– Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

It feels longer than six years since the February 2011 events, but to this day I still feel quite tearful thinking about it, I am as I type these words. I find it hard to express how this has affected me to those who were not there but could talk for hours to those who were. I remember thinking as I went to bed the night before, things are starting to feel a little normal again. The September 2010 events had really hit the Canterbury region hard but no one had been killed, so we were all very grateful.

That day had felt different, the weather felt different and the sky even looked different. At the time I was working for the Christchurch City Council and worked with Civil Defence and the building inspectors as they went from door to door to the worst affected suburbs affected by the September 2010 events, assessing residential buildings. I worked as Welfare personnel, tasked with assessing people within their homes and what their needs were. I cried with people on many occasions with people after I asked how they were and they gave me an honest answer.

The week before the February 2011 events I had been able to return to my normal position within the Council and I was really excited about that. As I have already mentioned, the night before I thought “…this is good, it feels like we are getting back to normal”. That was the last night we slept in that house and it was for many, many other people. I can’t describe the absolute panic I felt when I finally got to school to be greeted by children sitting in the playground waiting for their parents, crying, hysterical and the teachers looking a bit similar.

I thank God every day that I was not in the central city that morning, any other morning I would have been. I don’t know if I could have walked past people without helping them. A colleague of mine from work had done just that and it cost him his life, he was the first person to be identified because of our identification cards. From school I started to head towards town to get to my parent’s house and we were caught up in traffic for hours. Every radio station you tuned into was not operating, having been replaced by Civil Defence instead. I really started to panic as I changed each radio station and the same message was being replayed on each station.

We were in Hagley Park for a long time when we could smell smoke, it seemed like a lot of smoke at the time. All of a sudden there were large numbers of people walking through Hagley Park towards us, having abandoned their cars, they walked. People abandoned their cars everywhere, just wanting to get home, make sure their loved ones were ok and walking was truly the fastest way. The emergency sirens were deafening, both from a distance and close up, they were everywhere. And the Civil Defence earthquake siren, it still makes my legs turn to jelly when I hear it.

Aftershock after aftershock, the ground just didn’t seem to stop. I remember being stationary in traffic right next to the Carlton Hotel on the corner of Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street and there was a large aftershock and many bricks came down onto the street, from both the Carlton Hotel, the Knox Church and the Victoria Street buildings, leaving huge dust clouds. It was terrifying and surreal all at the same time, unbelievable. We were all in tears by now, tears of complete shock and disbelief as we looked around us, devastation and panic, fear and helplessness on everyone’s faces we could see.

We drove through so much liquefaction, my engine started to smoke and I was sure the car was going to blow up, but it didn’t and eventually we got to my house which was like everyone else’s homes, a complete disaster site with everything everywhere and it was literally split in two. We then managed to get to my parents a few hours later in the traffic and spent the night with them in the only safe part of their house, the addition out the back.

I started smoking again that night but I have since stopped. It helped and I don’t care that that was what did help. Wine helped too. To this day, I carry in my heart the memory of that day as if it was still happening before me. It is hard to imagine a worse day. My heart goes out to those who have been so terribly affected by the Kaikoura earthquakes and the recent fires in the Christchurch Port Hills. Mother Nature, you really can be a bitch.

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