My lunchtime latte and muffin had just been put on the table at Coffee Culture in Sumner, a few seconds before the rumbling and shaking started. The building shuddered and groaned, and it seemed that the world outside was destroying itself. The noise from outside was terrifying and I heard glass and china falling and breaking all around me as I wrapped my arms around the high round table and held on. I had a weird sense of stillness in the middle of the chaos and can remember noticing just how far my full cup of coffee had spread across the floor. A woman behind me fell off her seat at the window where I often sit. Car horns and sirens had started up, and I could hear people outside shouting above the rumbling and shuddering.
Work! I knew I had to get back to the library and help evacuate people so I grabbed my bag and ran round the corner, wondering why there was so much dark brown dust flying everywhere. A workmate was heading towards me on a bike even though he didn’t own one, he just yelled that everyone was safely out and he was going to check on his young family. As he disappeared into the dust clouds I could see another workmate and some customers outside, and I looked through the window to see total devastation, books, computers, and shelves toppled and strewn around.
We held onto one another, some crying, some shaking, others trying to send texts or make calls to loved ones. People were calling out to stand in the road away from the buildings, the aftershocks kept coming and the brown dust was swirling around the cliffs. I could see that part of the cliff behind the Backpackers had fallen away, and the ground was shuddering under our feet. Phonecalls and texts weren’t getting through, and I needed to contact people in town, maybe it was better there, or worse? At last I got through to my daughter in Wellington and she was my lifeline as she could relay news of everyone. They were OK but my workmate couldn’t reach her family. Her phone was in her work locker and her son had a new mobile number. She was trying to contact other family using my phone when someone came running up from the beach saying someone had told him the sea was sucking out….we raced towards my car. It was covered in brown dust and I had to use the wipers to clear the dust as we drove up Richmond Hill, I wanted to get as high as possible as quickly as possible.
Trees were down in places and we could see where houses had been destroyed.
We sat there looking at the sea and trying to plan how we could get out of Sumner and back to our homes. Eventually we decided to take the frightening option of heading across the Causeway, we knew we would be ‘sitting ducks’ if there was a Tsunami but we just wanted to go home and the sea had stayed calm.
When I saw Shag Rock it really hit home that everything had changed for Christchurch forever.