I thought things were odd on February 22nd when I crossed the causeway to take my son to preschool in Redcliffs and the tide was incredibly high. I have crossed the causeway many times and had never seen the tide this far up and appeared to still be coming in. After dropping Small Boy off I crossed back over the causeway and saw the tide was still coming in. It was so odd, and so high that I did another lap around McCormacks Bay and stopped and had a look. Yep, it was still coming in. We were late to preschool that day, so it was about 10 am when I first crossed towards Redcliffs, and about 10.30 when I returned. When I got home I thought I’d check the tide timetable (I’m a nerd like that). High tide was expected at 7.31am in Lyttelton, making it around 8.30am in the Estuary. Very strange indeed.
Stranger still was the cat, who kept ‘chatting’ at me in a Lassie-like fashion, which I ignored as he’s often trying it on for more food. I should have listened to him.
It was my second day at university for the year and so I gathered up a note pad and pen and drove out towards university in time for a lecture at 1.10pm. Waiting at the lights to turn onto Maidstone Rd off Creyke Rd it started. I remember grinning at the people in the car next to mine, a sort of “oh there’s another wee wobble” conciliatory-type grin, but then it got bad. I had the presence of mind to pull on the hand-brake as my car turned into a mechanical bull.
The radio went to static and the traffic lights started to blink yellow. Not-so good, I thought. When it stopped, I moved forward into the intersection and went into shock, covering my face with my hands. It was probably split seconds, but I realised I better pull myself together and move.
I drove up to the engineering mushroom building (now being demolished) which had people pouring out, and staff marshalling everyone to the playing fields. I talked to a guy who had been working underneath the building. He was ok and we wondered how bad it was. I sat in the car and the radio had come back on, Jim Mora on National Radio was talking to a very shaken reporter in the CBD, saying buildings were down. One of the first things I heard Jim Mora reiterate was that the Ferrymead bridge was down.
Small boy. Redcliffs.
I hightailed it out of there, fastest ever trip down Fendalton Rd, but got stuck on Bealey Ave in snarled traffic. My partner works on Bealey, he wasn’t there, had gone to get his daughter, who was at her mum’s due to teacher-only half day. (He had a doctor’s appointment at the Clinic in the CTV building at 12.30 which I hadn’t remembered. By a stroke of fortune he had moved it to 2.30. Sadly, his doctor and many other lovely people didn’t make it out of there).
Absolutely stuck in jammed traffic I parked under trees in middle of Ave and ran home to Armagh Street, clutching onto strangers (Kerry? from Contours in town, thank you). Sewage and liquefaction everywhere, Fitzgerald Ave a write off, dazed and confused people, dust smoke and NOISE: sirens, alarms, choppers, rumbling. And more shaking.
Got home and faced the mess, greeted first by a smashed glass lightshade with some of it still embedded in the ceiling. Fought through the rubble in front of garage door to reach the bikes and leant one to a very frightened girl who had to get back to her parents in New Brighton. Waited an age for partner to get home, then we biked through sludge and broken roads, and what seemed like incessant rumbling to get to Redcliffs. The bridge was passable for pedestrians, but a very quick passage advised.
The tide was now far, far out.
Funnily enough I don’t recall thinking tsunami…however the scene on the causeway was straight out of Cormack McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Low, dark cloud, no one in sight and a shopping trolley abandoned in a hole in the road. Eerie and creepy. But not nearly as shocking as the collapsed cliff behind the school…
We eventually got to the preschool, much to the relief of the staff. My son and his best mate had donned high vis vests and firemen’s helmets (ahead of the fashion trend) from dress-ups and were calming the little kids with feats of bravery and peek-a-boo. The best mate’s mum had only just managed to make it from town then too, with the front of her car stoved in from bricks, so really it’s lucky she made it at all. It was now around 5.30, time had just flown. One of the staff thankfully let us borrow her car as she was too terrified to drive. The idea of biking back to Linwood with my son on the back and liquefaction/sewage spraying up didn’t appeal. Thanks Letisha! Took about an hour to drive home via Heathcote (under the damaged rail overbridge with the train stopped on it) and passed the stadium which looked like no place for a rugby world cup semi-final.
Thank you to all the help from far and wide; USAR, police, CD, Red Cross, Salvation Army; dog teams; ambulance officers; food bearers etc etc etc. And to everyone in Christchurch that day and since.
Hasn’t it been a year eh?