– Saint Albans, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Waking up on September 4th 2010 changed everything. I had had about 3 hours sleep and I woke up to the foreshock, didn’t feel the shaking, but suddenly jolted awake and fumbled for the light. I managed to turn it on and suddenly this violence impossible to describe. It was so violent that even though power was still on in the flat I didn’t feel I could see anything. I had narrow tunnel vision. I threw myself to the floor and wriggled under the bed. For months before September I had been planning where I would go in an earthquake wherever I went. I had asked questions on forums about my new anxiety about earthquakes. So when the ground started shaking I reacted straight away. I was under the bed deafened by thoughts racing through my head and distant sounds of things crashing around the house, thinking “half of one leg isn’t under properly, what if it gets crushed and it has to be amputated”. Thoughts of the house collapsing and how would people find me if everyone else is buried in rubble as well. Then towards the end of the shaking, there was a sudden lurch as if the house had been kicked and I thought “this is it, it’s determined not to stop until I’m dead.” Finally the shaking stopped and I crawled out.

My next thought was “AH! The Alpine fault… the big one… and I’m alive. We’ve done it! We’re okay.” Then I remembered aftershocks and quickly got dressed, pleased I had left clothes draped all over the place in my messy way. I sat outside and everyone ran out. People were rushing about with their portable radios and the sounds of alarms echoed in the air. The ground didn’t stop moving. I felt alone at that point. No one really approached and I didn’t approach anyone else either. I braved inside to get my keys, wallet and phone and sat for a while at the door listening to the updates on any tsunami. As soon as I found out it was local I got in the car and headed for the airport. I rang my parents and they said they were just going back to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t feel safe being in a house at all.

I figured the safest and most open area is the parking area outside the airport where you can watch the planes. So I drove out there very carefully passing people standing outside their houses in their dressing gowns. People seemed to have the same idea and there were a few people out there. I sat there, the car wiggling around with the aftershocks, looking at the sparkling runway and the radio listening to updates until the sun came up. I headed to my parents at about 7am. For the next three nights I stayed at my parents. The experience of aftershocks every 10 minutes or so was something I’ll never forget. There was a particularly big one in the evening on the first night and I refused to go back inside for about three hours. I sat outside with a blanket around me with the cat on my lap. What an experience, something that still gives me the creeps thinking about that terror the moment the earth shook so violently.

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