– Wetlands Grove, Bexley, and Corner of Durham and Tuam Streets, Christchurch

Mark and I were woken suddenly early hours of the morning Sept 4th. The house was shaking violently and the noise was horrendous. Mark yelled at me to get under the door frame, but I had extreme difficulty trying to get across to the other side of the room. We managed to put on some clothing and made our way down the hall, it felt like we were walking on jelly yet we had concrete foundations. We made our way outside and thought at the time the water mains and sewage pipes had broken, without any power it was dark and hard to see what damage had occurred. Many in the street were afraid of a Tsunami and were in their cars and off. We text all the children to see if they were fine. Dale, one of our sons was screaming down the phone to us to get out as there was going to be a Tsunami and he was heading to Darfield, at that stage we did not know this was the epicentre.

We spend the duration of the early hours of the morning in the kitchen stunned and unsure what will laid ahead when daylight came upon us. Once daylight prevailed we were shocked to see the extent of damage not only in our home, cracked foundations, doors out of line but the state of our streets and surrounding homes. We were lucky that we did not have liquifaction through our home. During the next two weeks we had no power or water, but took it in our stride and we were lucky to have the spa as water for showers. We went out and purchased a couple of solar showers and our daily jobs consisted of making sure we had enough fresh water by filling up around the corner at a water station. We were grateful at this time that there was no loss of lives. The aftershocks were coming in thick and fast, just another aspect we had to deal with daily. The best thing to come out of this was how the community stuck together, helping each other out and being there for each other. Something I will always cherish. Just as we thought life was getting back to normal with the aftershocks settling down…

Feb 22nd. I remember that on this particular day I decided not take my normal lunch time walk, which would have taken me up Colombo Street, through the Square and up around the court house. Instead the girls at the office had decided to order in Hell’s Pizza. I remember we were waiting on it to be delivered, then it hit. One of the girls, Jessica, in the office fell over by my door so I go out of my seat to help her, luckily for me as the files on my bookshelf ended up all through my office. We worked on the corner of Durham and Tuam Street. The building rocked and moved violently. Once we were able to get our footing we all proceeded to move outside to the car park. I went back inside to contact our General Manager in Auckland to let him know that all staff and drivers were accounted for and safe and then hastily made my way outside again.

We were all desperately trying to text our love ones to make sure they were safe. Mark had finally got through to me to see if I was OK as a police officer had quickly driven into his school, Parkview Primary in Parklands, to pick up his child and had to get to the city, stating that several people had died. I relayed this information back to the other staff members and we were in shock. Denise managed to get a radio channel going in her car and we stood around listening to it. There was no point in this time getting into our cars to head home as the roads were gridlocked and there were many vehicles driving on the footpaths with injured people getting them to the hospital. I still remember the haunting look of an elderly woman, she was in shock and covered with blood and dust with other injured people in the back of a 4 wheel drive, heading up the opposite direction on the footpath on Durham Street, I don’t think I will ever forget that look in her eyes. We walked out onto Tuam street, the feeling was eerie and people were silently walking down the road, many injured and others covered in dust all making there way towards the hospital. I felt helpless at the time and in complete shock, yet grateful that we were all safe. The Armstrong workers had gathered crowbars and other tools and quickly headed off towards Colombo Street, only to come back in total silence, they just stood there, not uttering a word. At the time we did not realise but they had been trying to recover the bodies from the buses that were destroyed and many lives lost. The dust was thick, and the noise of the sirens was everywhere, there were helicopters flying around. The feeling was surreal, the aftershocks were violent and it felt the earth was lifting up and down, at times making if difficult to keep your balance.

Finally we decided it was time to make our way home, regardless how gridlocked the roads were. A 15 minute drive home, took over 5 hours. I remember driving over the Durham Street bridge and it was shaking violently with each aftershock, and the traffic was at a standstill. I remember looking down over the side and hoping this was not going to be my fate. To this day I still get nervous going over a bridge. The trip home was extremely tiring and slow and the closer I got to my home in Bexley the more I saw cars left at the side of the road where people had ditched them. Driving down Dyers Road, the road badly damaged and I was taking extreme care missing the huge gaps in the road, the lady in front of me was being sick out of the drivers door, being very apologetic, explaining that she was stressed and in a case of despair from the aftershocks we were experiencing. She finally parked her car up and proceeded to walk.

I got to Anzac Drive the road was covered with liquefaction and flooded. I was unsure what to do and a couple of blokes approached me and said I would make it across. They told me to put my foot down on the accelerator and not to stop. There were cars abandoned on the road due to not making it through. Being in a state of dismay and wanting to finally get home and being so close, I kept the window down and put my foot down, they were yelling at me “keep going, don’t stop”, I made it through, the water was coming in through the bottom of the door, I was full of adrenalin, scared and thinking to myself, “am I crazy, I can’t believe what I just did”. A couple more cars came through after me then no more as another vehicle got stuck, blocking the way. I turned around the corner into my street, Wetlands Grove. The roads were a mess, and I started to feel apprehension on the thought of seeing my home and if it was liveable. My phone had gone flat several hours ago and I had been out of contact with Mark, so I did not know what I was going to go home to and if we had a home. There were people carrying bags of clothing walking out of the suburb, properties and homes had liquidfaction through them. I drove silently up the road to our home. It was so good to see Mark, our home was habitable for the time being. He made me a coffee and for the first time I sat down and my mind went through the days’ occurrences. Our new caravan was buried in liquefaction and the neighbour had a landrover and with great difficulty they managed to pull it out and park it up onto another neighbours driveway. Mark was surprised I had driven all the way home as he had left his car miles away. He said that it was strange to see the crabs walking the opposite way from the wetlands on his walk home.

Once again for weeks we were without power or water and this time without sewage having to use a portaloo. We were finally able to get out of our street into civilisation about 3 days later. The first thing I did was buy a cappuccino, purchase a generator and go to my mother in law’s for a decent shower. These little things made me feel that I was alive again. It is funny how the small things in life can lift your spirits. We watched TV that night for the first time in days, and the reality and the extent of the damage unfolded around us. Until then we were unaware of the extent of the destruction and loss of lives. It was surreal and we felt very lucky indeed to have survived and that we had not lost a family life.

For months the aftershocks keep coming, they were so loud and violent, at times it seemed a semi truck was coming through your home. I wondered how much more our poor home could take. I am only 5’1 and outside I could touch the top of the eaves, our home had sunk so much. At times we had trouble getting into our street and home due to the rubberneckers, would we ever have our quiet street back again. People would get out of their cars and look through our properties, it was an invasion of privacy that we were helpless to do anything about. To top it off, they would stop and use the portaloos or let their children, this was insult to injury, when many of these people had come from areas where their homes were undamaged and they had sewage, this was like our private toilet and it felt so wrong for them to not respect us. Many people moved out of the neighbourhood due to homes being inhabitable and the lack of amenities. In the end lack of privacy, the need to feel a part of society and the fear of the criminal activities now prevailing in the area finally took it’s toll on us, forcing us to go into a rental property. The area was soon to become ‘RED ZONE’. The battle had only begun. If the earthquakes did not get you down, then the mental anguish of battling between EQC and Insurance was sure to take it’s toll, but that is another story.

Lynne and Mark Ball
Pacific Park, Bexley

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