This guest post, published with permission, is an e-mail sent from New Zealand by my daughter, who had been staying in the home of relatives in Fendalton, the suburb closest to the centre of Christchurch, when the earthquake hit there at lunchtime a year ago today (on February 22, 2011). She was alone in the building when it struck. The day after, they managed to get out of the city, and from three hours’ drive away - where aftershocks could still be felt and were still happening - she managed to e-mail us this account.

... I took the dog for a walk at 12 noon and she was acting weird. Normally she loves the river, but she wasn’t at all interested. Also I tried taking her down this tree-lined path next to the railway, and she flatly refused, I couldn’t physically drag her down there so we went a different way. I’ve since seen that there have been several massive trees down across that path. Creepy. Anyway, we got back to the house at 12.25 ish (I remember all the times because I was keeping aware of the bus timetable because I wanted to go in to town. (I was being lazy really: I could easily have walked in.)

I packed my bag with my notebook and book etc. to take with me, and sat down at the computer and thought I’d just watch an episode of 90210 and catch the 1pm bus. Then at 12.50pm very suddenly there was very very violent shaking, and the wheely chair I was on was sort of thrown to the other end of the room as the whole floor tipped. Everything was flying everywhere, and weirdly my eyes were fixed on the ceiling, rather than the ground where it was obviously coming from. I vividly remember thinking “Shit! I never asked them what you’re meant to do in an earthquake!”, and of course I was on my own. So I was seriously scared and thought, I need to get out of here or I may actually die. I was very aware that the building was really weak and could just go at any point. So I stood up out of the chair as soon as physically possible. The back door, which is right next to where I was, was jammed. The building had already twisted so much that the door was completely impossible to open. So I grabbed the dog - can’t remember where she was but not far away - and dragged her and myself through the house while stuff was still flying everywhere, and got out of the front door and ran out on to the street as far from a building as possible. When I emerged on to the street, other people had done the same. Very odd way to meet the neighbours I can tell you! Anyway, everyone was very nice.

I couldn’t get hold of Tim or Mel, so just had to wait outside for about an hour or so. Then Mel came back (she’d been in a cafe with a friend), then Tim (from work) and George (from school). Of course at this point no-one knew how localised it was, and no-one knew there’d been any deaths etc. So there continued to be aftershocks, every few minutes, some pretty violent. Also, even when there wasn’t actually a shock, the ground had this weird sort of liquid feeling under your feet - it didn’t feel like the reliable solid ground we know. So ever since, it’s felt like when you’ve been on a boat and then you lie down on dry land. Last night was really scary, staying in a motel (and were very lucky to get a place) because aftershocks just kept coming, every few minutes, and it felt so counterintuitive to be inside a building, albeit on the ground floor. It was also difficult to sleep because my heart was pounding as it was all sinking in; and because of the aftershocks it was scary because you couldn’t be sure that you were definitely safe and it was over. So people were texting me saying things like, “Ah I’m so pleased you’re ok” and I was like yeah, but didn’t want to count my chickens too early!

Anyway, their house in uninhabitable - it’s not rubble, because bungalows don’t do that so much, because there’s less weight on them, but it’s kind of a chunky L shape and the back (the bit I was in) sort of sinks from high to low, as in like 45 degrees... It’s very unstable. So it will be demolished.

Oh, and I went in to work earlier [at the restaurant I’d been waitressing in] to see what I could do. No-one was there and the alarm was going; it was taped off and there’s a massive gash from top to bottom of the wall through which you can see the stairs. And it was eerie: all the tables were still out and crockery all over the place, because obviously it had happened at lunchtime so everyone had just legged it. So that’s over, indefinitely. And Christchurch is pretty much wiped.

So all in all, I am very grateful not to be dead, or worse - trapped. It’s very surreal how everything changes in a couple of minutes, and so strange watching it on the news, and I feel so so sad for those people trapped or waiting for news. They don’t want any “have-a- go-heroes” and are turning away everyone except trained rescuers.

I am feeling overwhelmingly lucky to be alive. I must get some sleep.

© Magdalena Gray, 2012

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