– Mt Pleasant, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

February 22nd started like many others, our 4 children went in 3 different directions, Harrison aged 19 headed to Canterbury University for his second day back at, Duncan aged 16 and Ben aged 14 went to Linwood College, Violet aged 11 went to Mt Pleasant primary. I was going to meet Harrison at 5pm in Westfield Riccarton and do some light shopping- Harrison had taken the bus and I was going to get his Warrant of Fitness on his car in the afternoon on the way to Westfield Riccarton. Bill and I were heading to Sydney on the 24th February for work and a romantic break away without the kids.

Duncan and Ben both finished school at 12.30pm as the teachers were having a stop work meeting about pay and conditions. The boys split up, Duncan went to the Linwood fish and chips shop (wicks fish) and Ben went to Countdown at the Eastgate shopping centre across the road. Duncan and a friend decided the que was a long so went across the road to an Asian takeaway to get chips instead. They ordered their chips seconds later at 12.51pm a 6.3 earthquake hit, across the road the row of buildings on the corner of Linwood ave and Ensor road collapsed, the same block that housed wicks fish. One person was killed in that shop, 181 others died in Christchurch that day.

Duncan and his friend went to help and checked on the nearby school as well to see if they could help. Ben was at the counter of Eastgate countdown supermarket ready to pay for a soft drink when the quake happened – he left the mall via the car park exist opposite the supermarket. This exit lead to a two story car park. As he entered the car park building the upper level began to collapse he ran for the clear space past the parking building and headed for the bus stop. Thankfully he was unhurt and met up with Duncan and his friend. They sat at the bus stop waiting for a bus that wasn’t coming.

Harrison was at the Canterbury University in a 2 story building, he didn’t think the quake was that bad. He expected that classes would stop for a while then restart but as time wore on and more aftershocks keep hitting Christchurch he realised that university wasn’t going to reopen today. Harrison had a problem he was at the university without his car and no public transport operating. How to get home?

Bill and I were at home when the quake hit, on mt pleasant, 4.8km from the epicentre in Lyttleton, the house swayed and jumped like a belly dancer. We had just finished lunch and our cat QT started meowing like she had caught a yummy rat, I had stood up to take a look at her prize, when I was knocked back into my seat. The bookcases fall over and everything seemed to collapse into the lounge. Looking out the ranch slider window I saw a lemon tree in the neighbour’s yard start sliding down the hill. I screamed we have to get out of the house I thought the side of the mountain we lived on was sliding away.

We climbed over the fallen filing cabinet and ran outside, camper our dog followed us. We didn’t stop running until we got to the letterbox we looked behind us and nothing seemed to have changed. Carefully we looked down the back yard and it looked okay, we investigated further and it was just the raised garden bed in the neighbour’s yard had collapsed – not the side of the mountain! We started checking on the neighbours who were home, they like us, were shaken, but no one was physically hurt.

Our house seemed okay form the outside we had 5 broken windows, a handful of bricks had popped off the walls, from the outside it looked ok. I don’t know how long it was before we went back into the house? 10minutes? 20minutes? Eventually we went inside to find our celephones to call the kids and find out if they were okay? But the celephones were not working we couldn’t text or make calls nothing was getting through.

The inside of the house looked like a bomb had gone off pictures from the walls were on the floor, broken glass was everywhere, filing cabinets and bookcases were lying almost flat on the floor or on odd angles were they had crashed against furniture. Every cupboard door was thrown open and most of the contents from those cupboards lay on the floor. Draws were open and half hanging in there slots. Broken crockery and broken glass jars of food covered the kitchen floor. Our double door fridge had moved about 40cm.

The worst part was upstairs there was water coming from the ceiling, we didn’t know why; at that point we didn’t know there was a header tank in the ceiling. The ceiling tiles in that room were all on odd angles, was the ceiling going to collapse? We had no idea. We then had to hunt for the water main to turn off the water, to try and stop the water raining down into the room. Once we found the water main, with the help of our neighbour we turned it off.

Once the water was off we decided we need to walk to Violets school 10minutes down the road and collect her hoping that by then the phones would be up and running. About 1.30pm we started towards mt pleasant school, we took our dog Camper with us, as he was howling and scared. It was then that we saw the destruction in our local street, most of the houses with brick facades had lost their bricks, chimneys were down, and fences were down it looked unreal. The road and footpath seemed okay. On the side of the road was a Rubbish truck the driver looked shaken and was standing next to the truck on the footpath we stopped and asked him if he was okay, he was – just scared like us.

We got to mt pleasant School and found all the kids and teachers on the field with a few parents and neighbours turning up at the school. Everyone looked calm but concerned. Looking from the field out to the central business centre you could see smoking rising from the city centre. Violet had been in the school toilet block when the quake hit and had been briefly trapped in the bathroom as the door stuck. Violet and her friend managed to open the door and get out within a few minutes both were unharmed but scared. We signed her out and were invited to camp on the school field if our house was unsafe. We thanked the school and said we would consider the offer, but needed to find our boys.

We walked home together and told violet the house was a mess and we didn’t know what was going to happen but so long as we were together that was all that mattered. Violet was concerned that we were going to Sydney and that the kids would be left behind. We started trying the kid’s celephones again once we got home about 2.00pm and received a text from ben asking “are you okay?” but then nothing. By 2.30pm we decided that Bill and Violet would go down the hill in the car and see how far they could get, hoping to get to Linwood to collect the boys or see them walking home. I stayed at home outside the house talking with the neighbours, waiting at home in case the boys arrived home while bill was out.

When bill got to the bottom of the hill he was not able to drive over the bridge it was closed. So he parked the car and Violet and Bill walked to the bridge hoping to see some sign of Duncan and Ben. The boys were walking towards the bridge just at the right time. Bill collected the kids and brought them all home by 3.00pm Duncan, Benjamin and Violet were all home but we had not heard from Harrison. I started to get very upset, I kept thinking the worst.

We got a call on our celephone from a friend in Australia “are you all okay?” we decided we need to change our travel plans the kids would need to come to Australia with us. We called our travel agent in Auckland and got through can she change our flights from departing Christchurch to departing Wellington? Can we get 6 seats instead of 2? Can we still depart on the 24th? Yes, okay let’s book that. Then we got hold of my friend Tasha in Auckland and asked her to find a cattery and kennel outside Christchurch for our pets to stay in, she would book them in and text us the addresses.

All this activity helped to keep me calm, then, we got a call from Harrison about 3.30pm he was okay and at a friend’s house near university, he was going to try and get a lift home in an hour or so. Harrison arrived home just before 6pm; it was a long day being a mum. We stayed out of the house and just collected water, clothing and food from inside and took it outside. We decided to camp in our cars and have a street BBQ with our neighbours for dinner. Some of the neighbours set up tents outside our place on the grass verge.

We got our cat cages out of the garage and stated looking for our cats, it took a while but they all came back one by one in time for dinner, except for QT she was nowhere to be seen. When it got dark we went to our car and started listening to the radio News trying to find out what was happening. All thru the day and night there were more aftershocks, I know there where at least five aftershocks greater than 5 on the Richter scale within the first 7 hours and numerous smaller aftershocks, I think in the first 24 hours there were over 30 aftershocks ranging from 3- to 5.9 on the Richter scale.

That night is a blur I remember trying to sleep in the passenger seat with Bill in the driver’s seat and Ben and violet in the back seats and Camper in the middle. I remember waking numerous times to quakes, and to look for QT, Bill and I walked around the neighbourhood talking about what was going to happen? The worst was looking from Heathery place to the city centre and seeing flood lights and hearing a muffled “evacuate the city now” every few minutes the words would repeat and you could see the dust/smoke rising from the city.

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