My family and I emigrated to New Zealand last year – we arrived on Friday the 13th of August. Perhaps a sign from the very start?
My parents spent a week in Christchurch house-hunting; we needed a house quickly as my Dad was going to return to England in November to finish selling our house there. I joined them for the last few days after they had finalised a deal on a house in Redwood. We went to Northlands Mall, walked along New Brighton Beach, and visited the University of Canterbury – where I would be starting university next year in February.
The morning of a few days after we returned to my grandparent’s house in Picton, I was lying in bed listening to the radio. My grandfather always put it on when he got up to make a cup of tea. There was news about an earthquake in some place called Christchurch. I listened for a long time – I just didn’t connect the city I’d just left with the news I was hearing. It sounded terrible.
We spent a day worried about the house we’d just bought – was it now a pile of bricks? But we heard later in the day that thankfully our house had suffered no damage, in fact Redwood itself had escaped lightly.
At that point I was rather dismayed. I was pleased that our house was ok, but sorry I’d missed out on all the shaking … The subject I wanted to take at university was geography and I’d always loved studying natural hazards like earthquakes. I spent most of the week following the September earthquake writing fact sheets for my college teacher back in England!
A few months later (after one horrible day where we didn’t think we could get insurance for our house – thankfully State Insurance stepped in and saved the day!) and we reach early February. At this point we’re going to go back home – we’re all feeling homesick, Mum’s struggling to get work, and we miss Dad who is now back in England.
The day before my birthday (the 7th of February), however, my Mum gets a call about some work and she decides to do the interview. To cut a long story short, we find out that she has been offered the job and decide to try and stay after all.
We frantically ring up Burnside to get my brother’s place back, and spend a couple of days going through the agonising process of enroling me at the University of Canterbury. A difficult job, but we manage to sort everything out.
The 21st of February was my first day of university: I had one lecture (maths) from 12:00 – 12:50. Mum went with me on the bus to show me where to go.
The next day, the 22nd, I was very nervous. I only had one lecture (maths again from 12:00 to 12:50), but this time I was making the journey myself. I got to the lecture theatre only to find a note taped on the door that said we had had to move venues. Panic! I now only had a few minutes to find my way to the Science lecture block. Fortunately, I had a map of the university campus and managed to find the room my lecture was being held in relatively easily.
We were just about to finish and pack up when the whole room started shaking. I have to admit that I was frozen on the spot. The girl I sat next to shouted at me to get under the desk which I did as quickly as I could. The lights went out and some people started screaming, but I don’t remember feeling unduly worried. It felt like some crazy roller-coaster ride or bad turbulence.
Once the shaking stopped we all trouped outside onto the lawn. No-one really knew what to do. Were lectures going to continue? Not that it mattered to me as I had finished for the day, but the girl I had befriended had another lecture to go to, so I waited.
Whilst we were stood there another huge ‘quake rattled through. I remember how weird it felt actually feeling the ground beneath me shake. I could see the trees and buildings moving. At that point I thought that perhaps they would have to cancel lectures until tomorrow.
Eventually someone official-looking came out and told us to go home. My friend went back to her flat, and I walked to the road I needed to cross to get to the bus stop. To my dismay the once quiet little road was heaving with traffic. Being a cautious person I knew there was no way I could cross safely, so decided to walk further up the road to the traffic lights.
I pressed the button, and of course nothing happened! How stupid of me! If the lights had gone out in our lecture theatre of course the traffic lights would have stopped working! Some other people had had the same idea, however, and as a big group we managed to force our way across the road.
I had texted my Mum, of course, to say that I was ok and she had replied saying that she too was fine. We didn’t know about my little brother as he didn’t have a phone. But I knew that Burnside had been used as a shelter after the September earthquake so was pretty sure he was safe.
I sat at the bus stop for a long time. People came and went with snippets of information. I felt rather wobbly, so ate the muesli bar I had packed – it must have been well gone 2:00 and I hadn’t eaten since early that morning.
Eventually, the little group assembled at the bus stop came to the conclusion that no buses were going to come. Now what to do? I didn’t have a clue where I was, and Mum had told me to stay at the bus stop. A Canadian woman had a map and was talking about walking, with some others, to Northlands Mall. Northlands Mall! That was near our house! I felt sure I could find my way home from there! So I decided to take my chances and go with the group.
After an hour or so of walking we got to a dairy. The Canadian lady bought some chocolate for us all, which was so lovely of her. At this point I tried ringing my Mum again. I managed to get through, and learned that she was in a car with our neighbour from across the road. They had just picked my brother up from Burnside, and wanted to know where I was. I told them my location – at the corner of two strange-sounding-Maori-named roads – and was instructed to wait and they would pick me up. I relayed this information to the group who said they would carry on walking. I wished them luck, and hoped they made it safely to their respective homes.
The dairy was nestled amongst several other shops on a cross-roads. The shops had stayed up, but looked a bit rickety, and as the rain poured down I didn’t know whether to take shelter beneath the overhang of the shops or stay in the open.
At that moment another large ‘quake rattled through. Some cars swerved and by a shop on the other side of the cross-roads a Chinese lady screamed and fell to the ground. Above her a lamp-post swayed horribly.
When the shaking stopped the Chinese woman remained on the ground, crying. Some people ran out of a nearby shop and tried to get her to go inside as it was now raining harder. She wouldn’t move, however, and a man (I presume he was the shopkeeper) came out and covered her with a large blanket.
A few minutes later and I saw some people waving at me from inside a car – finally my Mum had arrived! I climbed in and she explained that she had very little petrol left, but that our neighbour had been kind enough to drive out and rescue us.
Up until this point I had no idea how bad the earthquake had been. I had seen broken walls, lopsided chimneys, and stray dogs running along the street, but nothing more serious. Sure, the lights had gone out in our lecture theatre but we had all got out safely and we were all quite happy to carry on with lectures. The bubble broke, however, as my Mum and neighbour said that loads of buildings in the centre had come down and people were trapped.
What had seemed like an adventure, was now turning sour.
After a long drive in terrible traffic we arrived home. The bookcase had fallen face forwards and ripped a corner of the sofa, the piano had almost fallen over (it had been caught and held by the piano seat), and some china ornaments and a vase had smashed and broken, but that was it.
Meridian (our power company) had sent us a free gift of a battery operated radio, and we switched this on and listened with horror.
Perhaps I should have explained earlier that my grandparents had come down for the weekend before, and had left that Tuesday morning to drive back to Picton. We got a text a few hours after arriving home that they were coming back down to us.
When they arrived they told us how they had driven up to Kaikoura and decided to stop for lunch. They were about to order when my grandfather noticed what was on TV, and asked the person behind the counter why they were showing a re-run of the September earthquake. The man looked at my grandfather strangely and said hadn’t he heard that there had been another huge ‘quake in Christchurch? This immediately threw my grandparents who didn’t know what to do. They went to the police station and asked for more news, and even went to the library to find out what had happened!
In the end they went to some friends in Kaikoura who got them to sit down, have a cup of tea, and think through what they should do. The result of this was that my grandparents filled up the car, (accepted a loaf of bread from their friends – just in case!), and drove all the way back down to Christchurch to us.
After their arrival I received a very worried text from my Dad. He had heard about the earthquake in England and didn’t know whether he had any family left. I quickly text him back – a text which he still thinks of today as the best text he has ever received!
The next morning (after a shaky evening and meal of cold leftovers and bread), it was decided that we should travel up to Picton with my grandparents. We thought it would be much safer, and put less strain on the city’s resources.
So we drove up to Picton and watched with sadness the news of the recovery effort.
Though we nearly went back home to England again after the June ‘quakes we have decided to stay. Christchurch will pull through.