On the 4th of September, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit our home town of Christchurch. Instinctively I was out of bed and standing in the doorway before I knew what was going on. I heard my sister call out from her bedroom, asking if I was ok? After letting her know I was my first thought was, ‘you have to be kidding me’! Today was the day of my sister’s wedding.
After leaving my husband nine months earlier I had moved in with Sarah. We hadn’t lived together since we were children, but I enjoyed hanging out with her again. My favourite times were the late night dance parties in the lounge. And the late night conversations over a bottle of wine when life seemed a little too hard.
The build up to her wedding hadn’t been without it’s dramas. I think that comes with the territory when you marry into a Greek family. But the day had arrived and she had gone to bed excited the night before. To put it into perspective, this was a wedding that had been dreamed about since the day she was born. It needed to go ahead. And as chief bridesmaid, and older sister, I needed to make sure it did!
Initially we didn’t realise the extent of the damage the city had sustained. We had no power, no water and we were negotiating broken glass by torchlight. But we laughed it off in true Judkins style, declaring that all would be fine.
It wasn’t until we wandered out to the street an hour later and met a guy walking back from town that reality hit. He told us the city centre was a mess. Buildings were down everywhere. It looked like a war zone.
The church she was to be married in was in the middle of that city. And so was the reception venue. We had no idea whether either would still be standing. And we had no idea whether the wedding would be able to go ahead. I went into ‘I will get this sorted’ mode and started making phone calls.
After establishing our family were safe, we tried finding someone who had water so we could have a shower. For two girls that wash their hair every day this was of utmost importance! The only person that did was my ex-husband. We had remained on good speaking terms, and he was happy to help, so a mad dash was made across town at 6.30 in the morning.
Now, my sister hasn’t got the best eyesight and her driving scares the crap out of me at the best of times. But here we were. Hurtling through the streets in her little black car. Completely ignoring the speed limit. As we would approach a set of traffic lights, which weren’t working anyway, I’d look left, then right and yell ‘good to go’. She’d put her foot down and we would tear through the intersection, laughing our heads off. But silently praying I hadn’t missed seeing a car coming towards us.
Next on the agenda ... was finding out whether the church and reception venue were still standing. After some frantic phone calls we confirmed they were. Nearly every church had fallen down except the one they were getting married in. And the building where the reception was to be held was about the only one without damage in the whole street. Not only that but the cake that Sarah had placed on a tiny ledge at the restaurant the night before hadn’t even moved. And none of the glass bottles that were to be used as centre pieces on the tables had broken. Someone was definitely looking after them that day.
The next issue was whether we would be able to get our hair done. Bless the hairdresser’s heart but she rocked up to the salon with a power generator in hand and we were in business. At this point, despite the fact it was only 9.30 in the morning we decided to open a bottle of champagne. Our mother was less impressed by our antics. But we informed her that if there was any excuse to start drinking first thing in the morning then today was the day. And that was the end of that conversation!
I had my hair done first and decided to head back to the house to try and tidy up. The other bridesmaid and her husband were staying with me that night, and the house looked like a bomb had hit it. When I first got back the power and water still weren’t on. So I did what any person would do in that situation. I poured myself another glass of champagne, sat in the sun and painted my nails. I remember looking up at the sky, and despite the chaos around me, thinking ‘what a beautiful day’.
Things slowly fell into place. The power came back on. I tidied the house as best I could, while wearing my bridesmaid’s dress and trying not to ruin my hair. The flowers arrived. And everyone who was able to get to the wedding rocked up in true style.
Once the wedding started I began to feel a bit more relaxed. Then part way through the ceremony a little boy appeared from a secret door at the front of the church. Dressed in a raggedy tracksuit. He ran around the priest and then popped back through the door.
I thought I'd had one too many champagnes until I caught the other bridesmaid look at me out of the corner of her eye. She was trying not to laugh. The ceremony went on. Five minutes later the little boy popped out again. He danced about the front of the church and then disappeared through the door. By the third time this happened I didn’t dare look at my sister or Jodie in fear of bursting out laughing. It turned out it was the priest’s son … and this was quite a normal occurrence at weddings he officiated!
The ceremony ended and the photos were taken. Then as we headed towards the reception venue we came up against one last roadblock.
The police had cordoned off the street and weren’t letting people through. They told us it was too dangerous to let people into a city still experiencing aftershocks. Funny that! And while we completely understood their logic, we weren’t going to let them stop a Greek party from going ahead. We had plates to break!
The best man and I jumped to the rescue. We told the young policeman patrolling the area that we were all part of a Greek wedding reception. And if he didn’t want to endure the wrath of the Greek Mafia (I promise there were no mafia there but it sounded good!) it would be in his best interests to let us through. I don't know if it was the thought of bearded Greek men descending on him Or the fact I was wearing a tiny blue dress. But he waved us through. We were good to go!
The reception was exactly what we all needed. Laughs were had. Dancing was done. And wine was drunk. We were interrupted frequently by aftershocks. As they rattled the large glass windows at the front of the restaurant, we held our breath. Then the shaking would stop and we would carry on with the party.
Over the next few days the reality of that first earthquake began to hit home. As news coverage flooded in we realised the city we had grown up in was no longer. Instead it was lying in a pile of rubble.
In true Cantabrian spirit we vowed to rebuild. To not let it beat us. To stay strong. 'Kia Kaha Christchurch' became our war cry. But little did we know that this was just the beginning.
Six months later our world came crashing down again. This was the start of a very dark time for many of us.