On February 22 I wasn’t even in Christchurch. My company was hosting a large conference in Rotorua and our Office Manager and I had just walked into the Convention Centre. She answered her mobile and I heard her say “yes, we are fine” in a puzzled voice. Turns out that our office phone is diverted to her mobile if it is not answered and someone was phoning to see if we were OK. They said there had been a big aftershock, and we both thought “oh yes, another bloody 5”, and they will have all had to traipse down 7 flights of stairs and hang around till the all clear is given. We had done that a number of times since September, so were not at all worried. Almost immediately we had a call from our accountant Steve, who said “we are all out and we are OK”. It began to register then that this was something much bigger. We were so pleased we got that call as we knew everyone back at work was OK, but now we had 10 staff from Christchurch in Rotorua, all worried about their families.
As news spread people gathered round, laptops were fired up and we received lots of hugs we struggled with the phone networks. We gradually could start ticking people off as staff got through to families. News was coming in, the cathedral was down, the new tower at the airport had collapsed (incorrect), buildings were down, people were dead. TV3 were based in the same building as us and they started to film from just outside on Kilmore Street. We could see the liquefaction, which was very bad on our part of the street, we could also see our building, still standing (we think now it will be demolished, it has sunk half a metre and now leans towards Manchester Street). We heard that the PGC building which was just in front of our building had collapsed- our insurance brokers were based there, we knew people who worked there, wondered what had happened to them (we found out later 3 had died, including our broker- 24 hours earlier we had had a cuppa and talked through business interruption insurance- should we review it after September’s events? Too late now- was left feeling guilty that I had not made the appointment for 24 hours later so he would not have been in the building). All the time no word from my family- was almost sure husband would not have been in the CBD, but he travels with his work, could be anywhere in Canterbury. Eventually a missed call came through- relief he had tried to phone, followed by panic as I am in his phone as “In case of emergency”
what is it was, and it was not him phoning”. Then a text from son’s Principal “are you Ok?”, yes I screamed at the phone I am OK, but what about my son. Principal did not realise I was away and was worried as knew my part of town had been hit hard. Eventually an age later a quick call- husband was home, the house was still standing and he was walking to the school. Sometime later another quick call- conversation with Mr 10, he was all OK, had fallen down, but fine. Helped look after younger pupils, was all very grown up.
As one of the bosses I had to also think about what taking 10 staff out of the conference team would do, but everyone was wonderful. Additional staff drove in from all parts of the North Island to take over our duties and we hear the conference was a great success.
In the meantime wonderful PA and travel agents working behind the scenes to look at how to get is home. Rental cars not an option, could not take them to chch, drive to Wellington, ferry, then ? no train, no rental cars in Picton. Lots of ideas, not many choices. Eventually 2am flights comfirmed, be at airport 6.45am.
3.30am text I had been waiting for- friend’s husband rescued from roof of Forsythe Barr builidng and safe- he had been for hours, but phone network still overloaded.
Fitful sleep- checking geonet and quake.crowe for new shakes, and then up to airport. Then wait and wait. Stocked up on bread and milk on the way- not sure why but felt we were doing something. Finally 11.15am we took off. Felt so good to be heading in the right direction. Did not last long- the poor man next to me got very emotional talking about his family, next thing out with the angina medicine, and then full blown heart attack. Luckily a nurse on board who was wonderful. The plane was turned round and we landed with the patient on the floor, me holding the oxygen bottle and the nurse who was sitting sideways. Air NZ wonderful, patient offloaded (by then coming round and looked him he was going to be OK), back in air in 10 minutes. Down to Wellington and wait again- connection missed, so a few hours waiting in the lounge as more and more planes delayed and cancelled. All planes grounded as they brought in Air Force planes with tourists being evacuated from Christchurch- most with no luggage, not quite the holiday they had planned. Suddenly my flight called, no delays, on and up in the air. Was full of USAR and rescue workers heading South to help us. We cheered and cried, thank them for whatever help they could give us.
We landed into chaos, airport packed with people trying to get out, collected car and drove home. Surreal, the Western part of the city looked OK, few chimneys down, odd garden wall, but on the whole OK. Changed as I headed close to home- road badly damaged, silt everywhere, and finally home. Husband and son in the street with shovels. 18 inches of silt in street, more in garden, none inside house, but badly damaged.
Hugged and hugged, never want to let them go. Inside to collect what we can-few clothes, important papers, look for cats (put down food just in case they come home) and head for the relative sanity of North Canterbury. Refugees out there for a month- water, toilets, electricity, limited shaking. Luxuries. Back each day to try to clean up, eventually move back home and wait.
House will be demolished, still waiting on news re the land, but not looking good. A year we will never, ever forget, but we got through and we still have each other. We are one of the lucky ones.