– Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Cashel Street, Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

As Solid As Rock…
That day we had managed to scrape together enough cash to get Burger King for lunch, like any other day when we finished, we sat out in Cashel Mall, talking, laughing.
We decided to go back to school early, for we had an English class we were looking forward to. And for that fact, I am forever grateful.
We got in the lift in Northern Tower, and fooled around; my best friend pushing all the floor buttons at once because she knows I am afraid of lifts, we finally got out at the first floor. Sitting on the couch, we were discussing jokingly which picture book to read.

And then it hit.

There really are no words to describe an earthquake, it’s like a… It’s like the whole world is fed up with its own existence, so it cries out, stamps its feet. There are no words.

When an earthquake hits, your first thoughts are, ‘is this gonna be the big one?’ And after months and months of on-going shaking, you become accustomed to this awful, heart racing reaction.

But this time it was the big one.

The building swayed and groaned as I pelted for the doorway, I remember thinking,
‘Oh F*#, it’s an eight! We’re all going to die! Oh f*# it’s an eight!’

I remember having a flash back of all the old buildings I’d been going into in the recent weeks, the way I laughed and joked, when all the time I was in serious danger, I remember kicking myself,
‘Why do you go to a school in town? You should have known it was too good to be true, and now you’ll die for that mistake’
I also remember hearing other people screaming, but strangely enough I couldn’t hear all the buildings going down, as I had in September from our house in Woolston.

How I thought all of this whilst holding for dear-life to a door frame in what?.. 20seconds? I do not know.

Northern Tower is a high rise building and the quake felt strange, it kept swaying long time after the initial jolt. I am glad I wasn’t in Southern Star, where my home base was, as it is an old building, and as I understand it, suffered a partial roof collapse.

When the main shaking had abated (the building still wobbled frighteningly) I turned around to face my best friend, and saw my own shock reflected on her face, the heavy book shelf we had been choosing a book from, had fallen onto the couch, exactly where we had been sitting seconds before hand. The water cooler was on the floor and the fridge in the kitchen had fallen against the opposite wall.

John, the Director, called us all to the middle of the floor, checked we were all ok, and told us to,
‘Stay exactly where you are, and remain clam.’
Many people where crying, I myself was too shocked. Some had their faces pressed to the glass windows, I resisted the urge to yell and tell them to
‘GET AWAY FROM THERE!’
For one window in an ante-room already had a large crack in it.

The LA’s talked together in nervous groups, deciding what to do next.

I think it was around this point that one of the big aftershocks hit, my best friend and I must have looked terrified, for the office lady let us hide under her desk. As we walked over toward it, I looked out the window. I remember seeing that the Link Centre had fallen in.
I turned away; I couldn’t bear to think about the people inside.

We sat quivering under the desk for some time, the office ladies were very nice, but frightened also.
I received several texts while I was under there, one was from my friend Georgia saying ‘ARE YOU OK?!’
To which i replied,
‘Yes but its f*#$!@ breking towns breken yoou?’
I meant to say
‘Yes, I’m fine but town isn’t it’s broken. How are you?’
The next was from dad saying
‘are you ok? mum is coming to get you’
I can’t tell you how happy and worried that made me, I thought, ‘THEY’RE BOTH ALIVE!!’ and also “MUM’LL DIE COMING TO GET ME!’ I then received a text from mum,
‘im coming to get you’
to that I said
‘NO, NO, NO IT’S NOT SAFE!’

One of the LA’s suddenly came bursting through the doors that lead to the stairwell, the one I had been under during the quake. She was out of breath,
“I’ve just come….From…cathedral square…The cathedral, it’s, it’s GONE! There I was having my lunch… and… The earthquake…there was…a big dust…cloud. I…came straight back… here”
The door swung open again and in came another L.A, the one who was going to take our English class. He was very calm.
“Everyone on our floor is OK.”
Behind him was everyone from floor two. Soon the entire school (Well, those who had been in Northern Tower) was assembled on floor one.
We were told to,
‘Keep calm’ and ‘Stick together’
We hurried down the dark stair well, there was plaster from the walls on the stairs and near the bottom we saw one wall had a gigantic crack, and plaster was all over the floor. We sped up.
As we reached the glass door, (Oh I hate this part it makes me shaky and sick) we saw, the collapsed Link Centre and other buildings, and in the middle of Cashel Mall was, a man lying on the ground.
There where and some other people standing around him, one man had bruises and blood on his shirt. Some stood around looking down at the man on the ground, or kneeling beside him helping or…
We kept walking.
I knew I could do nothing. I couldn’t lift bricks, do CPR or first aid, I just had to keep walking.

Past Southern Star, (people were walking out of there also), past the tea shop, past the clothes shops, past Westpac, past the Grand Chancellor, past the, oh the second hand shop! We’d had English outside it just last Friday! We had been looking at the window display, and now it has collapsed, we could have been… some people were…
Past all the countless broken stores, past Majestic House; we’d had our welcome assembly there last week now the roof’s caved in!
Past the old acquisitions building with its once-proud dome lying in the street. Oh the shops, they’re all BROKEN! The shops that are so busy at this time of the day, oh…I can’t…I don’t even want to… think about it…
My best friend and I gripped each other’s arms, tight.
The road is all buckled, like a giant lifted up the concrete and shook it. It no longer looks hard, instead rather like a giant crumpled rug. And water is leaking from the cracks, no, not water, silt and sewage.
Some of the façades of buildings have fallen so far that even on the other side of the road we have to avoid the bricks.

It is odd; the city has come to a standstill. People are walking around in the middle of the road, hands on their heads, somewhat dazed. Others sift through rubble. A group looks into a crushed car. Police and the general public directing what little traffic there is. We are told by a Police man to walk quickly and carefully for there is a gas leak.
We have now joined a stream of other pedestrians, we all talked, asked each other if we were ok? As we past them by.

In circumstances like that, it doesn’t matter who the people are, you hug them and wish them well anyway.
Walking past some shops that have fallen I realise that I was walking under those shop fronts last period! The very same ones!
We just keep walking.
By this time we have talked to lots of people about where they were, how they are, the more we hear the sadder it becomes.
Initially we were told that we were going to Latimer Square, but that changed for ‘there was a fire’ (I now know the ‘fire’ to be the CTV building) we headed instead for the polytech car park.

More broken.
More cracks.
More Traffic jams.
More Sadness.
In the car park we hang around in groups discussing… well, I don’t know, I can’t remember.

All the time we had been walking I had been texting my mum the same thing over and over, because the cell phone systems where overloaded and only half the texts got through, she didn’t know where I was until I finally got a call through from the car park.

Not long after she arrived; she was running across the car park with her work friend who also had a daughter at my school, a big orange back pack on her back. I almost didn’t believe it, my best friend and I ran to her. That’s when I cried. That feeling of ‘oh phew I’m safe!’ didn’t last long because when I broke away from the embrace, a small aftershock hit, I gasped and I looked to my right and there was the ruined Catholic cathedral.
My mother may be here now, but IT had still happened.

We had to get into groups for certain neighbourhoods so we could begin walking home. (There was next to no possibility of getting anywhere in a car) My mum bravely stepped forward and offered to lead the Opawa/Woolston group.

More milling around, more discussion, more aftershocks.

A now much smaller group of us left for Woolston/Opawa. (My best friend included, although she lived in Haswell. She had not heard from her mum or step-dad. We couldn’t leave her there)
We left the car park, crossed the road, zigzagging in between the clogged traffic, and came to our first issue.

The Moorehouse Ave Bridge.
Completely blocked up with cars, buses and trucks. So we assumed that the bridge must be OK to cross…
We get half way and see a gigantic crack half a metre wide.
We get the hell off of there.

I don’t know how to describe that surreal walk home.
It was my city, but some alien one at the same time.
It felt like just around the next corner I’d find Christchurch as it always had been.
Perfectly in-tact.
For how can this city of broken, this city of slit and fallen brick, be the home I have always known?

Walking home was like that.
‘Round the next corner it’ll be better.
’ ‘Round the next corner’ was instead a burst water pipe, and nasty yellow sewage bubbling up, we had to balance through it on broken bricks.

‘Round the next corner.
This time it was a large traffic jam (Yet again). This time at the Brougham street intersection. One of the girls who was with us turned to look back at the city we had come from,
“Is that building on a lean or is it just me?”
We turn to look.
‘That building’ was the Grand Chancellor.
Indeed, on a lean.

‘Round the next corner.
More broken streets, more sewage, silt, and more anxious people talking agitatedly to their neighbours, too afraid to go inside.

‘Round the next corner.
The girl who pointed out the Grand Chancellor’s house (I don’t want to give names without asking them first) we went to her front door, it was locked and no one was home. Through the door you could see broken china, fallen bookcases, and all sorts of other things all over the floor.
She called out for her dog, who was normally kept in the house, no response. She called again and again. Nothing.
She cried and searched all around the garden frantically saying,
“I don’t know how he could have got out of the house!” we all knew what she was thinking.
Suddenly she had a thought and her face lit up,
“THE NEIGHBOUR!”
She sprinted off down the drive, we followed.
We found her on the step of the neighbours, a little white fluffy dog in her arms.

It turns out her mum had been home already and had gone out again, to see if she could get some bottled water at the supermarket. And before leaving had left the dog with the neighbour.
We left the girl and her dog with the neighbour.
‘Round the next corner.
And a house belonging to a friend, We stopped to say hello and check they were ok. We left with one less member to our group. Her friend would take care of her for a while, and then they’d walk to the girl’s house together, we thanked them and left.

‘Round the next corner.
The Steiner School. Kids standing in groups talking, parents in groups talking.
One mother running over to us and grabbing her son, hugging him and crying. Even though he tried to be staunch, it was clear he was so relieved to see his mum. His mother was so over-joyed she thanked as again and again. I caught up with my friend who goes the High School part of Steiner, she was ok, rather calm in fact, she recounted how she and her friend had watched the ‘witches house’ (a house with a very pointy roof) collapse on the hillside.

‘Round the next corner.
It is now only my mum, my best friend and I. And we come to the Opawa shops. Collapsed, I suppose I expected nothing less. They’d been orange stickered after September, but it was awful seeing them crumbled like that, Whatchamacallits and the bottle and bike stores’. I’m glad that no one was inside.

‘Round the next corner.
The over bridges.
(For those of you who don’t know Opawa: There are two bridges running parallel over the river. One is an oldish train bridge that wobbles in a frightening manner when train passes over it, and the second is a big concrete road bridge, fairly newish, complete with ‘earthquake pads’ so that the bridge would bounce in an earthquake, not be stiff and bend or break)
We went to check out the bridges, surprisingly enough the old train bridge seemed to be more-or-less intact, however the concrete road bridge’s ‘earthquake pads’ had slumped badly, whether it really was on a lean as well or whether it was just me I cannot say.
Either way it was closed so we were able to walk over it, and the train bridge. We didn’t want to risk going under them.

‘Round the next corner.
My street.
I’d been around so many corners now, only to find that it has happened there as well. So I don’t know how I still expected to see the street that I knew and loved.

‘Round the next corner.
A street that resembled my street, but this ‘street’ is not my street. For this ‘street’ is not visible because covering almost the whole road, and foot path is about 10cm of silt. There is a small river running into it from Hopkins Street, a broken water main. There are sand volcanoes on the grass verges and, little over half way down the street, closer to the river end, is a hole.
A hole that is three or four metres deep and fifteen metres wide, a hole with muddy silt, and three cars in it.
But even this is put aside, for the next corner was the one into my drive-way, then my front door. I burst through it and we all group hug/tackled the bejesus out of my dad.
Stories are exchanged and my best friend finally gets word from her family; they are all safe. I cannot imagine how worried she must have been, not knowing for so long. We hug her and share in her relief.
Her step-dad arrives and tells of how he walked franticly around town looking for my best friend until he heard she was ok, of how his Tattoo shop is barely still standing, and of how he was nearly the fourth car in the hole.
We chat tensely, hug goodbye, and wish them luck getting back across town.
Little did I know that’s the last time I would see them for four months, the next being in Auckland, at their new house.

We decided that night that we would go to the North Island for a while.
So we did.

And here am I, at my auntie’s house in Cambridge, six months later, preparing to go back to Christchurch to pack up home. If I can call it that anymore.

The earthquakes have changed me a lot; I have grown up more in these past few months than I would’ve done in an entire year.
The earthquakes have put things into perspective and shown me what matters. They are a cause of immense sadness and I would wish them away in an instant if I had the chance.
But they have, as I said before, taught me a lot of things.
One of which is that the expression ‘As solid as rock.’ is an expression that has no purchase in Christchurch.

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