– Buxtons Road, Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Camille O’Donoghue conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

My name is Camille O’Donoghue, I am 49 and I live in Simeon Quay in a little flat, I’ve got neighbours in the flats too.

I had just been in Diamond Harbour, I work over there, I just left the old lady I work with and I was driving back and I had some catalogues to pick up at the top of Buxton road and I just got out of the car to look in the letterbox and next thing that noise, I got thrown against the letterbox, and I thought ‘Oh no, not another earthquake’. The noise was horrendous, and it kept rocking and I couldn’t move and I am looking up and I can see all the rocks falling down, and cars moving around – lucky I put my handbrake on really firm. Then I looked over at the harbour where I could see the shock wave go across the Harbour, it was like a heat wave, I could see it spread as it went across the water and it hit Quail Island and you could see it shaking and bits falling off and then it went past it and I went ‘wow’ it was a really interesting thing to see.

And then I thought ‘What do I do now? Shall I finish collecting the catalogues? No, I can’t do that. I’ll better get in my car and see what’s happening.’ So I hopped in my car and thought ‘Oh gosh, I hope I will get down the road.’ Down the bottom of it it was ripped up and rough and I thought I’d go around the bay in case the top road is not open. So I started travelling around and there were people in the street, rocks down, and I was getting past, asking if everyone was all right, and I get around to my flat, and the neighbours were out and were a bit panicky so I talked to them a bit and then I looked inside and it was just a mess, things everywhere, the TV was still standing and my computer was still standing, but everything was off the walls and the microwave had moved,

So I just thought ‘Right, Shea is at school, oh my God, I better get Shea’ So I got in the car and rushed around to Lyttelton Main School. When I got there some of the mothers had already been. Some of the kids had just got out of the pool and they were sitting on the grass area with towels and the rest of them were sitting on the concrete. And as I sit there the ground rolls again for that big aftershock and Shea was terrified. In the first earthquake she wasn’t worried at all. I think it’s a totally different thing when it happens during the day at school. And she’s crying and there is only a small group left and I was telling the teacher I was taking her and then Shea is saying ‘We’ve got to get out of here, the volcano is going to go!’ And I said “It’s all right love, we’ll go back home .’

We grabbed her dog first and then we went back home. By the time I got home, after the big aftershock, there was even more mess. My TV was over, I couldn’t get into the door. I got one of these old night store heaters, very, very heavy things, that got chucked off the wall. I couldn’t believe it. It had squashed my little heater. So I picked up the TV, no broken bits, only scratches. The I tried to lift the heavy nightstore heater. You know how you get this superhuman strength? Well. I must have had it coz I said “Shea, pull out the little heater from underneath.’ And then I put it down, but then I could not lift it again. So I had to get two men to move it later. And then I went ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ There was mess everywhere. Shea wanted to make sure her friends and family were all right, so I txted them. And then we went for a wander to see if her friends were all right and we bumped into other people we know, and they pulled out the old gas thing and boiled up water to make tea for everyone that walked past, people were lost, wandering around.

So we did this till 9.30 till Jed and Kirsty managed to get over the hill and took Shea back with them. Shea kept saying ‘Let’s get out over the Bridle Path’

And for 2 days I went down to the recovery centre and then I thought ‘I should really do something to help’ because I felt so useless, and so I went into the office there and said ‘I want to help’. And I worked in the kitchen and in the tent for a few days, making food and keeping busy, otherwise you were wandering around headless.

Half of my wall was down and my doors wouldn’t close so that was difficult. But there was no one wandering around looking for things to steal. We were lucky to be in this small community – if we would have been in town there would have been no way… I didn’t feel safe in my house, so I slept in the car for three nights. The damaged walls, the doors, the aftershocks, the noise, they weren’t quiet. And then sleeping at friends sometimes.

I was so grateful when we got power back, because we were a priority, because we were isolated and apparently they need it for the gas as well, that was one of the main reasons.

Heaps of positive things came out, meeting people I hadn’t met before, and finding out there is this whole wee organisation of people who help each other and do things and so accepting and that was really good and next thing you are down there stitching [hearts on London Street], and I’m asking ‘What are you doing?’ and next thing I’m in it! I’m addicted! Next thing I’m back the next day and it was company and the good feeling ‘Yes, we are still living here in Lyttelton’ and saying hello to people… a lot of people abandoned town pretty quick… but the people who stayed, they were all together.

In the beginning I thought ‘Oh, I’ve got friends in Southbridge, I might move there. I might do this, I might do that.’ But then I thought “Why?’ Things can happen out there, and this community has come together.’ This made me feel really good, and it made me feel good to help. There were so many people that wanted to help, even people that were not that capable, you could tell they were hanging around, and so we’d give them a wee job to do, and they were thrilled.

It was great that the community could still be on main street, even though the buildings were devastated, and are being destroyed now. The coffee shop could be there and gave free coffees, and the food and the stuff we got given was just fantastic. It is amazing and that what it’s all about. It makes you feel ‘I’m not in this disaster alone,’ and you had support if you needed it.

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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