– The Mediterranean, Tuam Street

Earthquake Story of Bertha & Robert Tobias.
On the 22nd February we had arranged to have lunch with two friends at the “Mediterranean” in Tuam street. One of our friends had been in hospital for three months and was having to use a walking frame to aid his balance.

We finished our lunch when suddenly a report like that of an exploding bomb occurred and the whole building began to shake. Our friend was unable to move so we held on to each other around the glass topped table. Fortunately we did this as those who leapt up were cut by the flying glass. A huge crack snaked it’s way across the floor as the staff helped everyone outside.

Everyone was calm but shaking. The management pulled out chairs and brought out a first aid box. The staff were fantastic in the way that they cared for us all. We sat on the wall next to a young mother with a baby. She was a visitor to Christchurch. She tried desperately to call her family on her cell-phone but the service was out. We sat and comforted each other and watched with amazement as the tiny volcanoes of liquefaction shot up into the air followed by a flood of water from the broken pipes under the road.

We all realised that if we did not move soon that the road would be impassable.

A second large jolt occurred as we fled to our cars. I asked the manager if we could pay for our lunches and he said “No forget about it.” We drove at snail’s pace down Barbados street and could see that the cathedral had been badly damaged. A striking sight was a statue of Mary facing a broken window.

Bumper to bumper it took us five hours to get home to Lyttelton a journey of usually 15 minutes. We picked up a couple of men who were running towards Lyttelton to their families but the movement of the traffic was too slow for them and we dropped them off again. When we finally reached the tunnel it was closed so we tried going toward the Ferrymead Bridge. That too was out and the only route left was up over the hills and towards Sumner Road. It was a challenge to negotiate the potholed and broken roads.

We finally reached the top of Evans Pass to find that Sumner road was impassable. We left the car at the top of the pass (as well as our cell phone much to the anxiety of our children overseas.)

On foot we climbed Chalmers Track. It was sheer adrenalin that kept us going as we are both in our seventies and of course unbeknown to us there had been landslides there too. We slid on our backs under fallen trees and around boulders the size of campervans which were strewn across the track. At one point we heard a roar behind us and looked back to see what looked like smoke, towards Sumner. Later we learned that it was dust from the collapsing cliffs.

We finally made it down towards Lyttelton and passed an astonished ranger who asked where we had come from. He told us that there had a couple of deaths on the hills.

We reached our home on Gilmour Terrace exhausted and then faced the wreckage inside the house. As we had a telephone that needs electricity to work we were unable to contact our family for a couple of hours. Our neighbour had an old telephone and we were able to reassure our family that we were still alive.

Everything from the kitchen cupboards had fallen to the floor and brandied cherries, flour, rice, jam combined with the broken glass and crockery. A similar sight met our eyes in every other room. With no water we could not clean up the sticky mess so covered it all with newspaper so that we could walk in the kitchen and dining-room.

We had always kept an emergency kit which came into use immediately. We had enough water and food etc for about three days. The worst part of having no water is not being able to wash or to flush the toilet!

We did not sleep much that night. There were many big shakes. We contacted neighbours and the next day walked down in to the village to help with small things to make people feel that they were not alone.

The NZ Navy had been in port before the quake and the young crew members were marvellous in helping out around the village. They provided meals for those who had no electricity. The supermarket owner had all the stock from his shop taken to the Recreation Centre where he invited all to take what they needed. This ranged from fruit and vegetables to baby food, nappies etc.

What was amazing to us was the way in which people overseas used facebook to locate family members.
Going down the hill next day to collect water we met a photographer with the international press. He was going to take photo’s in Sumner so took Robert with him to get our car back. He emailed us a few weeks later to see if we were ok.

The kindness and cooperation received from so many people was wonderful.

Robert’s sister who lives in the United States wrote a lovely poem for him which we have attached.

Ground boiling around you:
liquefaction, they call it, earthquake
nomenclature you knew because
youʼve always been at risk there.
You were in the city, buildings falling
everywhere. Devastation in a few
seconds. You escaped a building,
caught your breath, tried to drive
home, to Lyttelton, the epicenter.
Tunnel closed. Road over the hills
blocked too. You clambered
across hills made unfamiliar
by fallen boulders and trees to climb
round or under and over. Your house
had swayed with the quake. Still there.
Chaos inside. Just missed by large
careening boulder dislodged above,
uprooting trees en route to the road
below you. You were lucky, you said:
main street destroyed, neighborʼs house
shifted from its foundation; most of all
lucky not to be among the dead.
Later, it strikes me how close
you came to death. You chose
not to follow the young men to whom
youʼd given a ride onto the bridle path
above the blocked tunnel. Was one
of them the man you later heard was
killed there by a tumbling boulder? One
of many ways you could have lost
your life. I could have lost you. I
want you to know itʼs not okay for you to
go before me, turning your lifeʼs last page
while my book has more to be read.
Our stories are interwoven. Your life
is not separate from mine. Could I
simply continue my life if you
were suddenly not there? Iʼm
not sure Iʼd know how. Iʼd be
like parent losing child. Little brother, I
didnʼt understand this before. Continents
apart, everyday lives quite different,
still thereʼs a vital sense in which we
breathe in tandem. The stopping
of your breath would threaten mine.
You are part of the solid “earth
beneath my wings.” Where you are,
I know I can land. Youʼre my refuge,
my home, when all else fails. I sail,
I fly, far from you in the world, but I
do it in part because you are there,
there for me, when I am in need.
Without you, could I take the risks
of ordinary living? I would fear
the boulder poised above me. My
everyday movements could shake
my earth and bring it falling down.
If Iʼd lost you, thereʼd have been
a quake in the world of my self too,
destroying me, changing who I am.
My brother, the World War One bullet
through our fatherʼs chest somehow
avoided everything vital there. Your
earthquake day was like that.
Both miracles leave me grateful.

Ann Tobias Karson,
Candler, NC.
25 February, 2011.
Revised 6, 9, 10 March, 2011.

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