I was preparing to teach an orientation programme to new students, sitting at a desk by a plate glass window in the Laidlaw Library.
When the quake struck I thought of ducking under the desk but decided that I’d be sprayed by shards of glass if the window went so I started to run between shelves. Books were falling all around me but I made it to the door and stood under the frame while the shaking continued.
When it had finished I went to check if the others were OK. Kathy was standing in her doorway and there was a massive bookcase fallen onto the desk where she normally sits. She said- “that one was bigger than last year’s quake.”
I immediately thought of my husband and son who were meant to have been in the CBD. I couldn’t reach my husband on the cell phone but I got through to my son.
“We’ve been told to wait in the CPIT carpark” he told me. I assured him that I’d get there as soon as I could, but there might be some issues with the CBD so I couldn’t say how long it would take.
As I drove down Papanui Road I got a really bad feeling. There were people standing by letterboxes looking distressed. I thought, “people will have died in this one.”
I saw the Merivale shops with all the facades thrown onto the streets and the shop interiors exposed as if they were doll’s houses with the fronts taken off them.
As I turned the corner into Bealey Ave there were already people taking the initiative and directing traffic away from a brick building on a lean and crumbling.
I hit traffic and crawled up Bealey Avenue- frantically calling my family to see if they were all right. My husband and school son couldn’t be reached. My daughter was OK and told me my son-in-law was in Lyttelton dodging falling masonry.
It wasn’t until I was in that snarl up of traffic with ambulances behind, unable to move, that I realised I was part of the problem preventing help getting to people. I ditched the car under a tree and decided to hitch hike up Barbadoes Street.
The woman who dropped me near CPIT promised to pick us both up when she had looped back around to Fitzgerald Avenue. My son was the last one waiting in the car park. He had been at a desk when the earthquake hit and immediately ducked under it while the computer beside him fell- but the only injury he had was some carpet burn.
The trip home took five hours. Dan and I walked past chasms in the road with trucks buried in them, bridges sunk and tilting, waded through liquefaction puddles and saw broken buildings everywhere. Periodically we were rocked by aftershocks and Dan was amused when I knelt down with each one.
We never met the woman I hitch hiked with again and I realised later it was because the phone towers were failing and the text I sent her was delayed by hours.
We picked up the car and drove for a while till trapped again in traffic, then ditched the car, hitched from East to West Christchurch and finally found people driving to North Canterbury who we could hitch with.
Five hours later I was home safe. My husband hadn’t answered his texts because he had left his cell phone in his classroom when the class evacuated.
I keep thinking about how we got off lightly. After every subsequent aftershock I felt angry at the distress being caused. The earthquakes became an unpredictable enemy to many and I felt powerless to protect Canterbury from them.