Two thoughts. The first: I am going to die.

The second: I want that sock.

The earthquake took control, was in a position of command when it struck midnight Sunday, but the human spirit is indomitable and forever reaches for hope, for salvation, for dear life. I had the suspicion there was something heroic in my efforts, as I crouched under a table in my hotel room on the seventh floor in downtown Wellington, to reach out for a sock.

I needed that sock.


The terror was real and I was, accordingly, terrified.

I thought of Emily and Minka.

I saw their dear faces and I was glad they weren't with me to share the moment.

The earthquake got more violent. It had begun gently; it gave the bed a playful little shake, and the bed began to twitch.

Hmmm, I thought, that's rum.

I'd only just got into bed and had only just opened my book, Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope, and was annoyed at the distraction.

Every page of Trollope's 1857 masterpiece is bursting with mirth and I was eager to find the latest hilarity.

But the movement of the bed was not amusing.


I got up and put on my pants and half of a shirt and dived under the table.

The earthquake was getting worse.

It got very bad very quickly. Hence the first thought - certain death - and the faces of the two people I love most, and was failing.

I wouldn't be around as partner and father. I was going to be a disappointment to them.

I was afraid: my life depended on that sock.

The earthquake reached a peak and seemed to hold onto it.

I got the sock. I got the one next to it, too. What a creature was man! I could now face anything. I was ready.

The earthquake began to lose strength and purpose; it lazily rocked back and forth for a while, the noise grew quieter, although it hadn't ever been very loud.

Before it finished I was up and flung open the curtains to see if the city was in a smoking ruin. It wasn't.

I took the stairs down to reception. There were maybe 20 guests there, tipped out of bed, but the situation seemed calm.

It wasn't really; it was in shock.

A couple in their 50s arrived with their luggage. They briskly demanded an electronic door be opened to the basement car park.

I said: "Are you getting in your car and leaving?" The guy said: "That is exactly what we are doing."

A woman began shouting. The night manager called for calm.

His assistant said: "I come from the country with the worst earthquakes in the world, Chile. This," he said, and attempted a nonchalant shrug, "is a walk on the beach."

The mirror on the wall began to shake, and the earth moved beneath our feet.

There were more aftershocks, tremors, big and little jolts.

The night manager said: "Go back to your rooms."

The guests did not go back to their rooms.

More arrived down the stairs; about 40 slept on the reception floor, on couches, against walls.

A pregnant woman cried. A German woman panicked. A large woman sat in the middle of the room lightly dressed in a T-shirt. No socks. No pants, either.

We made introductions. We helped out. We listened to each other's stories. We went quiet at each new aftershock.

We did what everyone else did: hoped we would be safe, and searched for information about the safety of others. Everyone just wanted to go home.