“It took 160 years to build the city of Christchurch. It took an earthquake 24 seconds to rip the heart out of it. A century and a half of human endeavor was wasted in less than half a minute. In that half a minute, 185 people died or were mortally wounded.”
One year on and this is my story of that horrible day-
Isla was sleeping in her cot. Holly was eating a cheese sandwich and watching her favorite cartoon. I was just settling down to read a new book. A quiet break after what had been a not so great morning. I had had plans to go into the city, my phone had been playing up and I had been hoping to get a few bits and pieces from down Cashel street. But, both girls had been so grumpy that morning, that come lunch time, I flagged the idea as too hard putting it in the 'to do tomorrow' basket. Turned out that decision my well have saved our lives.
I heard the earthquake before I felt it, but that was nothing new, we had been having small aftershocks since the September quake some five months before. People find it funny when you say you can hear them coming, I guess to me it sounds like a wave crashing on a beach but I have heard a lot of people compare it to a truck driving past too.
I looked up at Holly as the quake started to hit, I remember watching the TV lurch towards her. I leapt out of my seat and grabbed her. I ran with her in my arms to the doorway and told her to stand there as I went to grab Isla, of course she didn't listen to me and followed me. What I remember most about those moments was the noise, I could hear everything smashing and breaking around me but I don't remember seeing any of it. I think I had tunnel vision, focused solely on saving my children. I do remember over the noise, Holly screaming "mumma, mumma". I remember thinking as I ran to get Isla 'I am not going to make it to her before the house falls down'. I opened the door to her room just as the shaking started to stop. She was sitting up in her bed, silent as a mouse, laying round her in the cot, where all the pictures which fell from the wall, missing her by millimeters.
I picked Isla up, grabbed Holly by the hand and ran them outside. In my mind, I was just running through my house, as it had stood 30 seconds before. It was only later I realised I had in fact been running over all kinds of smashed objects, including an upturned bookshelf. I ran out into the street and looked in horror at the mushroom like cloud billowing up from the end of the street. I knew the cliffs had fallen. What I didn't know until later that day was that in that moment, as I stood there, 100metres away, two peoples lives had just ended as the cliffs engulfed their home.
I saw one neighbor on the street and quickly ran to check on another elderly neighbor, as we returned to the footpath, another massive aftershock hit. We all stood in horror and watched as the cliffs at the end of the road turned into a river of stone and washed down. We heard the children at the school below screaming. Holly clung to my leg and I whispered "oh my god, the school, the children". I felt my whole body begin to shake with shock and I remember a neighbor asking if they could take the baby or Holly but neither was willing to be parted from me.
We stood for a few minutes, a small group in the street, unsure what to do next. Suddenly, cars started to stream into the street, people on foot where running. Someone screamed "tsunami". I felt my heart drop, knowing that there was no way I was going to be able to run fast enough with a baby in one arm and a 2 year old holding my other. I remember in that moment the feeling of total despair and horror. I remember a second later the lady next door telling me that they where wrong, she had her radio on and the earthquake was centered inland not out to sea. One small mercy in a very dark day.
The hours after the quake where surreal. My first instinct was that of flight. But any ideas of driving out where quickly killed when we heard that the bridge across the river had dropped and the road over the hill was gone. I sat on the front lawn, deflated, unsure of what to do next as I held my two girls. At some point I became aware that it was getting cold. I crept back into the house, horrified at the destruction, I grabbed the girls quilts, to keep them warm. I also grabbed the computer, my phone and a handful of clothes. Then we sat and waited, unsure when or if Simon was coming home. I bundled the girls into the car and turned on the heater and the radio. We sat together as I listened and heard over the radio what I already saw with my own eyes... Christchurch was on it's knees. I closed my eyes to hold back the tears. I knew both my brother, sister and nephew where in the CBD when the quake struck but I had no way of knowing if they where dead or alive. I felt the fear well up and so unsure what to do. I put the girls into their push chair and went for a walk.
The damage was bad, a large section of the water front had simply fallen away, there where massive cracks in the roads and liquefaction had bubbled up. Large rocks sat on houses while others teetered on the cliffs edge. We walked past the school, the sound of all the children crying was too much. We walked home.
About four hours after the quake Simon arrived home. He had been on the other side of the city and whilst it had been bad, he didn't really grasp the severity of it until his drive home. At some point I got word from my sister that she was ok and so was our brother. I remember the feeling of relief knowing all my family where safe.
We decided to try and leave. Simon knew of a route round the hill he had used to get home. We packed the kids in the car and we drove. I got to the causeway, the damage was terrible. I took a deep breath and drove onto it, it went up and down, the sides slumped away and large cracks had opened up. I reached ferrymead, a bus sat, nose down, half submerged in a sump hole. We drove on. Two hours later, and we where only 10km from home. The traffic was gridlocked. In frustration we gave up and reluctantly turned for home.
We ate cheese toasties made on our neighbors BBQ before setting up the mattresses on the floor of our sleep-out. As darkness fell, we lay together in the dark, hearing the aftershocks before we felt them. We heard the helicopters and the hercules pass over head many times throughout the night. As I lay there, unable to sleep. I became more and more aware of Isla's rising temperature. She had not let me put her down since the quake struck and even in her sleep she clung to me. I knew she was getting sick and I just hoped she was not going to get much worse. By morning she was burning up.
We knew we had to leave, so early in the morning we bundled the girls into my car, I only had a quarter of a tank of gas. Simon said he would following his car incase I ran out. Driving across the city was a mess. The roads where destroyed, many where impassable. A drive to my parents house would normally take 45 minutes, instead it took me 4 hours. I lost Simon in the confusion. I reached my parents place having driven on petrol light for many miles.
My parents had power, food, their own water supply. Their doctor saw Isla straight away. Our horror was over.
kea Kaha- Stay Strong Christchurch