– Rutherford Building, University of Canterbury, Christchurch

I was in a meeting with my PhD supervisor at 12:51 pm that day. Eight floors off the ground. In a building constructed in the early 1970s. We were talking about … I don’t know what now, as everything started to shake. Of course by that point we had been through 6 months of aftershocks since the September 4th quake so initially it was just another earthquake.

Then everything really started moving. If you watch CCTV footage of an earthquake, it never shows the true force of it. The way that everything moves. I like to think of it as if the Hulk was pushing and pulling on the side of the building.

There was really nowhere for me to go. So I just sat in the chair I was in, holding onto a filing cabinet that was beside me for fear it would fall on my supervisor who had gotten onto the floor.

I really don’t know how long things went on. Like any intense memory it seemed to go on forever but also took an instant. It wasn’t until it was all over that I realized the electricity had gone off. The fire alarm was wailing away. Not that anyone would have liked to have stayed in the building anyway I imagine. Breaking the first rule of fire safety, I went back to my office. I had to get my cellphone. I had to get my keys. I had to get my laptop. Having to climb over a pile of books, papers that had fallen from the desks and shelves.

Fire alarm wailing as people were talking loudly. Saying to hurry up. Rushing to get their stuff. Cellphones going off.

For some reason we headed to the central stairwell… Not sure why looking back as we are closer to the end of the building. Trying to talk to my fiancee on the phone. It cut out in the middle of a sentence. Txting my mum and sister to let them know I was okay before they heard the news (in the last 12 months I have sent far too many “I haven’t died in an earthquake you are about to hear about on the radio/TV” txts to my family).

Down eight flights of stairs. Never once thinking to look out the windows that give us a view of the CBD. It was pretty clear we weren’t going back into the building so got a lift home with a friend. I remember one of the office admins from the Maths dept yelling at us because we were walking too close to a building.

Through the sea of people that was streaming from the university we reached her car. That was when a big aftershock struck. The car rocking from side to side and seeing everyone outside the car freeze.

Once we made it to my house, we found we had no electricity either. We were moving house that weekend so half our stuff was in boxes. Amazingly only one ornament had broken. If we still had all our books on the bookshelf that probably would have fallen over.

Overall, we were extremely lucky. No family or friends injured. We only lost electricity for a couple of hours. Never lost our water or sewerage. Never had to make an insurance claim.

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