– Riccarton/St Albans

For me there are four stories:

Sept 4th was an event. It was terrifying, woke up to the roar then the shaking, couldn’t get out of bed, got to my kids when the first shake stopped only to experience the first aftershock. Cellphones provided light. We were all safe and unhurt. The chimneys had fallen down and until this happens you have absolutely no idea just how many bricks are in a chimney, the car was crushed, there was a big hole in the roof and the other chimney was in the neighbours driveway. But, when daylight came we had the most glorious day and that beautiful day enabled us to get on, pick ourselves up, and do what had to be done to make our home safe and make practical arrangements. Yes, we had lots of aftershocks both that day and in the following months, but we believed all that time it was a one off event and we were getting over it and moving on with life.

Boxing Day is supposed to be a fun family day. Dropped one child off at Riccarton Mall as she was working, the other was meeting a friend there to go sales shopping. Although neither Boxing Day shopping or Riccarton Mall are really my thing we decided to have a wander around anyway. We were browsing in Borders when all of a sudden the ground just seemed to lurch up with no warning and the noise was terrible. Books were flying off the shelves and people were screaming. People evacuated from the main mall and other stores and we all stood around in Rotherham Street just under the air bridge (how stupid)..

People were crying and everyone was texting. Found daughter working in mall was safe, discovered the other one was now in a mall on the other side of town. We had parked on the street. There was a mass exodus from Riccarton Mall but as fast as people were driving away in their cars more cars were driving into the car parks – it was bizarre. Broke my heart leaving my older daughter who was working there at the mall. Went home to charge cell phone, no power, went to Mum’s to charge cellphone, went to Palms to pick up other child – had earthquakes eveywhere that day. There were more then 20 earthquakes in less than eight hours that day we felt them all – it sends so much adrenalin into your body you almost become physically ill.

February 22nd – I am a chef and we were at work all feeling pretty good about life, things were picking up and we getting busy – to pre earthquake levels. There were three of us in the kitchen and there was a small shake and we had time to glance at each other and shrug as if to say “aftershock” then it was just as if the world exploded and the ground was heaving. Every plate, kitchen utensil and all those jars of spices and mixes we have on high shelves became flying missiles, I ended up on the floor in the smashed mess cut and bleeding.

Somehow we hurled our way out the sliding kitchen door to the car park and the rest of the staff and customers were outside. Sirens, continuous sirens, and sobbing. We stayed in the car park for ages trying to contact family. Got my oldest daughter at university – told her to make her way home. Got my youngest who was in Latimer Square (been teacher’s half day and they were all going into town). Told her to stay there and under no circumstances to move. My partner was on leave that day, got hold of him and told him he would have to bike into town to get her, he txt me half way there and said wasn’t sure he could get through as roads were awash, told him he had to keep going. Aftershocks kept happening, for one I was looking at the mirror glass building across the road – I wanted to vomit. For another I was watching our little weatherboard building and the shock just ripples along the boards in one end and out the other.

One image from the earthquakes sticks with me – there was a guy running full tilt into town against the exodus of people. He was not a fit looking guy but he was flying. About 25 minutes later he was walking back to town with a girl about 10 – obviously his daughter. That really moved me. We locked up and made our way to where we park our cars in Bealey Ave, everyone was being hearded across by the Knox Church as the front facades of Saggi de Vino and the building next door were hanging out into the street. Once in my car I had to go with the flow of traffic so ended up in Ilam before I could get a turn to take me back to St Albans. Thought before I go home will go back towards town to try and pick up partner and daughter halfway. Although there had been some liquifaction on earlier streets it had only been just on the surface, got to Madras/Forfar corner and it was a couple of feet deep but you don’t have the choice to stop you just have to keep going in the flow of traffic. Saw my daughter’s best friend with someone else and told them to jump in. Driving through the liquifaction is terrifying as you simply have no idea what is underneath you and believe me once it has drained away and you see the state of the roads you are right to be scared. Got home, went inside, big items all in place, kitchen a disaster zone. Common theme is that chilli sauce makes the worst mess so always keep it at the back of the cupboard. Didn’t want to stay in house, sat in the car just fine till next door neighbour came over and I started shaking in a state of shock. Then partner and youngest daughter got home. Made half hearted attempt to clean up but no water or power. Extended family came over and we all went to my brother-in-laws house to stay for the next week.

No work due to cordon then because of dangerous buildings next door to my workplace, daughter on afternoon school after a month. Emergency boxes now live permanently by front door. All of our extended family have moved back up north so we feel quite socially isolated. Nothing will ever be the same.

June 13th – my boss had come up with some alternative premises as a temporary measure. Terrible shaking, glasses smashing, all the containers falling, ran through cafe and out onto the street, hyperventilating on footpath and watching debris falling off the Crown Plaza. 30 minutes to end of shift so force myself to go back to work to help clean up, customers keep coming in so keep on serving meals. Never so glad to get to end of shift. Race home, daughter txts can I pick her up from school. Jump in car and get just round the corner from home. Think to myself the road must have really got munted again then realise its another earthquake. Watch a mother with a pram get thrown to the ground and her baby fell out – some Shirley High boys go to her rescue and an elderly couple hold on to the lampost. Crawl my way to the other side of town to Burnside High and all the girls are on the field. Grab the ones I have come to collect and crawl home again. Aftershocks all night. But now off work again as building next door to temporary premises critically dangerous.

The effect of these events is ongoing and many aspects of our lives have been changed forever. Young people in Christchurch have lost so much but will also have gained a resilience and sense of community that would be had to find elsewhere. Hope it is all over.

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