Tsunami

This night, we fled from our hostel after an earthquake triggered tsunami warnings in New Zealand. Although no harm was done where I am, it was thrilling to see everyone's priorities become clear. With everyone back safe, the normalcy of our tourist lives is repulsive to me. We're safe and well, and I promise to use my life for good. I have a frightening fondness for disaster scenarios, despite knowing that they are awful.


Mingled in my dream, the alarm sounding. A young woman suddenly in the hut: This is an emergency; this is real! I struggle to put something on while getting out of bed, adrenaline already putting me in a high-functioning daze. I realise that staying 100m from the beach has its downsides. Someone tells us about the earthquake that has occurred, the tsunami that has hit the South Island. Someone asks if we should pack our bags. Nobody knows, but most of us are investing a minute to scramble valuables and clothes together. It feels like this might be very dumb, and we should all be running.

Brisk walking. I am already cold in my shorts, so I grab my pants from the clothesline — already dry. Briskly following other people, my hand finds hers — grateful to have someone at this moment. Walking on the rough street, someone falls, and items of luggage fall out — I condemn New Zealand for not building sidewalks. A couple of people wait for her, and we continue as a group. We walk past many bungalows, and I wonder how many of the vacationers there haven't realised they should leave. I shortly ponder knocking at some doors, but quickly decide against it. Where is the bus‽ We all recognise that everyone has been following someone else, and nobody has any idea where we should be going. The bus is not in sight. An older couple stops their car and picks up a part of our group. A fire truck comes towards us, past us, red lights illuminating the street. The crowd discusses whether to go back, but she and I continue, slightly uphill. It doesn't seem like we're far enough at all. We spot our bus driver! We confirm to be part of his group, and he points up a side street. I assume he's there with the bus. Other people come, I spread the misinformation about our bus; our driver finally tells us that there is no bus, and we only need to go up a few more metres. He seems even more disoriented than us but is not as concerned. I notice that the sirens have stopped, and the only sounds are disconcerted drivers and pedestrians. To my horror, our driver asks her if we should continue. He is still the only person without obvious concern, but he joins us in moving up the hill. We stop in the last driveway before the road slopes downwards, and we wait. On my phone, I check the elevation: 27m. That number doesn't seem like very much to me, and someone confirms that's the height of a tsunami wave.

Most are on their phones to write with their families. Access codes for the paid WLAN are shared. Our driver recounts how he drunkenly talked to his brother about the earthquake, and how he realised he should be taking his guests away from the shore. He calls his boss, but can't give us much information. We may have to wait up to an hour. Whenever a car stops to look for someone, a crowd gathers to ask for information. A young woman is close to tears because she can't find the person who carried her passport and electronics. After a few minutes, someone reunites her with her belongings, and everyone calms down; someone decides to play unnerving house music on a boombox.

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Indeed, the firefighters arrive after a few minutes, and our driver announces that we can all go home. He appeases his guests by suggesting they have another beer before going back to bed. On our way back, other strangers confirm that we are safe.

In our dorm, a group of young ladies can't stop reading text messages and news items to each other, and it takes half an hour before everyone has calmed down.