ISKCON Devotees in Christchurch, New Zealand are still in shock after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck on February 22nd, destroying their temple building and shattering the Deities of Nitai-Gaurachandra beyond repair. Incredibly, no one was seriously injured.
The disaster comes on the heels of a 7.1 magnitude quake in the same city on September 4th last year, which caused flooding and structural damage to the temple, but left the Deities safe. Three thousand continual aftershocks since then, including a powerful one the day after Christmas, weakened structures further and left Christchurch residents tense.
Tuesday’s earthquake, although smaller in magnitude, caused far more damage than September’s one, as it hit significantly closer to the main population center of Christchurch, and was at a more shallow depth. Seventy-five people are now dead and 300 missing, with officials saying that the death toll will almost surely climb further. The spire of the city’s stone cathedral toppled into a central square, multistory buildings collapsed, sidewalks and roads cracked, and people were buried in rubble, some crushed to death.
|Debris from the earthquake rests on a crushed car outside the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral.AP|
“At first, it seemed just like any other day,” says Sevananda Dasa, a priest at the Christchurch ISKCON temple. “I was up on the altar, offering the chamara whisk to the Deities. There were four other devotees in the temple room, singing kirtan. One devotee was upstairs, and another was in the kitchen cleaning the pots, as they had just cooked the noon offering.”
Then, at about 12:53pm, there was a slight tremor. This wasn’t cause for major concern in itself, since devotees had been used to aftershocks since September.
But two seconds later, the tremors became extremely intense, shaking the three-foot marble Deities back and forth violently.
Without thinking, Sevananda dropped his bell and chamara, ran forward, and seized Lord Nityananda and Lord Chaitanya around the waist, one in each arm, trying to keep them steady. But the tremors were so strong that all three were shaken forward nearly a foot.
Then, suddenly, Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurachandra were hurled right off the altar, taking Sevananda, who was still holding them protectively, with them.
|The wooden altar, which crashed to the floor, just missing Sevananda Dasa.|