Saturday, February 26, 2011

A day that changed us

Tuesday 22nd changed the lives of so many in Christchurch and our family have come out of this extremely lucky. As a form of therapy, to talk out the stress of the last few days, I am putting it all down here.

I was alone at home at 12.51pm when a quake, centered at Lyttelton only 2kms from us hit. The shaking started and intensified with an almighty speed, the noise in the house was deafening and while I tried to run and get out, the stuff flying out made it almost impossible. While the TV smashed to the floor, china and glasses came flying out of cabinets I knew I had to get out and quickly. I made it to the door and ran around the corner to the neighbours, I had never met this woman but she hugged me and held me tight and told me it would all be ok. I have no idea what I would have done if she hadn't been there. She organized me and my friend and neighbour Zoe so that we could think and function enough to move, we were both frozen. Jumping in the car we headed in convoy down the steep hill that we live on, trying to get to the school to get our kids. As I entered the school, I heard Mia before I saw her and we just grabbed on to each other, I have never been so happy to see her and never wanted to let her go again. My next panic came with Amy, she was going on her first playdate with a friend from Kindy. I had the mothers phone number but no address. I drove as fast as I could through streets cracked and warped and boulders the size of small cars all over the road, to get to the kindy. I was lucky to catch them as they evacuated and get her address. Again the road from kindy to Julie's was a mess. I passed Redcliffs school, located under the towering cliffs, it was now surrounded by rock slides and ruin. A house next door had a boulder that had come down from above and squashed half the house, the other half was on fire. When I arrived at Julie's house I ran up the stairs to find a pile of rubble, the chimney had fallen through the house and the side walls had collapsed. I could hardly breath thinking Amy was buried in there. I ran along the street asking people if they knew what had happened to the people inside, that is when I turned around and saw Amy running towards me. I have never cried so hard, my baby was safe. Julie was driving the girls home when the quake hit. A boulder larger than her car came crashing down in front of her and instead of stopping she moved, narrowly missing a second massive rock that fell where her car would have been. She was so lucky, I could not believe how close I had come to losing Amy. All this time, I had been trying to reach Richard. The phone lines were down and all I knew was that he was in the city at a meeting. Listening to radio reports, I knew the city was one of the worst areas, my family was still not safe. Finally after 2 hours, I managed to speak to him and he had made it out. He was on his way into a meeting when it hit and just knew he had to run and get out, his instinct served him well and probably saved him. Standing on the street with rocks and bits of buildings falling around him, he watched first hand the destruction of the city. It wasn't until 5pm that we met up at an emergency centre in Sumner. Finally after 5 hours I had all my family back together and I never wanted to be apart again.

At this time we headed back up the hill to our house. We were stunned at the damage all around us and when we arrived at home, it was a shock. The bricks around the garage and front of the house had moved and were loose, walking around the house we saw that the back wall of the garage had completely collapsed. Inside it looked like a madman had gone loose, throwing the contents of the house out of cupboards and upending all the furniture. There was glass, smashed plates and food everywhere. The girls rooms were destroyed with their specials things smashed to pieces. I am glad they stayed in the car and missed seeing the devastation. We decided that it was not worth the risk of staying and ran around in a frenzy grabbing anything and everything and throwing it in the back of the car. We had no idea where to go and all I wanted was to get out of the city, Richard was quick thinking and called his boss who lived 25 minutes out of the city. He welcomed us with open arms and make us feel secure for the first time since this nightmare began.

As the news started to come in, we couldn't believe the force and the strength that this had generated. I was in such shock that I couldn't stop shaking or shivering, Richard was my strength, I would not have made it without him. We decided to stay until the weekend when hopefully we would have an idea where we could stay. Staying out of the city where we had water and power and a normal life felt so surreal and in complete contrast to what was happening, the feeling of guilt was incredible.

On Wednesday morning I went back to the house with the girls to pick up more of our belongings and clean up. Driving back through the devastated suburbs was distressing and the closer we came to home the damage became worse. Gaps in the road a meter deep, huge boulders everywhere and peoples homes completely destroyed. While there were people moving about and emergency services starting to clear up, it was eerily quiet. The Christchurch wind that is always present was gone, it was so still and the ground continued to remind us of it's presence with many big aftershocks.

The death toll continues to rise while a city of amazing people try to rebuild and start again. We know how lucky we were and are reminded of this everyday. The displaced and grieving are many, we have a roof over our head and are a complete family. Our days are spent trying to reassure the kids that it will be ok and that we are safe, not an easy thing to do when we have no idea if it will happen again.

It seems that the house is ok and not as bad as we initially believed, as we explained to the kids, the timber frame (the bones of the house) are fine and the brick veneer (the clothes) have been shaken off. While most would accept this, Mia has taken one look at the village and the mess there and is against moving back into the house. She is willing to walk away from the school and friends she loves, she is so scared. When the quake hit, she was in the middle of lunch, without us and knew she needed to run and escape, but the force meant she kept falling. She was terrified and surrounded by screaming people. I can completely understand her terror and reluctance to move back, especially as the village still looks and feels like a war zone.

We have gone from taking one hour at a time to going day to day. This city and it's people have a long way to go but I have no doubt it will be done together. The help and support strangers have given each other is incredible. Unfortunately this is the sort of disaster that unites people and Kiwis are no exception. The radio has been broadcasting phone calls from people offering help of all kinds to strangers - water delivery, beds in homes, whatever they can offer. It is humbling and wonderful what people can do for others, if only it was a worldwide effort.

I cannot say thank you enough for the love, support and messages from everyone back home and around the world. It has helped us feel connected and to know that we are not alone in a place of complete chaos and panic.


  1. Dear Amanda, i am so upset to imagine what this must have been like for you. I am completely humbled by your vivid and honest description of this absolute nightmare. And i am just so grateful that you are all okay. My heart goes out to you, and prayers that you all remain safe, that the girls are not too scared and that you can all heal and be settled again soon. Much love to you all, Karen x

  2. Amanda and family,

    The tears were welling up as I read your blog - it's a nightmare every parent dreads I think, something so catastrophic happening and being away from your kids and loved ones. I am so glad you are all safe and you wrote your experience down, have been thinking about you all ever since it happened.
    Grace has decided she will donate half of all her savings and she also wants to hold a fundraiser for Christchurch.
    She got everyone to agree at school meeting that next Friday she can set up a nail painting stall, all money "to go to help people in Christchurch rebuild all the buildings and be safe". A couple of other kids have volunteered to help too, so please let the girls know they're not forgotten.
    We'll be thinking of you all and wish we were able to physically get in and lend a hand - you can be sure we would.

    Lisa and Grace

  3. Amazing words, and amazing strength.

    Love to you guys from us.