– Level 17, Forsyth Barr Building, Cnr Armagh & Colombo Streets, Christchurch

Location:Level 17, Forsyth Barr Building, Cnr Armagh & Colombo Streets

I was alone in the office and thought I was alone on the floor also. I remember a bit of a bang followed immediately by rocking, rolling & shaking and not being able to get off my typist chair to crawl under the desk because the chair kept rolling back and forward and I was trying to grab something so I could get under the reception desk . I couldn’t even grab the reception desk. Shelves were falling off the wall, crashing to the ground, the photocopier was moving around in the kitchen right behind me, glass was crashing to the kitchen floor. It was just a complete cacophony of noise, so loud, so much movement, and it seemed to last forever, the dust seemed to be rising from everywhere. It then stopped, and because I was by myself, shakily I said out loud to myself (hoping to bring a little calm to myself I think) “f…k this, I’m getting the f..k out of here”. I grabbed my handbag, my work bag and the floor wardens jacket (my CD & SAR training stepping in here ) and took off to the stairs. I opened the stairwell door, saw there was no emergency lighting in the stairwell, and immediately thought “f…k” again (I’m not a person that normally swears, but I think given the circumstances I could be forgiven). The door closed behind me. It was dark, not night-time dark, but pitch black dark – no light at all. I knew I had to get out, so I very carefully sought the left handrail (so far so good) , and using my feet, inched them along the landing, seeking the right hand stair-rail (this I knew from fire drills was the one to go for) feeling for the stairs/steps. I was further scared & worried when I felt loose stuff on the stairs. I very slowly inched my feet along the step, tapping my feet to find the next next. After what felt like ages, I reached the Level 16 landing. I couldn’t continue like this for a further 16 floors, so I decided in absence of a torch I needed to find others. I went seeking my friend Ian on Level 16. The first person I saw was Ian’s fellow Emirates worker, a woman whom I often seen in the lift with coffee. She immediately opened her arms and I stepped in for a welcoming and soothing hug (she must have seen I was visibly shaking). I felt immediately better – I was with others, it was going to be alright now.

From the offices on this level there were 5 others, 3 from Emirates and 2 others from another office on Level 16. We all started down the stairs, I was more rationally this time, and we found things to hold open the door to the level 16 landing and the level 16 toilets as these were the only light sources. We slowly and carefully made our way down the stairs, being careful to all stay in sight of each other, then I got first to the Level 15 landing door, and opened it to let in more light to continue our journey and was immediately met by one of this floors residents telling us that the stairs below were gone. “F..k” I thought again. I followed this person onto the floor and for a while there it was a wee bit of a blur. I think I was still in a bit of a state of shock. I remember more aftershocks. I remember going to check if my friends Sally & Shary were there (They were my old bosses), – they weren’t and I remember being thankful for them, in that neither of them were trapped with us. I think we thought about the stairs on the other side of the Lifts, and someone by this stage had tied a stick across, so no-one could accidentally go down.

Someone had found a radio, so we were listening to broadcasts from the Radio (thanks Meridian) and someone else was trying to get a cellphone connection out (he was on Vodafone). I got a text from my Mum in Mosgiel telling me that shed felt a beaut of an earthquake. This statement made me laugh, in it’s irony. I shared this text with others around me, as I was texting a response to my mum, telling her exactly what had happened and how we were trapped.

Someone opened the door to the balcony, one of the guys started yelling over the balcony “Help” and I could tell he was quite scared still. I thought to use my Wardens Jacket so people outside the building, knew we were trapped up here. I was feeling much calmer now. I stood waving the jacket for a start, but some of the girls were worried for me in case the balcony gave way with another aftershock, so I knelt behind the balcony railing, still shaking the wardens fluoro jacket. By this stage some of those from one of the levels below us were coming out (Level 10), we yelled out to them that the stairs had gone from here. I asked someone to borrow their tie, saying they don’t need it at present and I needed to tie the jacket to the rail, so I didn’t have to wave it all the time and it could just hang there. I asked if there were other wardens jackets on the floor, and was given two others. These had velcro, so were able to be fixed to the balcony with more ease. I found out that there were three others from Level 17 who had just moved back the day previously, feeling it was safer now from September’s earthquakes & aftershocks (I doubt they’ll be back this time. I remember looking down over the balcony and seeing all the collapsed shop fronts, and thinking OMG, there will be dead people. I remember seeing the Cathedral Spire lying on the ground, like it had been pressed flat in-between the pages of a book like you press flowers – it still looked the same only flat. I remember seeing people coming out from the streets surrounding Victoria Square and everyone milling around, in all sorts of stated of shock. There was dust everywhere, and it seemed to be rising from every building. The streets were covered in water and silt, cracks were everywhere, the Avon River was the same colour as the streets and had also risen substantially covering the stepped area around the Town Hall. Our lovely Avon River looked vastly different from it’s normal state. There were small whirlpools in the road, where silt & water were making their swirling mark. I remembered a total cacophony of sirens both in our building and emanating from every building around us. I remember someone talking about the PGG building and my first time looking at the collapse and the people trying to rescue those still inside the collapsed building. “OMG OMG” just kept ringing through my head. I was stunned by the damage, I could only guess how many thousands were dead or badly injured. Like many others, I was thinking it’s like this everywhere. And the aftershocks were still happening, and each seemed to last a long time. In each instance, and even now, my eyes water, and I feel such an immeasurable level of shock, thinking about those people who have most certainly lost their lives. I remember thinking this is bad, this is really bad, yet I still remember thinking of being glad I was alive.

We then saw smoke & fire from another area of the CBD, we realised that it might be quite sometime before were rescued from our building. There were more important rescues going on, lifesaving rescues, we were safe, albeit trapped in a building with no stairs. Also by this stage someone had got through to an authority person in the outside world (that’s how it felt), and were told that we would probably be rescued from the roof by Helicopter at some stage. Because of this we thought we had to make it easier, so Paul, Jim, Dave & myself volunteered to go to see if we could break through to the rooftop, as we thought of all possibilities of rescue. I said we had a fire extinguisher and thought we might have a hammer in our office. One of the other girls from Level 17 said they had a toolkit, so two others from Level 17 came up with us. As there were no toilets or stairwells to use as light from above Level 17 we used our cellphones as our sources of light and stayed close to each other. Paul (a Parry Field Lawyer) became the handyman attempting to pry off the hinges to the rooftop door. I’m not sure how long it took us but when the guys got it opened, it was wonderful. The gear stored here had of course tipped over in the quakes & aftershocks, so I said its best we make a clear pathway now especially for safety purposes. Someone backed me up (I think Paul), so we made a safe route of passage, and gained access to the rooftop. It was great to be able to see the clear open space of the roof and not feel as hemmed in as we did on the lower levels. We discussed options, saw the apparatus that they use for cleaning the windows, ascertained that it needed power (which we didn’t have) and wasn’t done by just a mechanical means. From the rooftop we could get a better idea of the devastation of the CBD, and realised that probably it would be helicopter rescue for us at some distant stage, maybe tomorrow as we were all safe, even if we couldn’t get down the empty stairwell. This was about an hour the first aftershock, and by this stage everyone except emergency people, had left Victoria Square and it looked so empty. We all eventually decided to go back downstairs, and advise the others that we had roof access, and that it was probably better if we all went up to Level 17 and settled in as we might in all likelihood be there for the evening. I went back down to level 15 whilst the other three kept looking around. I advised those on Level 15 what we had ascertained and suggested we get all edibles, water and anything else we needed and take it up with us. I also located some seats with removable cushions, so suggested to all that we also take them for sleeping or resting on later, as we might probably be there for the night. Everyone was asked to take something up, so the 23 of us all made our way single file up the stairs to Level 17. When we got to Level 17 and we all made ourselves comfortable, either in the Level 17 foyer, or within Hickman & Burrows Offices. I realised I was hungry & thirsty and hadn’t eaten lunch. Thankfully Parry Fields had had fruit baskets and snack boxes, so I had a banana and a few nuts. Fortunately, there were three cans of Coke Zero, so three of us shared one of these. Then I had some water. I saw different people around, some seemed to be coping fine and others had withdrawn inwards and were in different areas by themselves, seeming quite shell-shocked. My Civil Defence and Search & Rescue training kicked in, so I went over to see some of the ladies and asked them, were they fine? They were obviously still in shock, so I made sure they’d got some water, as I told them, in times of stress you need water, even more so than normal, so your body could deal with the stress. I gave both of them a cuddle, as hugs usually make people feel better instantly. I decided since we were going to be here the night I’d do a little tidying back in our office also on Level 17. I didn’t get far, it just seemed hopeless & pointless and there was no water. I found when I came back the two ladies I’d seen earlier were together & talking.

Somewhere through this time I found out that my son Richard was safe with Amanda at Daycare. But due to my husband’s inability to get used to using a cellphone I couldn’t find out how they had fared at Parkview Primary School. At one stage I was sitting in the Level 16 Foyer when we received one of the many aftershocks and I was still texting as it rumbled, and someone asked why I was so unstressed by it. I responded that I was with people and I was safe and that the building had withstood the major one. I personally realised that sometimes you just have to trust, no matter how hard.

I found out later that Michael my 7 year old son, heard on the radio on the way home that people were trapped in the Forsyth Barr Building and he thought Mummy was dead. My ex-husband has now started using a cellphone.

I think it was somewhere around 4pm over 3 hours since the quake had happened, someone from below using a loud hailer, told us that they were getting a crane with construction basket and would get those out Level 10 first then us after this. Over the next half hour, we watched some people exit the Level 11 Balcony and go down to the Level 10 balcony. It was quite a mission, with assorted tables and desks precariously balanced and used to help these people. After about an hour we watched all those from level 10 get into the Construction Basket. We then watched them then get lowered to the ground. Then the basket started to come back up again, this time to our level. Three construction guys were in the basket and one got out and asked how many of us there were. We told him 23 people, so he told us that 12 would go down in the first load and 11 in the second load.

One of the folks from Level 17 started to get something from his office. I thought I’m not going to be back here for a while either, so I told somebody that I was going to get my Mac, as I knew we weren’t going to be back for quite a number of months, if at all. I thought taking the Mac made sense as it has everything I need to continue working for my boss Michael Burtscher, and it would make life a lot easier for both of us. This started the exodus of a few others, going back to their various offices (at 15 or 16) to grab things for enabling them to continue working elsewhere. I also grabbed assorted documents that were easy to carry in my one work bag. I got back to the balcony just in time to see the first load of staff start their descent in the first basket. I was the one of the only females left at this stage, so I was instructed to get in first. I handed my bags, then the Mac over to one of the Construction guys in the basket.

We landed on the ground, which by now only had silt as all the water had drained away. Myself and a few of the others made sounds and gestures along the lines of being pleased to be back on terra firma. We all had to report to a group of 3 policeman to record our details. Paul was going to try to get his car out at we had worked out that we lived over the same side of town although he was in Mt Pleasant/Sumner I think. Sadly the carpark doors were buckled. Luckily Judy, one of Pauls fellow workmates had her vehicle parked on Colombo Street, and it was fortunately unscathed. She asked the authorities in the immediate vicinity if she could gain access to it. This was permissible, so it was retrieved by one of the authorities there and we then asked what was the best way to leave. We were advised that most bridges in the immediate area were unusable and we were directed accordingly. We had seen the damage first hand from level 17, but actually being amongst all the liquefaction was a different story. We hit Bealey Avenue and found bumper to bumper traffic, then picked up Pauls daughter from her friends place in Springfield Road. Then took off for any means to get us across to our side of town (I lived just off Linwood Ave, Bromley at that time). All traffic appeared to be doing the same so we found out. As we were sitting in the stationary vehicle along Hills Road, Ian and his Emirate workmate walked pass us. They’d walked from town and had been in the same construction basket. We saw them again along Shirley Road heading towards the Palms. I suggested that as we appeared to be getting further away from our destination, would Judy be able to drop us by one of the bridges and we could hopefully walk across. Judy kindly dropped the three of us on the Palms side of the Gayhurst Road bridge. We noticed several others walking across the bridge, so we agreed that it was safe enough for walking. The break on our side of the bridge showed a difference in road level of about 1½ feet with numerous other cracks & twists also. I’m not sure what the time was by this stage, but we ended up at my place in Keighleys Road around 7pm. Just in time to see my oldest son Michael at the neighbours place. I wondered where John, my husband, was and then he turned up. He’d been to Richard’s daycare and found that he wasn’t there but there was a note on the door saying where he was. I of course already knew this because I’d had contact with Amanda via cellphone since 2pm earlier that day and knew she’d taken him home with her. Thank you Amanda. Richard still remembers helping Amanda clean up all the broken stuff (Richard was one month shy of 5 years old).

John told me he had to abandon the car on Stanmore Road, because you can’t cross the bridges there and had walked the children home, he had 3 other children from just around the road. He took them home. Paul then tried to phone his home from our place as fortunately the phone was still working, even if the power wasn’t. He contacted his son who was in the area and suggested he start walking home. John had got back and after borrowing a neighbour’s car, he offered to drop Paul near this end of the Sumner Bridge to save him a walk.

Inside our house everything appeared to be have been tipped over and/or smashed as first glance. We decided to set up ourselves in the new garage for the night. Thankfully, we had just finished installing Batts and lining the walls, so we knew it was warm and safe, albeit a cracked window in the slide door. We got a few things set up, torches, food etc, and then I took off in our other neighbours car to get Richard thinking traffic would have settled down. Nope it hadn’t, so I turned into the next side street, and parked the car as close as I could to the road and started walking. Of course, as I started walking it started to drizzle, then the drizzle turned to a light rain. I finally got to Amanda’s place and I was soaking wet. I asked Amanda if she had a spare coat for my return walk. Sadly, she didn’t. But she did lend Richard a daycare fleece jacket that was over large on a little 4year old. We both got back home eventually after 9pm soaked to the skin. Like most everyone else we had a restless nights with sleep constantly interrupted by aftershocks. The kids slept between us. Every time an aftershock shook, the children would either reach out to touch us or as the night wore on, to snuggle closer, instinctively they needed to touch their parents for that security.

On Wednesday, we woke up to a brand new day. First thing was checking our other neighbours/ friends to see if they were coping fine. Rosie & Hugh, the elderly Scottish couple across the road, were coping fine in their stoic Scottish style and also their son was looking after them thankfully.

Hayley & her family had a partially fallen chimney, so John got our ladder and proceeded to get the chimney down and ensure things were safe for them. As he was doing this, Hayley just happened to say Happy Birthday Celina. Interesting start to my birthday – one never to forget or is that one to always remember.

Now to start the task of cleaning up. Amazingly our old 1949 wooden house stood up fine, and only had more cracks around & above window frames and in the corners of the house. Outside we’d lost some concrete blocks off the top of the old garage, and there were new cracks in the concrete pathways surrounding the house. Like most people, we also received lots of broken glassware and lost the contents of our freezer. A broken duchess mirror, and everything tipped off that. That evening we had an impromptu BBQ at our place and had a mini-birthday celebration.

We left to get out of town for a while as my boss advised that he could rent a house for us and I could work from an office he had down in Fairlie. We moved down to Fairlie for a while, with both boys going to school in Fairlie and John helping out Tekapo School whose role had doubled with an influx of Cantabrian Refugees. Fairlie was most welcoming to the EQ refugees.. After three weeks John went back to teach at Parkview Primary school, with Michael returning to Parkview after a further two weeks (he didn’t like Fairlie). Richard and I stayed in Fairlie together with John & Michael returning to Fairlie every weekend. My awesome boss, brought be a cheap little runabout car, so from May when Richard also returned back to Christchurch I got to go home every weekend.

Following a few further weeks in Fairlie by myself, my boss asked if I could work from a portacom unit which he had set up at his High Country Station 30km away from Tekapo township. I loved it and loved the lifestyle out there. My personal life had also started to drastically change. My husband (now ex-husband) had always had anger issues, but until I’d had that time away from him and was no longer walking around on eggshells 100% of the time, I realised life needed to change.

For me, I’m grateful to Mother Nature for bringing on the earthquake. Life is now drastically yet wonderfully different. I’m now living with my soulmate, David, whom is the most sweet endearing and loving man. Life now consists of living out in Banks Peninsula on a farm, growing flowers with my dearest man and working part-time in town to provide me with an income to pay for my child support and legal bills.

Now, life for me is a million times better than it was. My outlook has changed and I’m finding the lovely person I used to be before my marriage. My life has changed beyond measure and I have no regrets. I realise that I was a lucky one to have experienced three earthquakes (two catastrophic) in my lifetime and survived and grown from each incident. I would have no hesitation in going back into a high rise again. Most buildings did what they were supposed to do. They fulfilled their need in that fewer lives were lost than what could have happened. Our buildings were built to ensure we could get out safely and most of us did. We all have resilience within us to overcome these things.

Following link shows the TV3 footage in which I am seen 3 times. Waving Fluoro vest, On Roof & waving to camera from Construction basket http://www.3news.co.nz/Christchurch-man-saves-14-from-high-rise/tabid/309/articleID/199901/Default.aspx?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d676fe245d45eb7%2C0

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