back of a stranger’s truck. I broke more bones
than the surgeons were willing to count, spent two months in hospital, and six
months off work. More than a decade later, I feel the earthquake in every step.
During that earthquake, 16 people were killed just on that one block of
Christchurch’s main street. Melbourne and country Victoria are full of places
just like it, with brick facades, parapets and gables.
It wasn’t the earthquake that killed everyone but me on that bus. It was the
building, its lack of regulation, lack of structural support, and lack of a
fence. It wasn’t just bad luck.
Changing New Zealand’s Building Act to prioritise “fally-offy bits” of
buildings was not in my life plan. But extraordinary events can change ordinary
life plans. So when I got out of hospital, I set my ordinary environmental work
to the side, and took a couple years to brush up on seismology, earthquake
engineering, and the seismic safety of buildings.
Five years later, the NZ Parliament ratified the “Brower amendment” to the
Building Act to prioritise fixing unreinforced brick decorative bits of
buildings. And now I’m asking Victoria to please learn from your Kiwi cousins.
Earthquakes don’t kill people; buildings do. And those lovely decorative bits
of buildings are the first to fall, even in relatively mild earthquakes like
the ones Victoria gets from time to time."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics