– Cashmere, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

February 22nd is my birthday and I had planned to go into town with a friend that day to look at the floral festival and then have lunch there.

The best gift that day was that the weather wasn’t very nice, a bit cloudy and drizzly. So we decided to go another day and have lunch locally instead. Come after 12.30 said my friend Anne so as it was we were in her driveway reversing out at 12.51 p.m. I noticed her husband running out with the phone and thought why is Wayne running funny? Then I saw his parked 4WD bouncing in the driveway. Anne had thought she had a puncture…Oh it’s an aftershock we thought, having experienced many from the September quake. But it seemed a fairly big one, power was out and I couldn’t contact my husband who was in the country near the epicentre of the September quake.

Listening on a portable radio we heard there was major damage in the city, some fatalities and that the top had fallen off the cathedral – and that it was based in the Lyttelton area. The horror was just starting to sink in.

I made my way home, roads were starting to get really busy by this stage. My husband John arrived about the same time. Our house was in Cashmere on the hill and not too far from the epicentre. It was still standing but there was a lot of damage. Power was out, we made our way inside to discover chaos. The kitchen cupboards had emptied out, crockery and glassware was smashed on the floor. Light fittings had broken, there were cracks in the walls, kitchen joinery had moved from the walls, furniture had tipped over, the bathroom window had blown in and two of our bedroom windows had blown out – frames and all. Two items were stuck in the wall, the bricks had fallen off the back wall revealing the building paper, guttering had come off. Was the house safe?

That night 13 of us were staying at John’s brothers place at Prebbleton. It was only then that we saw on TV the utter devastation in the city – it was heart breaking. We stayed there in our caravan for two weeks and then at a friend’s sleepout for another two weeks while awaiting emergency EQC assessors.

In the immediate days after none of us were at work so we helped in the East with Grace Campus making up food parcels and we delivered some for the Salvation Army as well.

All the cats on our cul de sac disappeared for up to a week – all came home in the end.
When we moved home we slept in the lounge for about six weeks as our bedroom was cantilevered out and potentially unsafe but we soon got sick of that and moved back. Also had the microwave sitting on the floor for weeks as had lost two in the shakes.

In the end our house was demolished and we moved elsewhere. From the time of the September quake the aftershocks were very disturbing. It’s like someone coming up behind you and giving you a fright except if you are at home it’s your house that is doing it. Worse at night because you think – is this going to get worse? The noise a building makes is indescribable. Being outside in the open is much more desirable.

It’s a time none of us will ever forget.

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