– Lichfield St, Christchurch and Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Patti-Ann Oberst conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

Patti-Ann Oberst, I am 61. During the earthquake I was in a four story building. It was my lunch break and I just put my lunch on a plate and opened the microwave to put it in there for three minutes and then we had a big shake and I’m trying to hold my lunch desperately cause I was hungry and holding onto the door at the same time while the plate slipped from my hand and fell onto the floor and …

It was in a place called ‘Living Space’ which is a hotel/accommodation as well as a hotel. So three of the staff members and myself raced up to the fourth floor and tried to push ourselves into every single room to make sure there was absolutely nobody left. As soon as the shaking finished, that was the first thing we thought of, because we knew we had to get out of the building and it would be dreadful if anybody was left, because they couldn’t go out. Something might have flown over and knocked them out, they might be lying there desperate trying to get out. And it was awful, because in every single room in the hotel- we had the keys to get in- the microwave was behind the door on the shelf, that had come down and each door was stuck. So we had to try and force each one open, on the whole four floors. We weren’t scared, we didn’t think about it.

We just thought, ‘The shakes had stopped.” We didn’t realise how bad it was outside. The building itself, even though it shook an awful lot, there was not a lot of damage. Things had fallen down, but no structural damage.

So we cleared the hotel and got to the bottom and we looked outside and it was like.. there was lots of dust, there were lots of people, like five wide, walking along the street and they all looked like zombies. And then we realised the devastation that had happened. People walking along holding each other, blood coming from their heads. Very elderly people, people looking after them, which was wonderful.

Then I grabbed my bag and they [police/officials] said: “’You have to walk that way.” which was towards the beach, – East. All I kept thinking “No, I want to walk the other way, where the bus exchange was, because I want to catch a bus home.” – What a silly thing to think of! But they kept saying: “You can’t walk that way, because there is gas and there is fire.” So I said to myself “Where am I going?” My daughter lives in Avonside so that’s the way I started walking.

After a couple of hours I got there. I ended up staying there the night because the Lyttelton tunnel had been closed, Obi just had got home to Lyttelton so he was actually in the tunnel when it happened. He couldn’t come and get me, because we didn’t know what Dyers Pass Road was like, so I stayed the night at my daughter’s house. Her house was OK, they had no water, no power like lots of other places, lots of liquefaction, which wasn’t very nice.

The most challenging thing for me was not being in my own home after the earthquake. The wall of the house next door had been damaged in the September earthquake and it was sort of buckled but they had put a sort of a band aid on it so to speak, but with the February one the wall crashed through the front of my house.

So when I did get back to Lyttelton we got the firebrigade to see whether they could take the wall down of the other house, and they took one look at it and said ‘No, that’s way too big for us, and- excuse me Ma’m – , we have taken off your power and putting a red sticker on your house and you have to leave.”

So we were very kindly offered a room with ‘the boys’ from the dairy, we went and stayed up there. We were there for about a week and a half, maybe even two weeks. And then we got home one evening after we’ve been seeing friends and they had a red sticker at their house! Because someone thought the rocks would fall through their house!

So then we went to another friend’s next-door neighbour, who had gone to Auckland so we could stay at their place, so three of us stayed there, and the boys stayed in their camper van. So we stayed there for about three or four days and she had no water and no power and I said to Obi “I can’t cope any more with this, I need to have some normality, I am getting too old for this!” So we went and stayed at Dockside [apartment in Lyttelton], which was absolutely marvellous. We were there for another two weeks before they took the wall down. Because once that wall went, the danger to our house was gone.

The whole time of the earthquake was extremely social. We got to know people that we didn’t really know. We got to stay with people that we normally never would have stayed with because they were friends and you don’t stay at your friends house when they live around the corner. People were doing so many wonderful things. I spent a bit of time at the Recreation Center, making sandwiches, and things for volunteers and it was just such a buzz and Red Cross coming with all these groceries and… it was… it was overwhelming. And of course the Canterbury [Naval vessel] happened to be in as well and they were doing lots of things with food as well. It was wonderful actually, the hearts of people were overwhelming.

A devastation brings people together and there might be lots of devastation but I am looking forward and I think forward is going to be wonderful, re-building, doing things together. A lot of people’s hearts are heavy because they are in a lot of worse situation than I, they lost their homes and everything, like the lady next door, they’d only been here 12 months and she said their dream is gone. But I thought ‘You have a new dream now. You are going to create a new home.’ and that’s going to be exciting. Even though they have to rent somewhere. It’s the same with the main street, in Lyttelton. Coming together to create a new Lyttelton. I think that is going to be very special, the people of Lyttelton are just wonderful. I could never think of ever living anywhere else, because so many people care. We all care about each other but you don’t think how much you care about each other till something happens to make you feel that way.

I think through the earthquake…well, you are always in your own comfort zone, that’s where you’re comfortable, and when something like this happens you step out of your comfort zone, which for me has been absolutely marvellous, because without stepping out of your comfort zone you’re not doing something that you wouldn’t normally do or feel comfortable doing and for me it’s been a wonderful experience.

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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