I’m at work as usual in the Public Trust Call Centre, an office on the 5th floor, opposite the Town Hall. We are lucky to have such a good spot. The floor to ceiling windows offer panoramic views across the city and up to the mountains.
I send an email round marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles playing their first gig at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
My lunch break is rostered for 12:30pm, but I’m stuck on a call then and don’t get up to leave till 12:40pm. Normally I would take off my plain glasses and put on my prescription sunglasses, leaving the plain glasses on my desk. For some reason I brought them with me, maybe because it was a slightly overcast day.
I walk past Victoria Square, eating the sandwiches Nicki had made me, and see workmen putting up the lanterns in the trees for the Chinese New Year Festival later in the week.
As I cross Cathedral Square I see the flower tunnel and animal topiaries are still out from the Flower Festival from the previous week, I smile when I see an Asian girl lying on her back giggling as she tries to fit the whole steeple of the Cathedral into the photo she is taking.
I hurry on as I want to get to the CD & DVD Store in Colombo Street as it is having a Closing Down Sale and I want to see if I can get a bargain.
As I approach the intersection of Hereford Street and Colombo Street I see the lights have just changed to allow pedestrians cross so I break into a run so I can get across without waiting. I walk/jog diagonally across the intersection. As I try to put my feet down onto the footpath on the other side – they miss! The ground beneath me is moving! It’s as if my feet can’t quite reach the ground. The shaking continues – girls scream, masonry falls, and I’m forced to dance a jig to keep my balance. A long 25 seconds later the shaking finally stops. Girls are still screaming and sobbing.
“..And I’m pregnant!” the girl beside me yells.
Some teenage boys are yelling “We’ve been in an earthquake, we felt an earthquake…!” as if it was the latest sideshow thrill ride.
I turn around to see a huge cloud of dust where the Square was just minute ago.
“Look out for the water mate” someone says to me. I look down and see a grey sludge seeping up round the pavement stone I’m standing on. I step away towards the Square. As the dust cloud begins to dissipate I can’t believe my eyes – the spire of Christ Church Cathedral has broken off and smashed onto the Square below!!! “Please may there not anyone under that” I mutter to myself.
People are wandering round, or standing all over the Square in shock. I see blood on someone’s face.
I stumble as a aftershock shakes the Square.
My heart sinks as I fear Nickis office block has fallen. She is on the 4th floor! I get out my mobile phone and try to text “Are u ok?” to her but my hands are shaking so much a can’t get it out.
I’m walking towards her building down Worcester Boulevard as I type. I glance up to see the Regent Theatre dome collapsed. Pavement stones are lifted, facades down, asphalt curled like paper.
I’m getting teary eyed now.
People walk and run in all directions on the search for loved ones. Policemen look as lost and confused as the rest.
I cross Worcester Bridge and turn right towards Warren House where Nicki works. I’m hugely relieved to see the building still standing and see her and her colleagues in the car park. I yell out but she can’t hear me. I run across the road and this time call “Nicki” again. This time she looks up and we run into each others arms and both burst into tears.
Another aftershock hits and we cling to each other for support. Nicki takes me around the corner to show me the collapsed Provincial Chambers which had been covered in scaffolding while repairs from the September quake were being carried out. Now it is beyond repair… Windows of the upstairs gym across the road have blown out. We looked across the river to see all the windows of the Brannagins building where their office used to be were all shattered on the ground.
The waters of the Avon are rising and have turned a milky brown colour.
John, Nicki’s colleague, wants to find his daughter who works in Armagh Street so we walked down Durham Street seeing more of the destruction of the Provincial Chambers.
We walk past office workers and tourists wandering round, some with blood on their faces or ripped clothes. Policemen and men in ‘High-Vis’ vests are starting to direct people away from the buildings. We see TV cameras and journalists interviewing people.
There is an emotional reunion between John and his daughter on the corner of Durham and Armagh.
We look up at the Amuri car park where Nickis car is. Cracks are visible in the masonry. We decide it is too dangerous to try and get it out. Martyn, Nickis boss, offers to take us home in his car, which is parked in their office car park.
He is keen to see more of the damage so we go with him down Armagh Street. The flagpole tower of the Provincial Chambers has collapsed across the road. There are cracks and lifted asphalt and paving stones all along the road. Our favourite restaurant “The Belgian Beer Café” is clearly severely damaged also.
We cross the swollen Avon River to see in Victoria Square crowds of what we assume are hotel guests evacuated from the Crown Plaza. The grass of the square has large patches of liquefaction.
We walk south along Oxford Terrace past the Central Library where we can see all the shelves tipped over, books everywhere. Two backpackers are sitting on the grass by the Avon with there backpacks – one strumming a guitar…
We pass the shattered glass from the Brannagins Building. Nicki and Martyn are thankful that they didn’t still work on its 8th floor!
Guests and staff of Rydges Hotel are gathered on the road outside, all wondering what to do next.
We reach the Worcester Boulevard intersection and look up in disbelief to the shattered Cathedral.
As we go to cross Worcester Bridge we see the statue of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott has fallen off its plinth, broken off at the knee and facedown in the lawn. A sight that seems to symbolize the city at that moment.
With the continuing aftershocks we decide it is time to head home. We get into Martyns car and join the slow crawl of cars heading out of the city. The golf course of Hagley Park is like a lunar landscape covered in ‘craters’ of grey liquefaction mud. We eventually reach Memorial Avenue.
The car is shaken several times by aftershocks.
We see many people walking, some pulling suitcases heading for the airport and woman in high heels walking home from work, like Nicki unable to access their cars. The road is full of cracks and bumps.
Martyn drops us home.
We go in to find the CDs and DVDs tipped over again but the house is largely intact. Surprisingly we still have power so we sat down and put on the TV to watch the drama unfolding and to absorb all we had seen that day…
I count my blessings now. If I had left work for lunch on time that day I may have been under one of the facades that fell. If I’d been 10 seconds later I’d have been under the Cathedral spire when it fell…
The Call centre I now work in is in a converted warehouse (1 story!) in Islington on the outskirts of Christchurch. Safer, but missing the bustle and energy of the CBD.
It will return, but not for many, many years…