– Lyttelton and Mt Pleasant, Christchurch

22 February 2011 12.50pm: At work in Lyttelton and it was time for my lunchtime walk. Outside my office there were lots of tourists as a cruise ship was in port for the day. I overheard some Scottish tourists discussing lunch, possibly getting fish and chips from the shop across the street. I crossed over Canterbury Street, walked under Freemans restaurant verandah and suddenly the earth beneath me started violently shaking. The noise became deafening, bricks from the top storey of Freemans started falling down, I ran out into the middle of London Street but then masonry started falling off Ground cafe across the road. I watched as Volcano Cafe started disintegrating, the fish and chip shop frontage fell onto the street and the lamp posts were snapping backwards and forwards. The noise of the earth and the falling buildings gradually subsided, there was a brief moment of deathly silence and then the screaming started.

The Asian family who operated the fish and chip shop came running out into the street distraught. My work colleagues came running out of our offices (in the Lyttelton Library building) and we gathered with other people in the middle of the intersection of Canterbury / London Streets. I immediately texted my partner, son in New Plymouth and sister in Auckland “Alive”. Within a few minutes the aftershocks started. I found myself standing with the Scottish tourists (who were actually from Australia) explaining that this is what was going to happen now – continuous aftershocks. They were shocked and terrified but appreciated my explanation.

We moved away from manhole coverings in the intersection as brown water started seeping out from under some of them. Then to the St John Ambulance building where someone started distributing some lukewarm tea despite the power going off. The volunteer Fire Brigade members managed to get their engines out of their badly damaged building. The rest of the afternoon was spent:
I ducked back into my office between aftershocks to retrieve my handbag and jacket/coat.
Continually texting my partner Ian who was trying to get home from Sockburn.
Moving up to outside the Recreation Centre Civil Defence post.
Noticed that the Army were arriving setting up equipment.
A couple across the road from the Rec Centre gave out welcome cups of tea and when I enquiried how with no power – they smiled and said they had a fire – thank goodness.

The weather became cool, several people were getting cold and blankets and rugs appeared.

We watched people running down the Bridle Path returning to Lyttelton from the city side and discussed getting home that way. We heard the tunnel was closed as well as Sumner Road.

We heard on a car radio that devastation had happened in the city and I said to a friend, “there has got to be deaths this time”.

The Scottish tourists assisted people at the Recreation Centre but I never saw them again.

With work colleagues we discussed getting home via Dyers Pass. Ian decided to try his luck to get home to Tai Tapu via Gebbies Pass and texted at Governors Bay that the road seemed to be open but lots of cracks and boulders would need to be avoided. We decided to travel in convoy together and slowly set off from Lyttelton at 5.30pm with other vehicles joining us as we travelling around the bays to Governors Bay. Then up Dyers Pass Road slowly and carefully around giant boulders on the road. At the top coming over the pass, the city looked like a mini 9/11 with smoke and dust shrouding the buildings. Tears flowed but I had to concentrate as I was alone in my vehicle, following Ken and the others in theirs. At the bottom we headed right into Centaurus Road and then the others turned off to head to their homes westwards. I continued through the Heathcote in a huge line of slow but moving traffic.

People were setting themselves up on the footpaths with tents etc. Our faces showed the shock we were going through but also the concentration needed to cope with what we had to do. The rail bridge in Martindales Road looked very damaged but we were all driving under it – pause and take a deep breath before it, allow a little gap to the vehicle in front and then, race through – phew, made it! Then along the road at the bottom of the valley and up Cannon Hill. Nearly home, our beautiful Mt Pleasant is devastated. I need to see our home. I know my partner is already there safe. Its nearly 6.30pm and finally I turn into our little street. There’s Ian talking to a neighbour, I know he needs to hug me but I just want to see the damage. So a little hug and then inside – so much is on the floor. I quickly grab the camera and take the necessary photos, shutting the fridge and freezer doors. Quickly, the night will soon come. Grab some food and get the BBQ going Ian – thawed chicken kebabs will do. Our neighbour Frauke calls out – “we are going down to the school with the tent for the night – come too”. Yes, great idea, pack up our little tent, grab a few clothes and some thawed food and we head down to what has become ‘tent city” in the grounds of Mt Pleasant school. Everyone is more or less left to get themselves organised, no one person is in charge and the hedge and some tyres become public latrines.

Eventually we lie down on the ground in our sleeping bags and are shuddered and rocked all night with the accompanying rock noise coming up from the earth. I manage to sleep between the big ones. Back to the house next morning, we contact our friend in Methven and decide to go leaving our house with no power, water, sewerage, telephone and only some initial cleaning up done.

The next 3 weeks were spent staying at friends’ houses in Methven and Rangiora. My partner had to return to work urgently and I took the time to travel into Mt Pleasant almost every day to gradually get our house cleaned up using water from a neighbour’s swimming pool, purchasing solar showers, finding break and milk etc and checking regularly on a few neighbours who stoically stayed put. All the while the aftershocks rocked through, we yelled profanities at it but then within a minute returned back to the work at hand. Mt Pleasant residents eventually got power back in 10 days. When water returned in the system almost two weeks afterwards, we discovered leaks in out toilet and hot water pipes. A builder working next door, managed to grab a passing plumber off the road and we were so fortunate to get these temporarily repaired. We moved back home then and used water from a tanker at the school, boiling it up for drinking purposes for quite a few weeks thereafter. Civil Defence personnel visited 10 days after the quake and our neighbourhood requested portaloos. These arrived eventually 6 weeks later approximately. We had no support from Red Cross*, EQC, Salvation Army, food deliveries, letterbox drops with information, hot meals delivered by helicopters as happened in other suburbs. We did not seem to exist to emergency services and had to very much rely on our own resilience and resources to get through, thank goodness for our little radio. Mt Pleasant was shown to be the worst affected suburb in numbers of EQC claims.

We lost 60% of our residents but EQC have finally authorised temporary plywood coverings of many houses now and lights are starting to appear as people move back in. It is wonderful to see them return. However, our neighbour has still not been able to move back in as her house was completely flooded by a hot water cylinder fall and she has been unable to get repairs completed despite weekly phone calls to EQC and Fletchers. We look forward to that day.

Bang – another aftershock as I write this.
13 June 2011: Virtually another repetition of the above as I am standing in virtually the same place as 22 February. Cannot believe it and cannot hold back the screams coming from myself this time. The dust clouds rise from the damaged churches finally collapsing in Winchester Street and the Timeball has completely disappeared. Fortunately, the tunnel is continually opening and closing and I manage to get home through this eventually.

We fear another big one and my main hope is that I am not at the epicentre in Lyttelton when it comes.

  • We did apply for an emergency grant from Red Cross and received this some weeks later which was very welcome as our immediate expenses were great, paying our way when staying with other people, extra travelling and fuel costs to get the basics (our supermarket is still not open).
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