– Canterbury University - Engineering Building to Belfast

February 22nd 2011

It was Tuesday February 22nd 2011; it was my second day at Canterbury University for the year. My first engineering lecture was to be at 1pm later that day. This lecture was to be cancelled and the building was to be later demolished following the destructive 6.3 magnitude earthquake that would occur at 12.51pm that day. The following is my story of how that day unfolded and how it changed my life forever.

Image of location: http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/irm/graphics/Engineering/Mushroom%201961.jpg

I remember that the weather that day was quite miserable and I did not think much of it as I drove my brother and me to Canterbury University that morning. The sky was overcast, the air was still, and there was a light drizzle. It remained that way as I remember for the rest of the morning.

It was about 12:45pm when I decided to leave the Civil Suite for my first lecture of the day. The lecture was to start at 1:10pm but I wanted to be early to catch up with friends that I had not seen for the whole summer.

At 12:49pm I entered the Chemical and Process Engineering wing and made my way along to an open area adjacent to the E1 lecture theatre at the top level of the ‘mushroom building’. I found my friend Chris who was standing next to the staircase and the air bridge across to the E1 lecture theatre.

At 12:51pm I was just about to start talking with Chris when the earthquake struck. The building began to shake violently. I had no time to think and out of instinct I dived straight for the pillar connecting the open area and the air bridge. When I reached this position I looked back in the other direction towards Chris. The intensity of the shaking became even more violent. I can remember the floor shuddering violently and it seemed as if the building was going to tear itself apart. The windows in the building could not withstand the shaking anymore and started to implode around me. The only thing that was protecting me was the pillar that I was clinging onto precariously. At this point I started to go into shock and everything became a blur.

After the shaking stopped it was time to get out of the building. I vaguely remember Chris helping me to get me out of the building. We first made our way down the stairs to ground level. Next we made our way to an open space in the car park outside the front of the engineering block. I made my way with everyone else to a safer location.

Once in the car park I realised that I was bleeding. I had an open cut next to the thumb on my left hand. I was losing a large amount of blood and it turned out that I had been injured by glass in the earthquake. I immediately tried to find a staff member to assist me with my injury. At first I struggled and continued to lose blood. After a couple of minutes someone came to my assistance and I was helped to sit on the kerbside next to the car park. The first thing that they got me to do was to take the bag off my back. This was not easy due to the injury on my left hand.

The aftershocks were continuing and I was in a location that was not considered safe next to the engineering office, off to the side of the ‘mushroom’ building. I was moved to the front of the mushroom building where a temporary first aid station had been setup. Someone started helping with my injury and fixed up my hand to stop the bleeding. It was at this time that a magnitude 5.9 hit with a large amount of force at 1.04pm. I can remember the mushroom building shaking violently. More glass shattered and everyone was terrified more than they were previously.

At about the same time a phone call was made to my mum, who was at home in Belfast, not aware that I had been injured. My friend Chris called her to say that I was injured but I was alright. Following the phone call, I was advised that I could leave the area as the bleeding was under control; although, I had to get to a doctor to have them check the injury as soon as possible.

I now had to start thinking about how I was going to make my way home. I had driven to university earlier that day but there was no way that I was fine to drive in this state. I had driven my brother to university with me on what was only his second day. I had to find out where he was to see if he could drive my car, with me, home. I managed to get in contact with him and we were to meet up at the Erskine car park where my car was. It took a few minutes to walk from the front of the Engineering building to outside the Erskine building. I would have been slow due to my injury and we would have been more cautious due to the risk of debris falling from other buildings.

Finally I made it to the Erskine car park with my classmate Chris. As we were waiting for my brother to arrive, we watched as the Erskine Building was shaking and seemed to be moving gently back and forwards. The ground was not settled and seemed to be constantly shaking.

My brother arrived at the car park and met up with Chris and I. We talked for a minute or two and then Chris was to leave. I took off the sweatshirt that Chris had let me borrow and gave it back to him. I was grateful for all that he had done for me up until this point.

I asked my brother if he could manage to drive us home. Andrew was not used to driving a manual but had learned to drive in my Toyota Corolla previously. He said that he could and then we started to head out of the car park. I realised that the roads were very busy and that there was no way that we would easily turn right out onto Ilam Road. I got my brother to turn left into Ilam Road with a plan of turning into a side street and then come back the other way.

As we got onto Ilam Road, I noticed two other people that I also knew. I asked for them to get into the car as there was room in the back and they would need to head in the same direction as we were going anyway.

After getting into the traffic going the opposite way along Ilam Road I started to think about what the best way would be to get out of the area. It was then that I also noticed some other friends who were walking along the path next to the car. I held out my hand, showing that I was injured, and said that I would be alright.

At the end of Ilam Road we turned left into Memorial Avenue. Traffic was very heavy but it made sense to head out towards the airport and take the main route out to Belfast, rather than trying to go through a more direct route. It was going to take a long time anyway. We finally made it to the roundabout of Johns Road and Memorial Avenue. I remember seeing demolition vehicles going the other way along Johns Road and heading into the city. This was when it started to hit how serious the situation was. We were clear of the main area of danger as far as I was concerned.

After some more time we made it to our street in Belfast. My brother, our family friends and I went inside and talked to my parents. The first images of the devastating earthquake were on the television. Everything was overwhelming but at least we were finally all together and safe.

The next priority was to get to the doctor so that they could look at my injury and to treat the wound. My mum was to drive us down to the Belfast Medical Centre. As we were about to turn off Main North Road, another violent aftershock hit. This was the magnitude 5.9 aftershock which struck at 2.50pm. The traffic lights showed best how strong the shaking was. They swayed from side to side in sync with the lurching ground movements below. The sky was also very dark now.

I had the injury on my hand attended to and another injury at the back of my lower left leg. This injury had also been bleeding but was not as serious as the one on my left hand. I had got off lightly as the piece of glass did not sever any arteries in my left hand. I was able to leave after my hand and my lower leg were fixed up. It was time to get home and to get through the rest of the terrible day.

When I returned home I remember watching the news about the earthquake and seeing all of what was going on, mainly the destruction in the centre of the city. This was what I watched for the remainder of the day before going to sleep that night. There was nothing much more that stuck out during that day. The main events of the day had made their impact on the rest of the day, and over the following days and beyond.

This experience stays with me to this day and remains as a strong traumatic event within my past. It will continue to affect me into the future as it has already made a major change to my life. February 22nd 2011 changed the way that I think about life forever.

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