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An Earthquake Story

By Webmaster - Posted on 01 March 2011


Hello, I've been inundated with texts, phone calls, emails and messages of love and support, thank you. If you want to hear how it was and where I'm at then read on. (Abby for your benefit I've tried to use lots of paragraph breaks!)

I didn't feel the earthquake (probably one of four in Canterbury who didn't!). I was in a car with 3 of my workmates driving back from Methven way. The first I heard was when my sister text me to ask if I was ok. The trip back to the city became increasingly somber as we listened to the radio and desperately tried to contact people. Thankfully we had our satellite phone with us to use.

As we got into the city it became clearer the extent of the situation. Traffic was chaotic. Everyday citizens like you and me had put on high-viz vests and were directing traffic at major intersections where lights were out - including one lady in her pink shorts with handbag over shoulder! We took a few nifty shortcuts through back streets and the Addington Racecourse!

When we finally got to the office we went in to find what looked like a bomb-site. You could't have trashed it better if you'd tried yourself. Except for one pot plant still standing where it was. We got out some water and first aid kits then headed home. I went back to Sumner with my boss as I didn't want to drive there myself. I have some harrowing video footage of our trip home; 70% of houses with visible damage, boulders across roads. We took the Summit Rd home, deserted and eerie. After checking out Paul's place (and rescuing some important bottles of whiskey!) we went into Sumner and I started walking home. This is when the reality slowly started to hit home for me.

Seeing the cliff that had calved off and crushed the RSA, cracks through roads, buildings barely standing. Walking along the street on my own heading toward my home on the hill. Iconic Shag Rock was a fraction of what it was. Cliffs all along the way had collapsed with buildings precariously close to the edge. As I got closer to our place I knew something wasn't right. I could see that part of our section - where I used to stand and sit to see Sumner and watch the sea, was gone. I remember one day standing up there and thinking this wasn't such a great place if there should be another earthquake. Until then it hadn't really occurred to me that I wouldn't have a place to go home to, that I may only have the clothes I was standing in (my work uniform!).

Eventually I got to the bottom of our steps, there had been a rockfall over the steps, water and mud was gushing down the steps - it smelt like chlorene, I knew it must be the neighbours pool. We'd been out abseiling with clients during the day so I had my tramping boots on and my climbing helmet with me. I put on my helmet. I still feel sick thinking about that walk up the steps. It was quiet except for the water. No one else was around. Retaining walls were buckling. At our place I first went to find Ed, our elderly landlord who lived down below. His place was trashed, I couldn't find him so assumed he had got out (this was about 4 hours after the earthquake). Looking up to our place I saw broken windows, and through the roof I could see the sky. The attic had obviously fallen through the lounge. I went up to our house and first went up to the vegie garden. Things were not right. I took some video of when I first saw the extent of the damage. The retaining wall that our house was built against was broken and bulging. I knew I couldn't go in and I knew that I'd never live there again. Potentially I may not even be able to get my things out.

What was I going to do? I trekked back down to the road and decided to go see a friend who lived around the corner. His house was standing but windows were busted and he wasn't home. I sat down on a bus stop bench to take stock, it's very unusual to ever feel alone, but this is how I felt. But.... I knew that all my life I've been taught and raised to be strong and adaptable. When the going gets tough the tough get going. I knew in my heart that I wanted my things back but if I couldn't get them well that's fine, because all I need I possess within, everything else is replaceable. My phone battery was on 15%, it was starting to spit. I stopped some ladies on bikes and asked for a pen to write down important numbers. Then I hitched a ride back toward work so I could get my car and get to a friend's place to stay. The reality started to sink in.

I found my friend who had a safe house and two small children. I went to another friend's to cook dinner on a cooker. We ate curried sausages with bread and margarine supplemented by champagne supplied by the neighbour. We all had a lot to be thankful for.

I crawled into bed that night glad to be alive and glad to be safe, but horrified at the turn life had taken in the space of a day. It was a horrible night, I cried lots, snuck a few hours sleep here and there. Aftershocks came through every few minutes. Rumble......shake. Some more violent than others. I didn't run for the door like I once would've, I was exhausted and didn't really care anymore. It was a nightmare we couldn't escape. I lay awake planning my retrieval mission should I get back into the house; what was my escape plan, what were the really important things, where were they?

In the morning I went home as one of my flatmates was there, the other flatmate wouldn't go into the house. We talked about our escape route and that we each had to decide what level of risk we were prepared to take. Justin was great, he's so sensible and measured, I felt safe(r) with him. I felt sick but knew this was my one chance. I climbed in through my bedroom window to a scene of chaos. Some would say that it woudnt've looked much different to usual, and this is a fair comment! The plaster on the walls had come off so everything was covered in plaster dust. It only took me about 15-20 minutes to throw everything into packs (of which I have many) and boxes and fire it out the window. Some friends had come to help carry it down to the car.

My bedroom was reasonably intact - all joints were cracked. I got brave and went into the kitchen where Justin was retrieving what he could. I found a painting my sister had painted, some pottery I got in Jerusalem, all still intact. And... some apricot jam I had made - still sealed and intact. If we had been in the lounge at the time we would most likely be dead or badly injured. I can't really describe it anymore than that. I wonder what will happen to our house. I get very sad when I think about these things and I still cry when I think about it. Last night I went to look at some photos of better times, but it's too hard at the moment.

I said a sad goodbye to Justin on the street in the mud. You never think life will change like that so quickly, then it does. People I knew and loved. I left Christchurch yesterday with my life in my car and came to Timaru to stay with a friend and her family. They have been very good to me. As for the future, it's one day at a time. Work is closed until at least next week then we'll see what happens. I will stay with a workmate for a bit. But I want to be back in Sumner, it just feels like home, it feels normal and familiar which I think is important. We'll see. It's all unknown.

It's helpful to tell our stories and that's mine. In telling this I'm just telling it how it is for me, not in relation to others. I know that other people are suffering so much more than me and have lost so much more than me. I have had the opportunity to salvage my things, others haven't. I have my friends and family, others don't. I come from good stock and I'll survive! But I also know that I'm human and I need love and support and I know I have that in big measure. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. It's not everyday you live through a national disaster. If you haven't prepared already then get to it. Specifically get a car-phone charger!! (I've found it invaluable with power out) And don't keep driving around on an empty tank, if you have to get out quick then you need petrol. Get used to pooing into a bucket and doing wees in the garden (it's ok). Have some water and food stored away. We all thought it'd never happen to us.

Love to you all. Madeleine

A graphic, personal account of the terrible disaster in Christchurch - thank you Madeleine for giving us an insight of your own experiences. Our hearts reach out to all those who have been involved in the tragedy. We send our condolences to those who have lost their loved ones and we hope that some sense of normality can be soon restored to those of you who have survived as you try to get your lives back together again, Jim - Southam 2000

Jim Sleight