– 210 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch Central, Canterbury, New Zealand

On the 22nd of February I was working in the Allan McLean building on the corner of Colombo Street and Oxford Terrace on the 2nd floor. When the first shake happened, I got ready to dive under my desk (I have always been the butt of my workmates jokes for being the first to take a dive in all of the aftershocks from 04SEP) and this time was no different. As I sat on my chair poised ready to go under, I was popped out of my chair by the second jolt. Down I went and braced myself on the two ends of the desk. My desk drawers were on rollers and they were moving in time with the movement of the building and the actual drawers were moving in and out at the same time. Suddenly I felt a wet sensation down my back and side and my glass of water had fallen over then the crash of my two computer monitors falling over onto the desk above me. I was silent until I heard some of my female colleagues start to scream and then I started screaming myself. Once it stopped, we sat for a moment and calls of ‘are you ok?’ ‘everyone alright’ sped around the room. Then it was a race to get downstairs and out. The back stairwell was littered with glass from windows that had popped out – we tried to get down an alleyway out onto Colombo street but the door was locked. We backtracked and popped out in the ground floor lobby of out building to a terrifying scene of the builders (who were renovating our building at the time) trying to break into an office on the ground floor where people were trapped inside and couldn’t get out. We moved out onto Oxford Terrace and saw the road had broken apart and water and silt were starting to come up through the cracks. As we made out way over to Victoria Square to take a headcount of all our staff, someone said ‘look at the Cathedral’. It was at that moment that I knew there would be fatalities. My hand went up to my mouth and there it pretty much stayed for the next few hours.

Thankfully all our staff were accounted for and while we waited for the ok to leave and go home, another big aftershock came and I fell to the ground, not trusting my legs to keep me up. On and on, the ground just kept spewing up water and silt and soon covered right across Colombo Street. It was like watching a movie, people walking down the road with their shoes in their hands, two people walking together holding each other up and in shock, people continually on their cell phones, the lucky ones talking or the others just dialling over and over.

When the time came to leave, a group of us walked back to try and retrieve our cars and get home. We decided not to go down Kilmore street as it was flooded and the Caledonian Hall was down and lots of bricks across the road so down we went along Cambridge Terrace. We looked back across the river at our building, it did hold up very well but we could see the gaping spaces between each section of our building. It was built this way so each section could move independently of each other in an earthquake. After a while we came across lots of papers blowing in the street. Straight away it reminded me of 911 and I said to my workmates, I bet PGG’s windows have blown out. 2 or 3 more steps revealed the horror scene – the entire building had collapsed. I remember it now as not being real, I was still in this movie so my brain could not process what was happening. I remember seeing the first of many, many high visibility vests being worn by someone in a hard hat just running up and down and across and back the roof – now on a very steep angle – stopping and starting – now I know he was probably listening for people. We got to our cars, mine was stuck in liquefaction up to the bottom of the door so I couldn’t drive it out. My colleagues car was 2 spaces ahead and was fine so 5 of us piled into her small car and headed off for the east side of town. It took us 3.5 hours to get home on which is normally a 30 minute trip. On the way we saw lots of flooding, sewerage, cars upended in holes in the ground, huge mounds where drain covers had pushed themselves up, power lines down – a very hazardous trip home. Arriving at home in South New Brighton to my family, all was well. No major damage although most of our china cabinet and pantry had fallen onto the floor and smashed. A very sleepless night on the floor in the lounge with aftershocks coming around every 20-30 minutes and being on the floor, you could feel the vibrations through the floorboards and hear the roaring – felt like sleeping on top of a live, very large animal. It took 12 days to get the power back and 7 days for the water. Could flush the toilet after 5 months and 12 days. I am so very happy to have all my family and friends around me. My sympathies to the families who have lost someone and my thanks to all the people that came to help our city in it’s time of crisis.

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