Topic: Lisa's experience - 22 February

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My experience of February 22 2011 - The day of the earthquake, my husband had just arrived at my work, bringing my 8 month old son Logan in for lunch. I wanted to go to the Cathedral and see the floral carpet but Logan was bit grumpy so instead we went upstairs


The day of the earthquake, my husband had just arrived at my work, bringing my 8 month old son Logan in for lunch. I wanted to go to the Cathedral and see the floral carpet but Logan was bit grumpy so instead we went upstairs (to the third floor) so I could feed him. We finished feeding him and took him around the floor a little bit to see all his fans. I grabbed my handbag and we were in the corridor heading for the lift when it started. The first shake, I just thought “Oh yeah, here we go again” and expected the shaking to stop but it intensified. I was holding Logan and Peter was carrying the nappy bag and we also had the pram. Every time I would think that it must have reached its peak, it got stronger. Peter tried to hold onto us to support us but the shaking was just so violent he couldn’t. Logan started crying and all I could hear was an awful combination of people screaming, the ground rumbling, the building groaning and Logan crying. The lights were going off and on, and books from the mending shelves started falling on us so I tried to move more into the middle of the corridor but it was impossible to really move, it was like running against the tide of a tread-mill. We managed to move a little way into the middle. Bernice and Sue, 2 of my co-workers, were also in the corridor. Bernice tried to help me hold Logan but she was as unable to move as we were. Just before I had to sit down, I thought for sure the building was going to collapse. I held onto Logan even tighter and tried to shield him with my body but then realised that if the building did collapse then nothing I could do would help him. It was the most hopeless moment of my life and still the thing I struggle with the most, No mother can protect her child from everything, all the time, but we want to. I sat/fell down with Logan and just kept rocking him (redundantly) and talking quietly to him. I remember it stopping suddenly but maybe it didn’t. During the earthquake all the book trolleys which are kept either side of the door moved to block the door so Bernice and I leapt up and just pushed them out of the way. I later learnt that more people from the IT team were in the server room and think that we may’ve actually pushed the trolleys to block their door, so apologies for that guys. I thought for a millisecond about going back to my desk to grab some things, but was pretty much heading down the stairs in a matter of seconds. Peter carried the pram. When I think about leaving the Library, I don’t really remember Peter being there at all, he was sort of a benevolent presence behind me but I can’t picture him there coming down the stairs with us even though he was right there. Some of the ceiling tiles and light covers in the stair well had come down. When we stepped out of the back door of the Library, the first thing I saw was the kerb by the Armagh Street bridge looked like someone has just scrunched it up, the way you would crumple a piece of paper. We crossed the road to the fire assembly point by the river and there was an aftershock. Everyone screamed and held onto each other and that’s when the Provincial Buildings fell down (I think) We were all facing the Library and then there was a noise like a thousand strikes at the 10 pin bowling alley at once and we all turned around and there was a big pile of dust. Then glass started falling off the facade of the Branigans building on the corner of Oxford Terrace and Gloucester Street. It was like we were at a show, something would collapse and everyone would gasp and look over there, then something else would happen and everyone would gasp and look over at that. Two of my co-workers wives had had babies at the same time as us and I could see them both trying to ring their partners, everyone was trying to get hold of someone on their phones. If Peter and Logan had been at home instead of in town with me, the earthquake wouldn’t have affected them so much, but it was also a relief to be all together. If they hadn’t been there, I would have started walking home straight away and not stopped til I reached them. I found everyone in my team and found my friend Jeremy who told us he was on his lunch break, sitting by the statue of Robert Scott when it happened and the statue fell off it’s pedestal, nearly hitting some people. That was when I realised that people must’ve died. I heard someone say that the Cathedral had fallen down and I felt sick when I realised that if Logan hadn’t been a bit grumpy, we would’ve been in there because I wanted to see the stupid floral carpet. I don’t think I will be patronising any Floral Festival events in the near future. The entrance and exit to the Farmers Car Building were blocked by fallen masonry, so we couldn’t get our car, not that we would’ve gone in the building anyway. Jeremy lived close to town so we decided to head to his house and see how things were going. I  thought it would be best to put Logan in the pram but it was very hard to let him go and I think after I put him in it I stayed crouched alongside it still holding onto him for a while. We went across to Victoria Square and there were thousands of people there, everyone headed to the nearest open area I guess. The road was all ripped up and we had to climb up onto it at Armagh Street. I saw people who seemed to have minor injuries, cuts, one lady with her arm in a sling. People in the Forsyth Barr building were hanging signs out the window saying “We are trapped – help”. Victoria Square was all mud and water. I didn’t understand why at the time but now know that it was liquefaction. Initially we tried to walk around it but then it just became too prevalent. Winnie Bagos, on the corner of Armagh and Colombo looked like it had been hit hard and as we got closer to Colombo Street I wanted to see if I could see the Cathedral but also didn’t want to. I looked up and seeing the spire collapsed like that made me feel like such a foreigner in my own city. I never realised how much of our Christchurch identity is based on the Cathedral. I also knew there would’ve been people inside it when the quake hit, so felt sad and useless. As we went along Oxford Terrace there were people rushing everywhere, going into town, going away from town, people walking around dazed. I saw one girl find her friend and she just ran up to her and was shouting and her friend just looked like she was half asleep and didn’t really see her. I could see something big had collapsed by the bank rotunda and once we could see the Pyne Gould Guinness building through the trees I said to Jeremy “People must’ve died in there” I don’t remember seeing anyone by it or climbing on it or anyone at all but there must’ve been people there. I always thought I would be the sort of person to run into a burning building if people were trapped in there but when I was confronted with a collapsed building I just was so shocked I didn’t even register that I should do something to help any people who were trapped. It wasn’t until we were in Nelson and I started seeing people being pulled from the rubble on the news, that I realised I should’ve done something. I didn’t make a decision not to help people, it just never registered that I could until days later. I realise I remember things that happened that day not as they actually were. When I looked up Colombo Street at Cathedral Square, I remember the street and shops leading up to it looking like normal, but when I saw it on the news, I see the street was a mess. When I remember the PGG building, I remember it being quiet and unpopulated, but again, on the news I heard and saw people there. As we continued up Oxford Terrace, I realised that something wasn’t right. I looked up the road and could see sky above the trees but knew something else was meant to be there. Once we got closer, I could see that Oxford Terrace Church was demolished. One of my friends is an Elder at that church so I held my breath until we got close enough to see the cars in the car park. I couldn’t see her car in there but there were some, so she wasn’t in the church but probably people she knew and even some of her family members could’ve been. I just felt so helpless. We could see Charlie B’s up Madras Street looking pretty bad and could see smoke coming from somewhere south of us. We made it to Jeremy’s house and he went inside to see if things were OK. He lived in a block of flats and we waited outside as we didn’t want to go in the building, didn’t actually want to go in any buildings ever again but we did later that day. We waited outside and people were walking past carrying computers, or files, or pushing wheelbarrows filled with their belongings. A lady was driving past and stopped to ask us if we needed a hand. Jeremy eventually emerged with warm jerseys for us and an overnight bag for himself. While he was inside his house the smoke coming from the south side of Latimer Square was getting worse. I now know it was from the CTV building. I was worried that the fire would spread and we would be trapped. Jeremy was going to try and get to his girlfriend, Chi, who was on the other side of town so said he would drop us off on the way. We drove to the end of Chester Street East and the old Mr Pickwicks building was missing its front wall. There was a gym in there and you could see a boxing bag and fitness posters on the wall. Traffic was really crawling but people were being very considerate about letting people in and giving way. I don’t remember there being very many emergency vehicles, but when we heard them coming, everyone pulled over and let them through. Once we crossed the Fitzgerald Ave bridge we could see the road coming into town had dropped about one metre, so all traffic was on the one side of the road. When I saw so much of the road dropped away like that it made me more scared of what would have happened as it obviously was a huge force. Almost all of the roads were flooding. When we were turning onto Hills Road we saw a motor cyclist who had driven into a deep gutter and Peter got out of the car and helped him get his bike out. The flooding on Hills Road was so deep I was worried it was going to come into the car or stall the engine. Once we got to Westminster Street the traffic eased off and it was amazing how normal everything started to look. By the time we were pulling up to our house (in Cavendish Road) it was hard to believe that we weren’t just heading back home after a day out with friends. We took off our mud soaked shoes and socks and let ourselves in. A few shelves and cupboards had lost their contents and the dining room floor was a sea of glass as more of our wedding presents bit the dust but compared to what we had seen, our home seemed perfect. We turned on the TV and waited to hear from our friends and family to let us know they were OK. We were lucky and by teatime we had heard from or about everyone we knew. After the September earthquake, I was never one to go running for doorways in aftershocks, but after February I raced to grab my son at the slightest shake as every time I thought  it could be another huge one. We spent the next day trying to get petrol for a borrowed car (our car was still in the car park building behind the Library), helping a family member dig silt out of their house so they could shut doors and headed up to my husbands parents place in Nelson late that night. When we got there we all had long showers, lots of food and long sleeps. They were shocked at how on edge and stressed we all seemed. When we went to the supermarket after we arrived there, it was hard not to grab trolleys full of food and drink. We were lucky to be able to spend a month in Nelson and everyone we met up there couldn’t help us enough.

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