On the day, 22nd February 2011: We had been meeting all morning, 6 of us from ChCh and Dunedin, on the 7th floor Natcoll House in Kilmore St. I looked at my watch at about 12.30 and suggested everyone take a break, “go for a walk outside to our favourite cafes in Colombo St to grab some lunch”. We went in pairs. Last to leave, I walked with a colleague and reached the corner of Salisbury and Colombo when the quake hit. We both hit the ground. The noise was horrendous and I know I was conscious of the falling verandahs and breaking glass shop fronts. I kept attempting to crawl onto the road to get away from the debris, and was so worried that my colleague wasn’t right behind me.
The shaking over we picked ourselves up – only a broken shoe and grazes on our legs so all OK. The next thing that filled us both with terror was the thought that our colleagues may be trapped in the shops. We made our way down the middle of Colombo St to check the shops. Dust was thick, debris covered the road, we saw shocked faces of the people around us. We stopped to consol a young woman sitting in her idling car. She was anxious about reaching her child at school. We just assured her that teachers were trained and would know what to do, her child will be OK.
We resumed our search for our colleagues, gradually making our way past all the broken cafes and back to the evacuation area for our building. On the way back the enormity of the event hit – there were huge cracks and ripples in the roads and footpaths. Buildings were half down. People were saying the Cathedral had collapsed and although we couldn’t quite see it we did see the dust rising.
As we made our way around the corner of the building there were all of our people, we were the last to return and boy was there jubilation and relief as we all hugged and held each other. Liquefaction had begun to take over the car park area where we were standing so we hurriedly began moving cars before they became stuck. We never did get all of them out but enough to send people on their way in pairs.
I recall saying to my 2 colleagues from out of town that “if we couldn’t get them out of the city, then there would be a bed at my place so don’t worry.” Fortunately we did get their car out and watched as they joined the clogged up streets. When I finally pulled up the drive of my own home after some 3 hours on the road, dropping a colleague off on the way, I just sat in the car with my mouth open and stared. My home was in pieces.
We spent a week in the garage with no power or sewerage. Just as power was connected we were talked in to leaving the property as our main retainer wall had broken and it was proving to be too risky to stay… pity as we had only moved in to our lovely new home 3 nights before the quake.
I am writing about this experience as we approach the 2nd anniversary. The events of that day remain so vivid in my memory that it’s almost like I am able to push the replay button on a full colour DVD system. The fear, terror, and utter helplessness are emotions that re-emerge each time the replay is pushed.