– PricewaterhouseCoopers Building, Armagh Street, Christchurch, New Zealand

Feb 22nd 2011 12.51pm-6.3 Earthquake – How our lives changed in just 24 seconds!

It was just like any other day. Scott, my son, who was 13 and Jessica, my daughter, who was 15, had caught the bus to school, which was located in the city centre, quite close to where I worked. William, my husband, was already at work. He worked at the milk plant on Blenheim Rd-on the other side of town. I parked in the usual place on Barbadoes Street. It only took me about 15mins from where I parked the car to walk to work. I prayed that day as I did every day, that the Lord would protect our family as we all went about our business. As I walked and talked with the Lord, I began thinking about the day ahead. I was working a full day that day. Carol, the woman I job shared with, had something important to attend to that day so I offered to cover for her. I had decided to use a voucher I had, to get a free Pita bread for lunch from a new place that had just opened-PITA PIT-it was directly across the road from work. Nothing like a free lunch! I was looking forward to that.

I arrived at work and settled in for the day. At some point that morning, Scott called to say he’d left his lunch at home and could I loan him some money to buy some more. Of course I said ‘yes’. We agreed to meet just after 12.30 in front of the Cathedral in the Square. As I was having 12.30 to 1.30 lunch break, same as his, it worked out really well. It takes less than 5mins to walk to the Square from work-same for Scott from where he was at school. 12.30 arrived and we met as planned. Scott asked if I’d like to go with him to McDonalds to get lunch. I told him about my voucher and how I was looking forward to trying the new Pita place. We hugged, told each other we loved each other and said goodbye.

I then walked back to the Pita place. I ordered a steak Pita to take away. It looked yummy. It was a chilly day. A bit drizzly and cool so I decided to go back to work and eat my lunch in our Staffroom on the 18th floor of the Pricewaterhouse building in Armagh Street. I had worked for Harmans Lawyers as their Receptionist for 6 years and we leased the 18th and 19th floors of that building.

I got into the lift with three others. 2 young women who obviously knew each other and the other was a male Lawyer I’d seen many times before who worked for a different Company in the same building. The lift stopped at one floor and opened-no one got in or out! That happened a lot! I had a look on the console to see what floors we were heading to before we’d reach mine on the 18th, and number 10 was next. Just as we reached the 10th floor and the door opened slightly, the lift gave a wee ‘jiggle’. I wasn’t concerned at all because the lifts often did weird things but what happened next, was something that I had feared would never happen to me……

That ‘jiggle’ became a ‘shaking’ and then a ‘violent shaking’! I’m trying to figure out what’s happening when to my horror I realise this is an Earthquake! The feeling of terror I felt is one I will never forget. Even as I’m writing this, my eyes are tearing up thinking back to that dreadful moment. The violence of the shaking seems to go on forever and ever. I immediately prayed ‘Lord save me-don’t let me die, don’t let this lift drop-please please help me’. I felt very alone at that moment. I thought I would feel the Lords peace around me at a time like this. I thought it would feel different but I was so scared. The noise of the building violently shaking was deafening. The lift then did drop slightly, adding to the terror of it all!. I look around me and see the terror in everyone’s eyes. We’re all trying to stay on our feet while being thrown around. The door had opened enough to get one person through at a time. The need to get through that door fast, was the priority. This proved to be very difficult as we are being thrown from one side of the lift to the other and trying to move forward was almost impossible. The Lawyer and myself were closest to the door. As I finally reached the opening, the Lawyer did too and he pushed me out of the way so he could get through first! I was shocked! I know now he was just in ‘survival’ mode, as we all were and he must have been very frightened to do such a thing. I often wonder if he ever thinks about what he did.

I finally got through the door with much relief. The Earthquake is still violent at this time and I thought ‘I hope we all got out’. I looked into the lift and there was still one woman in there. She was right at the back of the lift and I’ll never forget the look of fear on her face. She was being thrown from side to side and had no chance of reaching the open door. I just had to get her out. The thought of going back into that lift was terrifying, so instead, I threw my arm in as far as it could go, hoping it would reach her. It did! She grabbed my hand and I pulled her out. We landed in a crumpled mess on the floor. Finally the shaking stops-it felt like it had gone on for so long but it was in fact only 24 seconds!

By now I am shaking violently myself and crying, as are other people around me. I am in disbelief and thinking this has to be a dream. I pick myself up and sit on my bottom on the floor. There were others in the same position. I looked around me and there are many people in the foyer. We had been ‘briefed’ after the September Earthquake (which I was out of town for, thank God!) that being in the foyer at the lifts, was the safest place to be. I again felt very alone, as I didn’t know anyone on this floor-they all knew each other because there was only one Company working from Level 10 at the time. No one came to see if I was ok-no one acknowledged me-it was as if they couldn’t see me! Looking back, again, everyone was in survival mode, still trying to work out what had just happened.

The loneliness I felt during this experience was a loneliness I’ve never felt before. It was different. I felt quite helpless. I remember thinking at some point, ‘I wonder if this is just a small taste of what the Lord felt when He was on the Cross and asked His Father why he had forsaken Him?’ All I know is, I never want to feel that again………..

My thoughts then went to Jessica and Scott. I knew William would be ok. He’s always very sensible and in control at times like this. Both the kids attended school in the city centre, which as I mentioned earlier, was about 5 mins from where I worked, so I knew they’d have been affected. Even though I hadn’t seen outside yet, I just knew this was ‘huge’. There would be injuries and buildings badly affected. Little did I know just how much worse it would be!

Two items I was clutching in my hands turned out to be my lifelines that day! My phone and my wallet. After the last Earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, I’d been very vigilant about us all making sure we carry our mobiles wherever we go and myself and the kids had decided if we had another one, we’d just text each other a simple, quick text ‘Me ok. U ok’ So I did that and received nothing back! A different kind of fear began to envelope me now-that fear that every parent has, that their kids are hurt, or worse, and you are separated from them. I prayed again ‘Dear God, please, please let them be OK. Please protect them. Please help me’. As I’m praying, I received a text from William. ‘Are you ok?’ I was relieved to hear from him. I thought ‘How can I possibly let him know in a text what I’ve just been through and how bad it really is?’ So I just texted, ‘I’m ok. It’s bad. I can’t get hold of the kids’. Immediately a text came back from him saying ‘The kids are ok’. I didn’t believe him. I thought how could he know that? Why would they text him and not me? He was only saying that to make me feel better. I didn’t. I felt more confused and upset. (we found out later, Jess had texted me straight back to say she was ok but the text never got through to me but she’d managed to get a text through to William).

By now some woman is yelling out orders and suggests everyone just stay where they are and don’t go outside. A big 5.8 aftershock hits! It’s now 13mins later. Some of us cry out in fear. Others try to calm people down. This is like a movie scene. It’s very surreal. I decide I need to get out. I feel out of control in this building so I stood up and said ‘Well I don’t work on this floor so I’m leaving’. Again, people didn’t acknowledge me but I didn’t care now. I headed to the stairs and others followed! The stairs were dimly lit but there was enough light to see where I was going. I had 10 flights to walk down and it didn’t once occur to me that the stairs could have collapsed on the way, as we found out later some had done in other buildings! People from other floors were in front of me. I had to stop myself from running down the stairs, as I knew that wouldn’t be safe. It was almost suffocating being in an enclosed space at such a time. Nothing in comparison to the lift though! I finally reached the ground floor and immediately in front of me there is a red liquid coming out from under a ground floor doorway. I thought to myself ‘Oh my gosh. Is that blood?. Shouldn’t we be checking if anyone is hurt? But no one seemed concerned so I just followed everyone out and hoped it was going to be ok! (I found out later it was actually red wine I saw coming from under the door, from the wine shop at the bottom of the building!)

I’m finally out and at the street. The scene is unbelievable. The road is covered in silt and mostly flooded (liquefaction) It’s very cold and grey. There are no cars moving on the street. People are standing on the footpath across the other side of the road. Alarms and sirens are going off everywhere. To this day, I hate the sound of alarms-it brings me right back to that awful time. I manage to get across the road, having to walk through the cold water and silt. I stand there on my own, dumbstruck. Surely this is a dream? Someone please wake me up! I look around and try to get my bearings. I don’t see anyone I know. Again, the loneliness is quite ‘thick’. I could almost touch it.

Suddenly I see two Partners from my Company. I then have a discussion with myself to decide which one I should go to who would show me some sympathy and maybe even give me a hug-I badly needed one! Before I could decide, I heard someone cry out ‘Chrissy’. It was my boss Judith. What a beautiful sight she was! We had a big hug and I told her where I’d been when it hit. She was very sympathetic. It had been something we’d all talked about at work ‘Wouldn’t it be the worst thing if you were in the lift when a big one hit’. I knew she and others from work would understand why I was such a mess. Before I knew it, there was a whole group of girls from work around me. One of them, Deirdre, told us all to hold hands and walk to the centre of the road and head to Victoria Square. This was a grassed, popular area only a few metres from where we were. We did as she said and headed off-I was so grateful to Deirdre that day. My mind was just a blank. I couldn’t think straight and I needed someone to tell me what to do next!

As we were walking down the road, another after shock hit! We held on to each other and moved on after it’d stopped. As we were walking across the intersection of Colombo and Armagh Sts, I looked to my left, where I’d walked just minutes earlier and saw buildings on the ground! I think that was the moment I really knew how big this was and that people would have lost their lives that day.

We reach Victoria Square and there appear to be hundreds of people there already. People were crying, injured, walking around dazed. They were all trying to text and call people, as I was. Some of the texts were going through, some weren’t. It was an anxious time. I realise I am still holding on to my Pita Bread! It is squashed against me. I go to throw it in the rubbish bin but as I go to do so, I thought ‘What if we cant get to food for a long time? I’d better hold onto it’, and so I do! I actually did that two more times and finally thought ‘I don’t care’ and threw it away! It’s amazing the things that go through your mind at a time like that!

As I look up, I see people in the Forsythe Barr building opposite me, standing outside on the balconies. That building is nearly as tall as the 20 story Pricewaterhouse building I was in. One man is making a gesture with his arms. I’m trying to work out what he’s trying to tell us. I think he’s saying something is blocking them from getting out. The vision of the Twin Towers comes to my mind and I pray I don’t have to watch people throw themselves off a building or watch the actual building come down! I found out later, this was one of the buildings that the stairwell had collapsed in and the people were stuck up there. That’s what the guy was trying to tell us. What a terrible thing that would have been. I thanked God I was able to get out when I did. All those people were rescued however and the building is still standing today!

By now I still haven’t heard from the kids and I’m still shaking and trying to deal with what’s happening in all the confusion. I then get the first text from Jessica that made me feel sick to my stomach-I really thought I’d throw up at that moment. ‘Scott’s head split open from falling brick. Ambulance on its way to take us to the Hospital’. I try desperately to digest what was in that text. Is this really real? I’m still trying to get over the shock of the lift experience, and now I have to deal with this-my children hurt and I’m not with them. I pray ‘Dear God, please, please help us’. It was all I was capable of saying.

I’m crying often and find it hard to read or send texts. People are texting me to see if I’m ok. I couldn’t answer some of them. I needed to concentrate on the kids. We are experiencing constant aftershocks. People scream and cry as they hit. Fear is everywhere. I get a text to Jessica and tell her I’m ok and that I would make my way to the Hospital. In my text I said ‘I will find you!’. I remembered, that was a line from the movie ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ but I meant every word. That’s what this was like-being in a movie. I tell Judith what’s going on and let her know I have to get to the kids. Jessica texts again. They are being taken to the Police Kiosk to wait for transport to get them to the hospital. The Kiosk was in fact only two blocks from where I was but all the roads had been closed and no one was allowed through them because of the danger of more buildings coming down in the aftershocks. William called me, miraculously getting through. I told him about the text from Jessica and he said he’d go to the Hospital and we could all meet there. I said ‘OK’. I actually didn’t know how I would do that! It was obvious there was a lot of fallen buildings and chaos in the direction of the hospital, but somehow I had to find a way.

I’m trying to work out in my head what to do next, when I get a call from my beautiful ‘sister’ Sabina, in Tauranga. What a blessing to hear another familiar voice! She’d seen what was happening on the TV and was crying and praying. I told her about the kids and she could obviously tell how desperate I was to get to them, she being a Mother herself. She said she’d pray the Lord would help me. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how much that call meant to me-it was huge!! I’ll be forever grateful to her………. I get a 2nd text from Jessica, ‘Change of plan. They are taking us to Bealey Ave Medical Centre’. This was an answered prayer! The Medical Centre was in the opposite direction to the Hospital and I just knew that side of town wasn’t as badly affected, even though I couldn’t see it. I knew I’d be able to walk there. I told Jessica I’d meet them there. She got my message. We had a plan. I just had to get a message to William now telling him about the change. ‘Please God let my message get to him’. It did and he was going to meet us all at the Centre. It was all falling into place, thank God.

I told Judith what was happening and said I had to leave now. She didn’t want me to set out on my own because of the dangers, but I wasn’t staying there any longer so she offered to walk with me to her car to see if she could drive me to the Centre.

Off we set. We see more devastation. We have to climb over the ‘hills’ in the park. There are huge cracks everywhere. We have to walk over a small bridge. The water below in the Avon River is grey and moving very fast! We get to her car and there is no physical way she can get it out-the road is now a ‘hill’. I tell her I have to go. She doesn’t want me to go on my own but knows I must. We hug.

I walk onto Kilmore Street just outside the Town Hall. There is liquefaction everywhere. People everywhere, walking dazed and the wrong way up streets, trying to understand what’s happened. My phone decides to run out of money and needs topping up! I don’t have a plan on my phone and top it up with VISA. Thankfully, my wallet is still in my hands so I topped it up straight away. I head down the middle of the road towards Colombo Street, running as best I can. I realise I’m still in my high heels, which are now sodden – I knew not to take them off because you couldn’t see what was under all the water-I couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong now. I get to Colombo Street/Kilmore Street intersection, and see they have closed off Colombo Street in the direction I needed to go. I just knew I’d keep going until a street was open, no matter how long that took-I was going to find my kids, no matter what! Again, I felt like I was in a movie scene. It was very dramatic.

I look to my right and see a female news reporter filming what’s happening. I thought ‘how amazing that they can do that kind of thing so quickly-how can they be so in control at a time like this?’ (I actually realised later that in fact about an hour had passed since the Quake hit-ask anyone who was affected that day and they’ll all tell you ‘time’ was bizarre-it almost didn’t exist-it was like it stood still-hard to explain).

Unbeknownst to me, the PGC Building, which was across the road from my work, has collapsed. It is just to the right of me but I never looked right-I don’t know how that would have affected me if I had. I reach Manchester Street. I look left and see the road is OPEN! So I go to step off the footpath onto Manchester Street and the water was quite high, so I pulled back. There’s a guy about to do the same thing but he hesitated too. I laughingly suggested he try it first and then I’d follow if it was OK, so he did and it was fine. We had a wee laugh. Everyone was experiencing this together. There was a unity even then. I run again down the road then all of a sudden-bang! I drop into a water filled hole in the road up to my knees! I landed so hard, I thought I’d hurt my back but I didn’t care-I had to keep going. I felt someone’s hand lifting me out-it was the same guy I’d had the laugh with earlier!. I then realised running was not a sensible thing to do at this time so I walked, quickly! I zig-zagged all the way down Manchester Street-sometimes on the road, sometimes on the footpath-wherever it was safest. There were fronts of houses collapsed on either side of the road-so surreal.

I finally get to the end of Manchester Street when I suddenly have a mind blank and couldn’t remember where the Medical Centre was! I’d been there many, many times since the kids were little, usually in the middle of the night with high temperatures! I stilled myself and immediately prayed ‘Lord, please help me to remember where it is’. I saw a map in my head and started seeing the area I was in and all the streets and then remembered! I had to turn left onto Bealey Ave. I texted Jessica to see if she was at the Centre yet and she was. I told her I wasn’t far away now. I decided I needed to be in the middle of the Ave, where it was all grassed, as I didn’t want to be near buildings. Getting to the middle was going to be dangerous-there were cars bumper to bumper in three lanes, moving at a snails pace. I stilled myself again and carefully made my way through the cars. I reached the middle and ran like I’ve never run before! There was no liquefaction here so it was safer. I finally get to the intersection where I could see the Medical Centre. The first thing I saw was the Pharmacy across the road from the Centre had collapsed-it had been there since I could remember. Next I saw the Centre and it was as if I was in a third world country! There were people everywhere in their car park. All with different injuries. Some lying on the ground on makeshift beds, some on chairs-it was indescribable!

Knowing I was a stones throw away from the kids, was an anxious feeling! All of a sudden there is a man in front of me and he says ’ STOP. Do you need to be here?’ I told him about the kids so he offered to help me across the road. By now I’m on the footpath directly outside the Centre. I stop and my eyes scan the area, searching and searching for my kids. Every part of me wants to scream out loud ‘I CAN’T FIND YOU!’ Then I hear Jessica’s sweet voice yelling ’ Mum, mum’. I finally see her. She’s wearing a white bathrobe. What a beautiful sight she is! I run to the entrance and yet again, a woman this time, says ‘STOP’!! I told her I had to get to my kids. She asked if I had any injuries. I thought of my back but realised it was fine. I said ‘no’ so she let me pass. I ran again, this time into Jessica’s arms and we cried as we hugged. The relief of being united with her was something I’ll never forget. I then look desperately for Scott. I see him close to me, sitting in a chair, also in a white robe. There was a doctor doing something to his head. I just went to him and squeezed his arm as the Doctor carried on-he was in a very stressed state and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing-he was being stitched up, outside, in a make shift Triage. I can only squeeze his hand, as the Doctor must continue. Scott screamed a lot and people were looking at us in sympathy.
I felt physically sick again. Aftershocks were still happening quite regularly at this point, bringing fear to us all constantly. I will never forget that scene. It was all so unreal.
I read later that in the two hours from when the first quake hit, we had 22 aftershocks of more than magnitude 4! For those of you reading this who weren’t there that day, you can only imagine the fear that we were all feeling as each one hit.

My phone rings and its Sabina again-seeing if I’d made it to the children. She was such a blessing. I tell her about finding them and William being on his way. It was awesome how the Lord had used her to bring me comfort and made sure she got through to me both times! His timing is perfect!

The Doctor finishes stitching up Scott’s head so I can hug him properly! We weep together and I pray I can find it in me somewhere to give strength to the kids at a time where I feel so helpless myself. We lie Scott down on one of the mattresses in the car park with a pillow and blanket. The Nurses and Doctors there were fantastic. Often they would come and see how he was doing-checking his wound and keeping a look out for signs of concussion. I knew many of them would have their own families they needed to get to-they were inspiring! Many people went over and above the call of duty that day. Jessica’s own Teacher stayed in town till 8pm that night until all the school children had been picked up-she had a young family of her own to worry about that day. ‘Thank-you’ to all these people will never be enough.

Jessica explained that one of the major Hotels in the City Centre had come out with bathrobes and towels for everyone as it had turned into a very cold day, which explained what they were wearing and on top of that, many people were suffering from shock. Again, what a blessing. Scott had on only a short sleeved cotton shirt and shorts at the time the quake hit.

While we waited for William, some people came over from the cafe across the road, where the front of their building had collapsed. They’d managed to get the food out and were offering it to everyone. Most people were saying ‘no thanks’. Food was the last thing we felt like. I suggested they give it to the nursing staff-I’m sure they wouldn’t have eaten for hours. We got talking to a Doctor at one point. He was from out of town and in ChCh at a Doctors Convention-over 150 Doctors were in the city centre at the time of the quake in the middle of a Conference! They had all been dispersed to the main hospital and the Medical Centres’ around the City after the quake hit! Coincidence??? Not likely-again, Gods timing is perfect.

We waited at the Centre for what seemed like hours for William. At one point, a nurse said we could now go inside the Centre building as it was deemed safe. We all said a resounding ‘no thanks!’. William texts that he’s walking down Bealey Ave heading to us. We decide to start walking too, as Scott was feeling a bit better. We head off back the way I had originally come. There were still cars bumper to bumper on the road. Liquefaction everywhere. Roads and footpaths broken. A women came up to me and asked if we were ok-I told her the situation but I really appreciated her asking. What a sight we must have been! Jessica and Scott are in white bathrobes-his had bloodstains down the back of it. I’m wearing black pants sodden with grey silt from the knees down!

All of a sudden William is in front of us and we are united. We have a group hug. I see people staring with looks of sympathy on their faces. It’s been about 4 hours since the quake struck. I feel more secure now because I know William can look after us. As I said before, he’s very sensible and level headed at times like these-he’d know what to do next. While walking back to the car, the lift experience is still going over and over in my head. I constantly relive the terror but can’t tell anyone. I want to collapse in a heap and cry and let my feelings out but I must remain strong for as long as I can. The kids can’t see me weak at this time. We’ve all just gone through so much and I know at this point, William has no idea how bad it really was!

The plan at this stage, is to head home, pack a bag and drive to Kaikoura, 2hrs away, to stay with Mum and Dad. We get to the car and head towards home. The main road home is flooded and full of un-seen potholes. Cars are stuck in holes everywhere and people are trying to get around the city, going at a snails pace. Again, I feel fear as we don’t know if we’re going to fall in a pothole ourselves or the bridge is going to collapse that we have to go over to get home. The kids and myself don’t talk much on the journey home-each of us still in shock to some degree. Finally we make it home, not knowing what to expect. I am still very fearful. Our driveway and both entrances to our home are flooded. We make it to the front door, walking carefully through the water. We stay in our shoes but the water is nearly up to our knees. I’m very cold by now and long for some warm, dry clothes. William has to literally kick the door in to get inside. We are greeted with liquefaction in the entrance way and in the two downstairs bedrooms. The house is on a lean and all I want to do is run. William assures us its safe. I am reminded of the lift again-I don’t want to go in but I must. Scott won’t come inside. I gain courage to head in doors. There is glass broken on the floor in the kitchen. Our dog is ok but terrified. We see one of our cats-the other isn’t around. What do we do about the pets? We can’t take them with us. William will know what to do. The outside of the house is a mess-it was bad after the Sept quake but so much worse now-there is deep liquefaction everywhere. It’s cold in the house, grey and claustrophobic.

I have to go upstairs to pack as the bedroom is up there. It scares me so much but I know I have to. William is telling us all what we need to do. He cant possibly know how terrified myself and Scott are as he tells Scott to go upstairs to pack his own bag. I say I will do it for him but William insists Scott does it himself. This wasn’t the time to have an argument. I just prayed constantly that we would all find the courage to continue…….My bedroom is a mess. All the drawers are on the floor or fallen on the bed. I can only just get to the drawers and just pull a few things out-I can’t think straight. I am terrified being up there. I need to get out. I run down the stairs.

We made contact with Christina, our boarder, and once we knew she was ok and with people who were helping her, we headed away. She had family in Timaru, which was a couple of hours drive away so I’d assumed she’d make her way there. The fear was driving me to get away as fast as I could from Christchurch, away from the nightmare we just experienced and the possibility it could happen again at any moment. The aftershocks were still coming quite regularly and some were still quite strong.

We load the car up, sort the animals out, secure the house as best as we possibly can and flee the city. The drive out was also terrifying-I had visions of the bridges that we had to go over, collapsing at any moment. They were all badly damaged to some degree. As we get over the last bridge out of the city I start to break down quietly. We tell bits of our stories to William and try and put the pieces of the day together.

I find whenever I try to talk about the lift experience, the terror that I felt comes back so I choose not to say any more. To my horror, William says he’s going to drive back to ChCh that night once he’s settled us in Kaikoura! He’s not happy that the house isn’t as secure as it could be and he also wanted to see if he could help at work to get the milk out to people who needed it. In my head I want to yell at him ‘How can you leave us at a time like this. I NEED you. Your son nearly died today-who cares if the house is broken into!’. I am too tired to fight him and I know he needs to do this-I know its a ‘bloke’ thing and I also know he has no idea of the enormity of what happened to us! It was very hard to talk about it and find the words to express the feelings we all had. To me it was obvious that he shouldn’t leave us-to him it wasn’t, as I hadn’t told him exactly how I was feeling. We talked long and hard about this a few days later when we were on our own and he was very upset when he found out exactly what we had experienced that day and if he’d known, he wouldn’t have left us.

For those people who had not been in the city centre, like William, or anywhere in the east side that had been badly affected, they truly didn’t have any idea of what we had been through.

We finally arrive in Kaikoura and are greeted by Mum and Dad, my sister Marie and her partner Andrew. We hug and cry. It feels safe here. Marie was also in the Pricewaterhouse building at the time of the quake-she works on the 15th floor. We never found each other that afternoon, only by text. I knew she was ok as one of my workmates had seen her outside the building. I knew all my family who lived in Christchurch were ok. We’d all managed to get texts to each other in all the chaos.

Eventually, its time for William to leave. Inside I’m screaming ‘Please, please don’t go.’ but I never said it. In hindsight, as he has agreed too, I should have told him exactly how devastated I was feeling but I didn’t want to stop him from doing what he thought was important to him. I really thought it was obvious he shouldn’t leave us, but as I said earlier, he really had no idea what it was like for us. He hadn’t seen any TV footage of town which showed the devastation. Even for days after, as he stayed in Ch Ch, there was no power so he still didn’t see any TV or see a single newspaper!

And so, I am left to be the sole comforter to the children. As we finally lay down together in our beds, I have time to reflect. I realise how tired I really am but every time I close my eyes I go straight back into that lift and the feeling of terror envelopes me again. I know I won’t sleep tonight. I also feel aftershocks that aren’t really happening. More than once, Scott yells out in his sleep, a terrifying cry. I calm him down and tell him everything is ok now. What must he be dreaming? I cry for him and want to erase what happened to him from his mind. My heart is heavy and I have a huge knot in the bottom of my stomach, which I know is ‘fear’. I long for morning to come. I don’t like the dark anymore. What will tomorrow bring? How will our lives be different? What do we do now? Everything had changed in just 24 seconds……………

Jessicas Story:

My school is in the city centre and during our lunch break, my friend Joy and I were window-shopping, in a jewellery shop called ‘Bling’, when the earthquake hit. At first I thought it was only going to be about a magnitude 5 but as it got bigger, I realised I was now actually inside the pictures of the broken city centre I had seen 6 months before, after the Sept quake. After the shaking stopped, we stepped outside and I scanned my surroundings. People were holding each other. I could see Erroll, one of my teachers, and a student, standing at the window of my school but as I tilted my head downward I noticed a boy, grasping his bloodied head screaming “HELP ME! SOMEONE” That’s when it hit me. It was Scott!

The whisper of my brothers’ name slid out of my mouth as the enormity of what had happened slapped me awake. Suddenly my practical self kicked in. It was a scene from a movie. As Scott saw me it was as if I saw his whole body fill will relief and he stretched out his arms towards me. I ran as fast as I possibly could and dodged anything and anyone in my way. I grabbed his shoulders and shaking him I said,’What’s wrong? What happened? What’s wrong?’ He pointed to the back of his head and crying said ‘A brick hit my head as I was running out of McDonalds’. I spun him around and saw the gash in his head. I could see his shirt was blood stained but there was no more blood pouring out at this stage so I turned him back around and started comforting him saying ‘You’re okay’, repeating it over and over again.

A lady that had been in the same shop as me, asked if we’d like to go with her. I said ‘yes’ with a nod of my head as I was still digesting everything that was going on around me. Joy also came with us, quietly assessing what was happening too. We decided being close to the tall buildings was not only uncomfortable, but also very unsafe. We moved to the open road on Colombo Street and sat on the road, as Scott was feeling dizzy. The lady with us left at this point after she received a phone call. I vaguely remember a ‘goodbye’.

It was at this point that the second aftershock hit and I found myself protectively covering Scott. The thought ‘Whatever happens’ rolled around in my mind. Scott was feeling insecure around the buildings again so we decided to get up and then we heard someone yelling, ‘Anyone who is injured needs to go to the police kiosk in the square’, so we headed in that direction. When we got to the Cathedral in the square we saw the devastation all around us. With no time wasted, I took Scott over to the police kiosk where a lady bandaged his head. I know I texted Mum at some point during all this telling her of what had happened to Scott, but its really all a blur.

A lovely man drove us to the Medical Centre in Bealey Ave. As we were sitting in that car in silence listening to the radio, I broke. Knowing Scott was now ok, I cried. What I had seen and experienced was huge and the emotion of it all had caught up to me. We reached the Medical Centre and I pulled myself together and became the Mother again. We waited for Mum to arrive and she did. Then we waited and waited for dad. We all finally met up and had a group hug on the side of the road with people looking on at us.

It seemed to take hours to get home and to find it a mess, full of and surrounded with silt, our animals scattered and shaken and then, on top of it all, we had to leave them. We stayed in Kaikoura, Nelson and Hanmer for a total of 3 weeks and when I returned home, I eventually returned to school at a different place. Since that terrible day, we have lost a best friend, lost a home, lost a school and lost ourselves, but we have gained 2 new best friends, a new home, a new school and found ourselves again. Yes it has been hard, and yes it has been long, but more good is to come, because as I know so well, ‘All things work together for good’.

Scotts story:

It all started with me wanting to get some lunch. I left my lunch at home that day, so I called Mum on the cell phone. I asked her if I could have some money for lunch. She said ‘yes’ so we agreed to meet in the square in front of the Cathedral.

Lunchtime came around and I was playing Badminton in Northern Tower 5. I told the guys I had to go meet mum. I got into the lift and went to the bottom floor, and headed to the square. I was waiting for a wee bit for Mum so I went to see the Preacher that was there every day.

Then I saw Mum and went to meet up with her. I said hi and gave her a big hug and then asked her if she wanted to have lunch with me. She said she had a coupon for a Pita Bread but asked if I’d like to come with her instead?. I said no and we hugged again and we said ‘I love you’ to each other.

I look at that now and I am so glad that if one of us had died that day, the last thing we said to each other was ‘I love you’.

Anyway, I turned and walked towards school and as I was walking I thought about what I was going to have for lunch. I wanted something from Dumplings so I headed there. I got there and the line was so long that I made my mind up to go to McDonalds. That was God that changed my mind because I heard that after the Earthquake people were trapped in Dumplings!

I went to McDonalds and got one of the $4.50 meals. I was waiting in line for my food, when the hell that I didn’t know, reared its ugly head to our poor city. I can’t remember it all but I remember hearing the screams and the fear in people’s voices. The lights were next to go, and then in a split second I made a choice to run for it.

I don’t know if any of you reading this have ever tried to run in the middle of an earthquake but its not a walk in the park! I ran to the only light I could see and as I ran, I was fighting the fight not to fall over and just kept pulling myself up again. People say that when you are about to die, your whole life flashes in front of you. I didn’t think that was true until this moment. It was like a film clip. I could see a small opening at the door with bricks pouring down like water on either side, and went for it. I was at the door and in another split second, I made the choice to go left. What I didn’t know was that if I’d have gone right or straight I wouldn’t be here writing this today, as the bricks fell from above.

I just kept running and all of a sudden I felt something hit the back of my head. It was a falling brick. It didn’t hurt at first. It kind of felt like someone tapping my head. I kept running and then as I got into the street, the quake finally ended. I looked around at the city streets and all I could hear was silence. The city I once knew was gone.

I put my hand on my head and felt a wet patch. I moved my hand up my head and felt a hole!. I started to scream and scream. No one even turned to look at me. It was like I was invisible and no one could see me or hear me. I looked around at all the people and I saw 3 boys from school. I ran to them and bent down and screamed ‘HELP ME!’. They were only around 16 or 17 years old. They said ‘Someone call 911!! I knew then that they weren’t going to be of any help so I looked for someone else. As I looked around, what looked like a spotlight came down from the sky and then the people all parted and there stood an angel, my sister Jessica.

I ran to her and I said ‘Jess help me!’. I bent over again and she said something that I will never forgot and what made everything better, ‘Its not that bad Scott’. I stood up and moved to the middle of the street with her. From then on up to being in the square getting treated, I can’t remember much else. But I know that I walked to the square with Jess holding me up. I told her I loved her and I was sorry for all the things I had done to her. It felt like the end. I was very light headed and was bleeding. I thought this was the end and I was willing to go to heaven with Jesus.

I then remember Jess saying something about me needing to shut up and pray! Then nothing. I remember getting bandages on my head and it being real tight and hurting. I remember wetting myself. Not in fear, just so desperate to go-I couldn’t hold on.

I remember sitting in the cold and my legs being so cold because they had cold pee on them and I only had shorts on. A lady from heaven came over and offered us robes to wear. They were so warm and soft and I wasn’t cold after that. I remember everyone leaving the square and us staying. Then they were transporting the people that were hurt to hospital and medical centres.

I remember a lady asking a man to take Jess and me to Bealey Ave Medical Centre. He said something like ‘Lady, if I do this I will lose my job’. And he said he’d do it anyway. This was another act of God, in all the madness. I can’t remember the trip in the van. All I can remember was when we were at the medical centre and I asked if we could wait there until mum arrived. The man said yes.

Then it was just Jess and I together there. Sitting, waiting for Mum. She walked around the corner and we all started crying and hugging. I got stitches, which hurt like heck. I lay down on a mattress on the ground as we waited
for dad. We chose to start walking to dad. This was a long, cold, sad walk that felt like around 5 miles to me!

Then we all saw dad. Now to my family and me, dad is our resting-place. When we are hurt or sad we go to him and he is our symbol of protection. We all hugged and didn’t let go for a long time. We headed for the car, then we drove home and packed our bags and got out of there. I remember a bit on the ride to Kaikoura when we needed to stop for petrol and the line was 20 cars long! This was so amazing and sad at the same time. I bought a pack of gum and a drink of water. We arrived in Kaikoura. We had a great dinner and went to bed, hoping it was all a bad dream!

The children had to take their own journey that day. Alone and afraid. It still makes me weep to imagine what that was like for them-the only peace I have is I KNOW the Lord was obviously with them. There were literally thousands of people in the city centre that day. To me, it was a miracle that the Lord allowed Jessica and Scott to find each other so quickly after the quake hit. Jessica took complete control. She was a rock for Scott. She stepped into my place and looked after him like only a Mother could. The pride I have for my daughter after that day, swells in my heart constantly. I think she grew up that day in a way only an experience like that could do. I have a peace now that if she’s ever in a challenging situation like that again, she will be fine. She is a replica of her father. Level headed and sensible.

As I type this, it’s September 2012. That February earthquake caused the death of 185 people. A lot of those people died in the collapse of the CTV building. I personally knew one of them who died when the PGC building pancaked. Since that dreadful day in February, incredibly the Earthquakes and aftershocks are still happening! We had two very significant ones 4 months after the Feb quake. I was upstairs in my home when the first one hit (a 6.3) I went right back into that lift experience and the fear again, gripped me. Within a couple of hours, another one hit. William was able to get to the kids school and get them home, although the roads home were flooded again with liquefaction and they ended up walking knee deep in it to reach me-the tears flowed again and we wondered how we could go on like this, living in fear. Our home again, had liquefaction all around it and more damage. The last major shock we had was Dec 23rd 2011. We had been in our new home just 4 days when 2 large quakes hit-one was a magnitude 6! We were all home together and were in the middle of packing when it hit as we were heading to Kaikoura that day to spend Christmas with the family. I was in disbelief and was sure this new home would be damaged also. The thought of going through it all again, was terrible. Thankfully our new home remained intact, not even a hairline crack and not a spot of liquefaction!

Only in June of this year we had a 5.2 aftershock! I have tried to finish this story many times, but then another quake hits and the story continues…………..thankfully, since June, the aftershocks appear to have settled down……no more lives have been lost thank God, but people have lost homes, communities, jobs, peace of mind etc. People have lost the freedom to be able to get about their day without thinking ‘What if another one hits and I’m at the Mall?’. What if I go to the Movies and another one hits? Where in this cafe is it safest if another one hits?’. Just having a long hot shower was something I couldn’t do for months. It was just a real quick two-minute one in case another one hit.

For us, it has been such a time of loss of everything we knew. I lost my job, the children lost their school and our home has been demolished. We have had to buy a new home, in a new community. The area we lived in, Avondale, was broken and had a sense of being a ghost town once people started moving out. Neighbours I’d become friends with, all started moving on and things were never the same again. The ground in Avondale, is unable to be built on again. Thousands of people have had to begin new lives.

As a family we have endured a time of fear, change and insecurity. For approx 6 months, Scott and I slept in the lounge of our home, as we were afraid to be upstairs. Also, for months after, whenever I’d put my children on the school bus in the mornings and it would pull away, I’d sit in my car and cry and pray desperately that the Lord would keep them safe. I think that was the hardest thing I’ve had to endure. Letting my children go! All I wanted was for them to stay by my side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If I had to be anywhere, they always had to come with me or someone had to be at home with them. Some people made me feel stupid for being like this but it was very real to me. To validate how I was feeling, was what I needed, not judgement. The fear of being separated from them again if anything else happened, would be there from the moment I woke to the time I went to bed, every day.

To this day, I still have a wee cry every now and then as the bus pulls away. It doesn’t come as regularly now and is something I don’t force and never did. There’s obviously still some healing to do in that area. I would pray constantly for the Lord to help me because I didn’t want to live like that, and He did, but it was still a challenging time.

Another issue I’ve had to deal with is being anxious in enclosed spaces. I drove through the Lyttleton tunnel here in Christchurch a few months ago and it was an awful experience-it’ll be a while before I can do that again! I also will not go into a shopping mall unless I really have to and then I rush through it! To my amazement, I have been in 3 lifts since that day in February! Each time it’s a challenge but I want to beat the fear and not let it control me anymore. I know in the Lords time, I will be able to face everything that is a challenge to me now.

Over this time, I also lost a very dear friend to cancer. Someone I’d known for over 20 years. When she passed away, I cried out to the Lord ‘I don’t think I can handle any more loss this year. Please let that be it.’ It says in the word of God, that the Lord knows how much you can handle and wont give you any more than that. Unfortunately, my family and myself had to endure one more loss……the loss of our beautiful Golden Lab, Rosie. She had been with us for 10yrs but became unwell. We had to make the terrible decision to put her to sleep and send her home to be with the Lord.

Apart from that awful day in February, this felt like the 2nd worst day of my life. Rosie had been by my side constantly for all of those years and I loved her so much, as did we all-she was my friend. She had a beautiful character and many people commented on how lovely her personality was.

A short time before she passed on, someone had said to me, ‘Its like she’s human’. That was how I felt about her too. Those of you reading this who don’t love animals, will probably not understand this, but it was very real for me. The grief I felt as she passed on shocked me so much! I felt like I was putting one of my own children down!

I know though, that it was a grieving for everything that had happened in the past year. She represented our old life and everything we’d known and lost. It was such a hard time!

Throughout the last 19 months, I think the greatest thing I’ve learnt is how to just love people where they are at. Not to judge them for their behaviour but to validate them and stand with them and try and help them in whatever way I can. I have been amazed at those people who had ‘suggested’ that myself and Scott shouldn’t have been fearful or feeling insecure, that it’s time we moved on, that we should be trusting in God etc. It was as if they believed we enjoyed living like that! Those people never experienced what we did and have no idea what we saw, felt and heard that terrible day in February. Don’t they think I prayed 24/7 for the Lord to take the fear away and to help us move on? Why it took so long, is the Lords business. His ways are not our ways. Those people who judged cruelly, don’t really know us and therefore have judged us only on our behaviour and nothing more. They didn’t show any love to us and if I hadn’t had the Lord and my family to lean on, who knows where I’d be today. I am forever grateful to those few friends I do have who have validated me and my family-who have stood with us and just loved us. Who have asked the questions and given us the grace to go through this our way and in our time-you know who you are. You are a true blessing from God.

I also want to thank my amazing husband. He has had so much patience over this time and has loved me through it in a way that I never dreamed possible. He has allowed me to walk my journey my way. I know he has felt frustrated because I seemed ‘stuck’ in this place of fear and insecurity and at times he couldn’t understand it, as I couldn’t either, but he NEVER judged me or made me feel stupid for feeling what I was feeling. The earthquakes have never bothered him. He has never felt the fear I have felt but even so, he has validated me throughout this whole time. He has been my rock and has supported the children and myself unconditionally. I love him more today because of it.

I also need to thank my children and tell them how proud I am of them. I wasn’t as strong as I’d have liked to have been for them but they have still loved me and validated me. In a way, it was a good thing that we were all in the city that day because we have been able to understand each other’s feelings and been able to support each other. At times, Jessica and Scott had to support ME when I’d had a bad day! They are incredible children and have had to deal with their own losses too. I am forever grateful that they are my kids and I get to enjoy them every day.

The other person I need to thank and the most important, who has been my spiritual rock through this time, is Jesus. He has loved me through it-given me tips on how to make it better and just drawn me closer to Him. Even though this has been the worst time of my life physically and emotionally, it’s also been the best as far as my relationship with Him goes. I have had opportunities to share his love with many people who had felt lost and alone during this time. I have made many new relationships with people I’d have never spoken to before all this happened. I am forever grateful to Him for helping me and my family through this difficult time. I couldn’t have done it without Him and all he asks of me in return is to have a relationship with Him-so simple! His grace and love for us all is incredible-I have really begun to understand this more during these past months.

11 months after the quake, the Lord performed the miracle we’d been waiting for, for both Scott and myself-when an aftershock hits, we no longer feel the fear! This is life changing for us as it had controlled our lives for so long. I had felt that my life had been on ‘hold’ all this time. That I couldn’t start anything, go anywhere, finish anything, ‘just in case’. I despised living like that but have also become stronger because of it. I feel like now, with the Lord by my side, I can get on with my life, whatever that entails.

There is so much more to tell but I must bring this to a close. I feel that once I end this story, I can turn a new page. A blank one. A page where I can begin to write a new story. My prayer is that these earthquakes stop, but if the Lord allows more of them to occur, I pray that His protection and help continue to be around our family.

In closing, I am reminded at this time, of a legend of the Cherokee Indian youths’ rite of passage. It perfectly describes what I have been through and goes something like this:

The Indian father takes his son to the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives, he is a MAN! He cannot tell the other boys of his experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and the earth and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man.

Finally, after a horrific night and the boy full of fear, the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then he discovered his father sitting on a stump right next to him! He had been on watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

We too are NEVER alone. Even when we don’t know it, God is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us. When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him. Just because you can’t see God, doesn’t mean He is not there. ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight.’

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