Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting something off my chest. By Richard

7 days ago our world changed.  I can recall being on the phone to a friend back in Sydney waxing lyrical about how beautiful it is living in Christchurch.  Then a series of events unfolded, each of them strange, each of them leading to a life changing event.

The council car park we use had a queue to enter, something which I had not encountered before so began to navigate the one way system to find a park.  Oh how grateful I am now that my car was not in that car park.  Incidentally the car park in under the art gallery where the emergency response is being run from, the building you would have all seen on tv.  Still on the phone to David, I cruised the streets seeking the elusive park until I found a spot outside an historic building.  This is where the second strange event occurred as the parking meter would not accept a credit card or the SMS payment system.  Still on the phone, and at 10 minutes to 1 pm, I hung up from Dave to work out what was going on.

This is when the thunderous roar approached and chunks of the building, each the size of a soccer ball were landing a few feet away from me.  Instinct said run, so I fled into the street, not aware of cars, in fact, only aware of the roar.  I ran up hill and then down hill as the road moved beneath me made it difficult to even move.  All the time, more rubble fell, everything flexed.  For what seemed an eternity, I was at sea riding the waves as natures anger passed under my feet.

When it stopped there was not silence but screaming.  People were flooding out of buildings covered in dust, a few with blood spots on heads and arms.  A small child was screaming hysterically and being comforted by his mother who was trying her best to be strong.  Being only a few hundred meters to the council offices I thought best to head there to see if I could be of some help.

Turning the corner, I walked quickly into a thick dust cloud.  Another aftershock and it became impossible to walk straight but again, instinct made me keep pressing forward.  More people were exiting buildings, sobbing, screaming, lying on the ground in shock.

I got to the council office and liquefaction was pouring through the pavement right on the steps as the workers flooded out.  Tiles on the floor had popped into the air landing several meters away.  In shock myself, I was standing next to a very shocked mayor, who has now become the face of this tragedy.  Again, another aftershock, we all stumbled at the force and witnessed the building next door flex.  It's cracking was very evident but people were gathering beneath it, also in total shock.  The mayor and I scream almost together "move away from the building".

Something inside said "Amanda and the girls" so I turned and made my  way back to the car.  I feel an awful nagging guilt I did not stay but knowing my wife and children were part of this and would be scared was a driving force.

In the car, radio on, messages came flooding in of devastation in the city.  Then the worst news - the epicenter was in Lyttleton, only a few kilometers from our house.  I sat in traffic, alone but together with thousands of other people wishing for a speedy exit from the city.  I called her mobile, home, the mobile again, never able to get through.  I tried to call our office, I tried Australia and her parents and could not get through.  Facebook was the only means of communication and hoping she may, for some strange reason, check there.

I moved maybe 500 meters in 1 hour as the city was gridlocked.  After 90 minutes, I finally spoke to Amanda to hear she and the girls were safe.  The relief in our voices overwhelming - I knew they were in the epicenter, she knew I was in the devastated CBD.

The traffic moved slower than a sleeping snail.  The road was flooded with liquefaction, buildings had crumbled.  The worst part was being on a fly-over when another aftershock hit.  The bridge moved up, down, left and right with me holding the steering wheel with white knuckles.  Surly this was my time, the bridge was about to collapse.  With enormous relief, the shock passed, the bridge held firm.

Once onto the Southern Highway, I began to move more freely, and the closer I got to the mountains, the quieter the streets became.  Huge holes in the road, boulders from collapsed cliffs, cars crushed, houses shattered.  People standing in shock trying to deal with what had happened.  Driving through Sumner and seeing what nature had done to our beautiful village really hurt.

5 hours after the quake, I finally got to the emergency area at Van Ash school and bear hugged by Amanda.  Mia and Amy were running around with their friends, almost unaware of the situation we were in.  Our neighbors, staring into space, hugging each other, seeking solace in any way they could.

We drove up to the house to determine we would not stay for the night so drove back to the village to see who we could stay with.  It was a ghost town, shattered houses left to fend for themselves as the owners sought an escape.  An emergency meeting in the car, a phone call and off to Rollerston we went.  It was the best move we could have made.

The rest we have been updating on facebook.  We are so lucky.

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