It was at the end of my first history lecture of the year. At 12:50, I was looking at the time on my computer hoping that the lecture would end soon. As soon as my lecturer finished saying his final comments on the course one minute later, there was a large jolt.
I thought it would stop, like other aftershocks after September 4th. It didn’t. People started to panic, I think, and I remember I was probably one of the first people to crouch under the bench. For a moment there I thought the huge violent shaking would never end… I know it must have been seconds, but seconds felt a lot longer than they are supposed to be during that earthquake… Then I remembered my laptop still on the bench and tried to hold on to it so that it won’t be shaken off, which was a fairly stupid thing to do when I thought about it afterwards, but all I remembered at the time was the fact that I only bought it two or three weeks earlier from overseas. Then the shaking stopped as suddenly as it started.
I was one of the last to leave the lecture theatre. There was no visible damage around the lecture theatre, and funnily enough, (I really don’t know how) everything else on my bench were still in the same place. Judging by my surroundings, I thought perhaps it was just a fairly strong aftershock and that I’d imagined the whole thing about how violent the shake had been- that maybe we’d all overreacted. I had no idea that I had just experienced one of the deadliest quakes in New Zealand history.
It was only when I saw people milling outside the law carpark in the light drizzle that I realised something was seriously wrong, and started trying to call my mother, who, I remembered with sudden dread, was having an acupuncture done. The image of her having all these needles on her during that quake swirled around my head while my calls failed. When somebody finally picked up, I reached my sister, who was at home and had dived under her bed when the quake hit. My mother rang home to say that she was fine (luckily, they had just taken the needles off when the shaking began).
I remember going onto facebook on my cell phone (thanking God that I can use the internet on my cell phone), knowing that electricity around campus has probably failed, to see if there were any news. That was 7 minutes after the earthquake. Funny how we remember those details.
Someone passed along the message that the university is closed and all the students were to leave the campus. All the traffic lights failed on the way home, and it was one of the most chaotic traffic jams I’ve ever seen on the streets of Christchurch. A lady dressed in a dark suit, obviously a bystander/pedestrian was directing traffic.
My phone and the radio were the only sources where we could get the latest information at that time because we had no electricity. We didn’t dare go inside the house. It was when I read on the TVNZ website about reports of at least one death this time, and saw an image of dusty red bricks fallen in a heap on (and practically flattening) a car, that I realised that this time, Christchurch might not be so lucky…