– Sydenham to Lyttelton

This is a transcript of an interview with Serra Kilduff conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake .

My name is Serra Kilduff and I am 37 and I was at work in Sydenham at the time of the earthquake. I was up in the lunchroom, which is one story up, and as the shaking started I went ‘oh’ and stood up and very carefully put my food on the ground and stood there looking for something to hide under, but there is nothing in the lunchroom. But then the shaking got so bad that I ended up on the floor anyway and I ended up at the end of a couch, wedged between the sofa and the corner and I remember lunch tables flying around the room, big heavy wooden tables and people flying around the room and my boss, who has only one functional arm, upside down, with his lunch all over him and this completely stoic, surreal expression on his face, or that might have been shock actually.

And when I was able to stand up again I saw all the red brick buildings in Sydenham had fallen down.

Everyone did the earthquake drill, out of the building, assemble in the carpark and the aftershocks kept coming, but we accounted for everyone – well-organised! There were lots of people really upset. Several people had children at Unlimited School in the centre of town and they started walking into town. It was freaky, you could hear sirens and see this huge cloud of dust and smell smoke. And silt was squirting out half way up light posts, because it was forced up the tubes and then it would find a crack or a joint and it would squirt out, and water was coming up, and the liquefaction, and it got worse and worse.

We all swapped phone numbers and then I decided to walk for home. I was really worried for a friend I know who was working in Cashel Mall and I was trying to txt her first as well as getting on Facebok to try and say ‘I am Ok, I am heading back to the port.’ So I started walking because I thought the liquefaction might get so bad, especially near Opawa and the river that I might not be able to get through, so I started walking. You couldn’t get onto Colombo street, so I just went round the block and headed for home. The traffic was crazy, you had to jump out of the way of 4-wheel drives that were driving on the foot path and cars, people running, every person you saw you said something to, you talked to.

I helped an old lady to help her partner out of their place in Opawa. He’d got up and walked out and then went back inside to get something and sat down and couldn’t get back up again. He was in shock and I helped her get him back out again. Their house seemed Ok. It was quite cold as well, I moved chairs for them on the deck as they didn’t feel safe inside, so they both could sit outside. So there were all those weird little things and I saw people I knew, hugged everyone and then met up with Megan Jamieson near where the Opawa petrol station is.

And we started walking. She had heard that the epicentre was in Lyttelton and that it was just gone. And her kids were over there. So she was – we were both just – yeah… And we got a ride from Opawa to Heathcote from this woman who stopped. We got to Heathcote school and there were a lot of people at the gondola.

Megan was going to go over the hill no matter what. I knew it was going to be bad, but I decided, because I had worked in rockfall areas a lot, doing fieldwork, so I decided at the very least I could actually maybe be useful, and it would give me something to do looking after other people. And I just wanted to get home, it was really weird, something familiar, get out of Christchurch, I really wanted to get away from the city.

So I started walking over the Bridle path. There were heaps of people, straggling all the way down the hill which was the worst bit.

There were a couple of guys in trucks that were driving people up the Bridle path and we got offered lifts and I said I can walk up, no problem, give my seat to someone else.

So we just walked up. I kept saying to people, ‘Stay together in a group, and keep looking up, don’t stop. Even if its granny steps just keep walking.’ Coz every time there was another shake you’d hear the cracking and you’d be hearing rocks and people yelling “Rocks!” and you’d be looking and trying to find it and there’d be people pointing and you’d spot it and you’d yell to people and you’d see them look up and go ‘left or right, left or right’ and that was the worst bit , watching, thinking “Oh God, I will see someone get nailed and then I will need to run down and then get up the hill again” – but we were OK and people kept stopping the last 200 metres under the summit, the big bluffs are right there, and I couldn’t stop for people . I just had to put my head down and go, and I said ‘I will see you at the top’.

There were heaps of cars there at the top. And then it was only me and Megan walking from the summit down, and we went really fast down the hill. Megan had to take her little strappy office shoes off at that point to go downhill, but there was heaps of grass by the side so that was all right.

And there is one Bluff where lots of rocks had fallen, and we trotted past it, coz it was kind of yukky, and I was looking and thinking “Mmm, pile of rocks, I hope I can’t see anything sticking out of that.” But I had to look as I trotted past and couldn’t see anything.

And then ten minutes later we were in Lyttelton. I stayed with Megan’s for a little bit, and we had the camp stove on for a cup of tea, her kids were there, her parents had collected them, so everything was fine. And we heard from people various stuff, and people were milling around everywhere. I went up to my house and it looked ok, but I didn’t want to be there by myself. I was up Jackson’s Road and I felt a bit isolated and I caught up with my neighbours and made sure they were both ok. Then I grabbed my tent and my sleeping bag and my pack in the wardrobe all nicely ready to go and I camped out at Megan’s place for four or five nights and became honorary whanau and feel completely honoured, I feel I have this amazing friendship with her now.

The thing that I hate the most is that it is still going. You are just trying to get back to normal and you think you are getting on top of it and it doesn’t even take another shake, suddenly you won’t be normal again, you stop sleeping again, you have a bad day where you bloody cry at everything, and you feel kind of pathetic coz … and so many other people have had worse stuff happen but somedays you just can’t deal with it. And then when you have another shake like Saturday…. I just said to a whole lot of people I really feel like I am on top of it, I really feel like moving on, they have been pulling down the old buildings and it felt as if they got rid of these old dead body buildings lying around and we can look ahead and feel positive and then ‘bang’ 5 seconds and you’re right back to the start again. So that’s hard, feeling you don’t have any reserves.

And at work it’s been great to get a routine going, but I am useless.

I think I developed some amazing friendships, I’ve got to know the community so much better. I moved to Lyttelton just over a month before the September earthquake, so I’m a newbie. And I think Lyttelton, like a lot of smaller settlements, there are oldies and newbies, different cliques that don’r necessarily mix, and I think that has been broken down to an extent, partly by such things as there only being one place in town to drink and so everyone is at the club. So suddenly you are talking to those old guys that are 4th generation and it’s awesome, it’s really cool.

And working at the rec-centre for 2 weeks that was really good for meeting people. I think in some ways people recognise me now as well , they say “Oh yea, she worked at the rec centre’ and even if they’re not ‘Oh yeh, she’s a local.’ I’m aknowledged as someone who lives here. I’ve always been very transient my whole live, so it’s amazing to be part of a community, it’s really cool, coz it can be hard to get into a community. Yeah, so I think friendship and community have been really amazing. And I am so utterly impressed by how Lyttelton is. Lyttelton sticks together and gets on with stuff. They put their head down and go ‘Yup!’, sharing shop space and … I think all over Christchurch it has been like that. I think it has made people reevaluate friendships. People are saying they love each other and give each other hugs.

I like the sign ‘Keep calm and carry on’ which is originally from the Blitz, I love how it has proliferated and become Christchurch’s, and of course it’s an English thing as well. But I have also seen another version of it which is “ Run around in small circles, scream and skull whiskey.’ and I think that has its place as well. There is a group of us that has got together to have glasses of wine … and the music gigs have been really important, it’s been amazing to go to gigs at Naval Point. There is something to be said for having a good hoolie, and having a good blow-out, not necessarily alcohol-fuelled, but there are not many valves and there is a lot of pressure!

This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton . We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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