– 818 Colombo Street, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Why? Why? Why Did I Do It

Yes that is the question I ask myself over and over again. Why did I stay in my office for lunch on Tuesday 22 February? Why did I go across the road and buy Sushi and go back to my office?

Let me explain. I had a total knee replacement on my right knee in October. I had put off having it done because in 2000 I had an operation on my left knee and developed a blood clot in my thigh which eventually shifted to my lung. I was in hospital for nearly 7 weeks altogether instead of the one week anticipated. I was terrified of the same thing happening so put up with the agony for several years until I plucked up enough courage to have the other one done.

The operation went well but the anesthetic knocked me around a bit. I had the lab coming every second day to take a blood test to adjust my medication so that I would not develop another blood clot. The nurses were marvelous. Well, things went bad at the end of November and my legs swelled up until it looked like I had elephantitis. In January this cleared (I won’t go into all that) and three months after the operation everything was working out and I could walk without pain in my knee (well it wasn’t there to hurt was it?). I was still having pain in the muscles which hadn’t been used for the last 5 years or so.

I decided that I needed to do plenty of exercise now that my joints were not grating every time I moved my leg. So each lunch time this year I have taken a walk down town into the square, I sit and eat my lunch somewhere, wander down Colombo St in Cashel Mall, or down to South City and sometimes sit in the cathedral for ten or fifteen minutes and then back to work.

On Tuesday 22 February I didn’t do this. WHY?

I was sitting at my desk on the second floor of Academy House in Colombo St just north of the Town Hall and suddenly it felt as though something had taken hold of the building and shaking it furiously and from side to side and up and down. I have an ‘L’ shaped desk and I hung on with both hands. The ficus tree I have in my office came crashing down, cd’s and DVD’s went flying and the door flung open and shut and opened again and again. I remember thinking that I should get under my desk because there were two more floors above me but there was no way I could move. It was like some giant or maybe King Kong taking hold of the building and shaking it.

After what seemed a long, long time it all stopped. I looked out my window and could not see anything as the air was filled with dust. Then I saw that the Caledonian Hall was down – they had almost completed restoring it from the September earthquake. In the hall way, floor to ceiling cupboards had fallen over but luckily by bending down we were able to get past them and down the narrow back emergency stairs. I felt guilty as with my knee I was not moving as fast as I would have liked and was concerned that I was holding others up.

We got out and on to Colombo Street. What a mess! The shops around were missing the outer wall of the top story and the verandahs were down. Bricks and debris were on the road. Our marshaling point was on the grass triangle on the corner of Colombo/Kilmore Streets and Cambridge Terrace. I had never realised how many people worked in this area. There seemed to be hundreds of people milling around, some screaming, many crying, some retching. What a situation. All I could do was to give hugs and try and console people. Luckily all from my work (probably around 80 people) escaped without injury. One person who was on the fourth floor was terribly shaken and I said to her ‘come over here Di and sit down’ She said ‘yes in that Bill’ as there was another tremble and water and silt started to come up from the ground around our feet.

I thought of my darling Wife Mary and tried to call her on my cellphone but it wouldn’t work so I sent her a text. Same with my Daughter Sandy and Son-in law Andrew in Wellington and my Grand Daughter Aimee in Auckland as I didn’t want them worried. They were watching it unfold on TV. I also sent texts to my Son Dave at Papanui High and an ex-work colleague and a couple of friends. It gave me something to do in amongst the crowd.

One of our ladies, Mel was in tears. Her daughter, probably only 20 years old, worked just around the corner and she couldn’t find her. I comforted her as best I could until eventually her daughter arrived. What a reunion that was. I looked down Colombo St towards the square. The road was buckled and covered in debris. I couldn’t see the Cathedral. Oh boy! What a helpless feeling I had. What despair. Am I going to get out of this? Our Fire Marshall was not about so I asked one of my colleagues to help me check that everybody from our floor was out. Luckily they were.

It was like one of those American movies we see on TV and I was one of the actors. It was the most dreadful, horrendous experience I have ever had in my life. It was frightening, devastating, it was something which I was unable to comprehend – oh boy!

I decided that this was not a safe place to be. I decided to walk home up Colombo St. People were everywhere. I just walked. I was aware of all the other people but I guess I was in shock. I stopped several times and sat on a fence for a few minutes. Eventually I got to Edgeware. There was a lot of liquefaction and water everywhere. My darling Wife, Mary came down and picked me up with my dog Zak. He just about wet himself when he saw me – he was so pleased – he is very unsettled with the earthquakes and often senses them before they arrive. Mary probably should not have been driving as she was shaking like a leaf and in shock but our love over 47 years of marriage gives us strength to do these things for our loved one. She is such a wonderful person – the best Wife any man could ever have.

At Edgewhere I met a man who said ‘it is still a long way to Redwood!’ I said my Wife is coming to pick me up and we can give you a ride. He said ‘she won’t mind will she’. It turned out he lives just a block away. I met him next day when I was walking my corgi Zak. I found out his name is Mark.

So going back to my original question WHY? I am sure God was looking after me. I feel so lucky to be alive because it could have easily been different. If I had followed my usual routine I would have been down Colombo Street, in Cashel Mall or sitting in the Cathedral. Mary said to me ‘God does not want you yet, He has more work here for you’!

I had to do something, so I had a chicken in the fridge and I rotisseried it on the barbeque and boy oh boy oh boy did it taste nice. I was alive and so was Mary, my wonderful Wife of 47 years.

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